Minitrue Diary, March 8, 2020: Watch Tone and Truth in Reports on COVID Research

CDT has recently acquired and verified a collection of directives issued by central Party authorities to at the beginning of this year. These directives were issued on an almost daily basis in early 2020, and we will be posting them over the coming weeks. The following directive was released on March 8, 2020.

Do not report on interim developments in areas such as pharmaceutical efficacy, vaccine progress, virus origins, transmission channels, reagent monitoring etc. that have not yet been confirmed by the Ministry of Science and Technology, Health Commission or other authoritative departments. Handle information on research findings independently provided by universities, research units, firms, and related experts with caution, especially those with content in fields such as vaccines’ clinical trials and expected application timeframes, monitoring reagents’ examination timeframes, viral transmission channels and mechanisms, the virus’ source and intermediate hosts, autopsies of victims etc. In case of uncertainty, promptly contact the press offices of relevant departments such as the Ministry of Science and Technology and Health Commission to check. Strengthen checks on publicity for key achievements in scientific research, do not republish unverified or potentially inflammatory information, do not compose misleading headlines, and do not overuse phrases like “first,” “major breakthough,” “world first” etc. (March 8, 2020) [Chinese]

This directive reiterates several themes found in earlier instructions on coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic issued during its opening weeks. “Authoritative departments” had been insistently upheld as gatekeepers of approved information, as opposed to those directly involved in stories or foreign media and online rumors. Expectations were to be managed regarding the prospects for treatment and prevention. Vaccines in particular were already a sensitive issue following repeated scandals over unsafe or substandard products. Information on the spread of the disease, including that obtained through big data analysis, was to be tightly controlled and couched in unprovocative terms so as to help “control the temperature” of public sentiment. And triumphalism and antagonism toward foreign countries, though since enthusiastically embraced in some official quarters, were to be kept on a tighter leash among the media at large.

真Since directives are sometimes communicated orally to journalists and editors, who then leak them online, the wording published here may not be exact. Some instructions are issued by local authorities or to specific sectors, and may not apply universally across China. The date given may indicate when the directive was leaked, rather than when it was issued. CDT does its utmost to verify dates and wording, but also takes precautions to protect the source. See CDT’s collection of Directives from the Ministry of Truth since 2011.

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