Chinese online media coverage of last night’s fire

Strangest thing. China Daily, Shanghai Daily and Xinhua (to name the first ones I’ve checked) seem to have minimized mention of the Mandarin Oriental’s destruction. Go to their home pages now and see. China Daily only has a reference to the story on its list of recent articles if you look hard enough, and the story it takes you to has no photo. Xinhua had one of the earliest articles out about the fire, with photos, and that, too, has been 100 percent scrubbed from the home page, though it’s still up on their site (which is of little use if you don’t know the link).

Similarly, the CCTV-9 home page only references the fire, with no mention of the hotel name, in the list of breaking stories; no story or photo on the home page, just photos of the moon and pretty red lanterns. The link takes you to a very brief story, with photo, that does admit the fire was caused by illegal fireworks.

A spokesman for the Beijing Municipal government says initial investigations showed the fire had been caused by illegal launch of fireworks. Firefighters found remnants of fireworks on the southern roof of the burning building.

China Smack says it didn’t take long for China’s propagandistsmedia specialists to start censoring reports, locking online threads and removing photos.

Really disappointing. You’d think this would lead everywhere, and it’s ironic there’s more coverage in the international papers. As usual, this approach has to backfire, making the world wonder why the government would downplay the story and censor photos of a hotel fire. Which seems to me like an excellent question.

Update: From the hotel’s web site:

Statement in response to the fire at the development site of Mandarin Oriental, Beijing
Mandarin Oriental, Beijing was scheduled to open in the summer of 2009. The property currently employs 60 staff, all of whom work in pre-opening offices near to the hotel, which were empty at the time of the fire. Mandarin Oriental has signed a long-term contract to manage the hotel and has no ownership interest in the building. Our local management team are doing all they can to help the authorities to ensure the safety and security of everyone involved. It is too early at the present stage to assess the damage, but we will make further updates as soon as we have more information.

Update 2: Fireman dies from breathing in toxic chemical fumes while fighting the blaze.

Update 3: CCTV admits the fire was their fault; Xinhua directive on censoring/minimizing the story published.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 7 Comments

[...] China’s censors minimizing the story and blocking photos? Baked by Richard @ 12:54 am, Filed under: [...]

February 10, 2009 @ 10:49 am | Pingback

Well, at least the news is still at the top on Xinhua forums and received more than 300 replies by the time I checked it(http://forum.xinhuanet.com/listtopic.jsp?bid=50&page=1&catid=0). This is also true for Tianya.cn(http://www.tianya.cn/publicforum/content/funinfo/1/1375386.shtml)

Anyway, I am more used to check popular forums for this kind of thing. There are more individual reports and they are usually timely.

February 10, 2009 @ 12:37 pm | Comment

I didn’t say there is a blackout. There is minimization (if there is such a word), manipulation and, if China Smack is correct, at least some blatant censorship. But to say, well, it’s okay if the big media hid the story away because at least it’s in the forum is an odd argument. Many people don’t think of looking in forums for breaking news; that is what the home page is all about.

February 10, 2009 @ 12:45 pm | Comment

Even the smartest spin doctors for the CCP don’t know how to spin it, so let it be minimized and then be forgotten ASAP. Happenings like big disasters, such as a flood or earthquake, no matter how many lives perish in it or homes are destroyed by it, are much easier to spin than this fire, by inflating the PLA soldiers’ sacrifice to shame those who may complain about their misery or protest and transforming a bad thing into a good one.

One of the prestige projects (or face project) easily burned down by a firework fire has exposed the shoddiness of the projects

February 10, 2009 @ 1:24 pm | Comment

“As usual, this approach has to backfire, making the world wonder why the government would downplay the story and censor photos of a hotel fire.”

Richard, this is an extremely bad Omen for the Chinese, which are highly superstitious. Such an event, with a high symbolic value, on this specific day. And as other said, it’s exposing the shoddy value of this construction.

It won’t take long before it’s connected to:

A.The Earthquake stricken schools
B.The government
C.Bad Omen
D.Overspending on these cheap Olympic structures in the current light of the China downturn.
E.Many other things the Chinese Netizens will creatively come with (might include the economic crisis and lack of jobs).

木 火 土 金 水

I asked 5 Chinese friends last night about why the BBS were being censored, and all of them mentioned the bad omen, and on this count 3 did not believe in that at all. But they still mentioned it to me.

The government is definitively paying attention to this, it’s not just face value saving.

February 10, 2009 @ 1:56 pm | Comment

Another more logical reason I see could be that they don’t want the Netizens to start rumors about terrorism before they know for sure what is the cause and it’s confirmed a 100% that it was ignited by fireworks.

February 10, 2009 @ 2:01 pm | Comment

Sorry MAJ, I let your one earlier comment go, but I can’t take the risk of letting you back in as a regular commenter. Thanks for your understanding.

Richard

February 10, 2009 @ 7:43 pm | Comment

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