Censors ban train crash coverage

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 July, 2012, 12:00am


Censors have banned coverage of the first anniversary of the deadly high-speed-train crash in Wenzhou , Zhejiang province, in the latest move to tighten media control ahead of the Communist Party's national congress later this year.

The ban, which was issued 10 days before the July 23 anniversary, prohibits all independent reporting of the anniversary of the tragedy and it applies to mass media outlets and news portals, according to several mainland reporters and the Belgium-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

The crash, which killed at least 40 people and injured almost 200, drew criticism from the public over the rush by railways officials to bury the wreckage and over concerns about the safety of the nation's high-speed railway network.

Some journalists from Beijing were ordered to leave Wenzhou earlier this week after they attempted to conduct interviews at the site of the accident.

'The original plan was to publish eight pages for the anniversary,' said a Beijing-based journalist who declined to be named.

'And on Tuesday we received a call from the newsroom telling us that no [enterprise] reports would be published, and we were asked to leave Wenzhou immediately.'

The IFJ said yesterday that it was deeply frustrated by reports that China's Communist Party Publicity Department had blocked all media reporting of the anniversary of the crash.

'The IFJ urges China's Premier Wen Jiabao to swiftly investigate the new restrictions on the media, and to uphold his assertion that the people have the right to have oversight of the performance of their government,' the IFJ's Asia-Pacific office said in a statement.

It said that the directives denied the public their right to be informed about issues related to public safety, and to engage in public debate about reform and improvements to the railway system.

A similar directive was issued last year soon after the tragedy, forcing many mainland newspapers to scrap pages of the coverage for special sections planned for July 30 - the seventh day after the accident, which is considered the most important day of mourning in Chinese tradition.

Still, some media outlets, including the Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis News continued their coverage and won praise from readers and internet users.

But another local journalist said the ban was being much more strictly enforced this year.

'It appears that authorities consider the anniversary even more sensitive than when the tragedy happened,' he said, adding that authorities may be worried that media coverage could trigger another wave of heated public criticism over the railways ministry - already much beleaguered in the past year by the crash and the fall of its corrupt former minister, Liu Zhijun .

'Unfortunately, quite a number of newspapers have already ordered their staff to ignore the anniversary,' the IFJ cited a local journalist as saying. 'But, despite this, many journalists refuse to forget the disaster.'

Some internet users have already started to mark the day of the anniversary.

Using a candle icon, one wrote: 'One year has passed, but can broken trust be repaired?'