Rumors run wild when the public doesn’t trust the news

The high-speed train crash in China last month killed 35 people and was a major black eye for the Chinese government.

In most countries when a crash of this magnitude occurs the first step is to secure the crash site, gather evidence including the mangled remains of the train and launch an investigation.

But the leadership in China has their own way of doing things.

When an accident happens to a high-priority project, bury the evidence and then make sure the local media are forbidden to write or broadcast anything outside the party line.

From the central government: [Highlights are added by me for emphasis]

Central Propaganda Department: In regard to the Wenzhou high-speed train crash, all media outlets are to promptly report information released from the Ministry of Railways. No journalists should conduct independent interviews. All subsidiaries including newspaper, magazines and websites are to be well controlled. Do not link reports with articles regarding the development of high-speed trains. Do not conduct reflective reports.

Additional directives for all central media: The latest directives on reporting the Wenzhou high-speed train crash: 1. Release death toll only according to figures from authorities. 2. Do not report on a frequent basis. 3. More touching stories are to reported instead, i.e. blood donation, free taxi services, etc. 4. Do not investigate the causes of the accident; use information released from authorities as standard. 5. Do not reflect or comment.

Reminder on reporting matters: All reports regarding the Wenzhou high-speed train accident are to be titled “7.23 Yong-Wen line major transportation accident.” Reporting of the accident is to use “ ‘in the face of great tragedy, there’s great love’” as the major theme. Do not question. Do not elaborate. Do not associate. No re-posting on micro-blogs will be allowed! Related service information may be provided during news reporting. Music is to be carefully selected!

And the result of such control is distrust of the government — which leads to instability, by the way — and more belief in rumors and uninformed speculation.

Poll: 98% Say Wenzhou Train Buried to Destroy Evidence

Of course the growing army of netizens in China outed the lies and evasions from the government. Adam Minter at Bloomberg did a great piece on how the Internet just keeps being a thorn in the side of the propaganda ministry.

Train Crash Proves Debacle for China’s Propaganda Machine: Adam Minter

Eventually the leaders in Zhongnanhai will understand that the genie is out of the bottle. In the meantime, their actions lead to more instability and social unrest, the very things they claim they want to prevent by censoring information.

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Filed under Censorship, China, International News Coverage, Press Freedom

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