No bad news allowed during China’s NPC

Just a year ago, as we all know, the CCP covered up the spread of SARS in Beijing because it would’ve spoiled the good cheer of its rubberstamp National People’s Congress. I’ve been assured time and again that this can’t happen anymore because China learned its lesson. Never again will bad news be kept from the public just to make the Party look good — especially if supressing the bad news could endanger human life.

And then I stumbled on this post with the telling subject heading, “Major pollution incident in Sichuan; don’t tell people.”

A chemical leak into the Tuo River in Sichuan on Tuesday left up to one million people without water, according to international reports of a story in the Shanghai Morning Post.

However, with China in “good news only mode” during the NPC/CPPCC egofest, there is, of course, absolutely nothing – not a single mention – of the disaster at national level. Perhaps ironic that two days after the incident, the official media carried a report Uniform water system stressed.

One would have thought that some lessons in communications had been learnt last year. One could even argue that reporting news of major spills would support the government’s efforts to improve China’s environmental peformance. A quick review of the English language versions of the national media sources over the last few days shows there to be an complete and utter absence of news which might suggest that there is anything other than sweetness and light in the Middle Kingdom. I’m not sure how Chinese media people can hold their heads up when they are overseas. It’s basically corporate communications on a grand scale.

Hey, don’t slander my profession! If anyone in corporate communications committed crimes even close to this, they’d be fired and blacklisted from the field forever. Cardinal rule in crisis comms: acknowledge the crisis publicly, and never, ever lie or cover it up. China learned that lesson so well last year with SARS, remember?

Just because I’m trying to give the CCP the benefit of the doubt in regard to several recent initiatives doesn’t mean I won’t stop calling them on their shit if and when it surfaces. They have a long, long way to go to earning international trust and respect. This really sucks, and the whole world should know.

The Discussion: 7 Comments

One remark on your posting. You refer to China as if we talk about one coherent government who can deal with this kind of events in a systematic way. That perception is fundamentally wrong. Local authorities tend to act on their own and what you talk about seems a local matter. That does not make it less serious, but you do have to see this in (a local) perspective.

March 7, 2004 @ 9:51 pm | Comment

The coverage of bad news is getting so common in China it is almost becoming boring. One of our fellow bloggers already thought it was ‘breaking news’ when there were no items on miners being killed.
What is interesting is the question how to bring news in a way that makes sense. Now, I’m open for any suggestions on that one.

March 7, 2004 @ 10:32 pm | Comment

That was me. The issue then was not that it was “boring” that there had been no coal-miners killed, but that it was simply ‘news’ that that was the first day…seemingly in ages…when none had died.

The official media here has little news about China. In the main, it broadcasts statistical information, stories that back-up that statistical information, and reports on what politicians have been doing. The only news is the stuff that it pulls off the newswires and Factiva about events outside China.
Maybe that’s going too far, but this week shows how that is done. Check Xinhua for domestic news right now. Then compare that news with SCMP for that day.
– Mark

March 8, 2004 @ 7:57 am | Comment

Fons, you don’t need to tell me about how there’s more than one China. That has been discussed here many times and I know all about it. But the fact — I repeat, fact — is that every year at NPC time, the CCP quietly attempts to silence bad news that reflects poorly on it. This goes from putting activists under house arrest to ordering the media not to report on events like SARS. I have plenty of sources to send you to on this if you’re unaware of it.

I don’t see the poisoning of the water supply for more than a million people as a local matter. When we are talking that magnitude, it reflects on the government as a whole. It was Single Planet that reported this as an example of the government clamming up, as usual, for the NPC, and I am agreeing.

March 8, 2004 @ 10:11 am | Comment

Mark, interesting points. Am literally running to the airport now heading to Beijing, will have to address later. Thanks.

March 8, 2004 @ 10:13 am | Comment

Fons, well observed, and I’ve brought the monolithic mistake up with Richard before.

Anyone care to join in the fray over on my blog? There’s some guy trying to convince me that China and the US are headed to war, that China is an expansionist power because History has declared it would be so, and that I’m some kind of CCP stooge who buys the Party hook, Line and sinker.

March 8, 2004 @ 3:56 pm | Comment

Ah. The Party “Hook, Line and Sinker”. That would be a good name for People’s Daily if they go commercial and create a snappier title for it.

March 8, 2004 @ 11:43 pm | Comment

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