Gulf opens between residents and official media over floods

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 July, 2012, 12:00am


The news footage on Beijing Television showing Beijing party secretary Guo Jinlong having instant noodles at an emergency meeting over the deadly July 21 flood in the early hours of the following morning lasted only for about three seconds.

But it was quickly picked up by Chu Tian Jin Bao, a publication affiliated to provincial party mouthpiece Hubei Daily in Hubei province, as a testament to selflessness and hard work of the Beijing party secretary.

'A moving scene - the 65-year-old Beijing party secretary eating instant noodles at flood control headquarters,' the newspaper said in a microblog entry on Tuesday. 'He's still working on the front lines even though it's already 2am. He's sustaining himself with only instant noodles; how could people not be moved!'

The praise was quickly met with disdain from other quarters, where it was dismissed as sycophancy.

'If an official eating a container of instant noodles is a big deal, that only proves how bureaucratic and corrupt most officials are and how servile our people have become to admire those in power for such an inconsequential act,' one internet commentator said in a posting online.

Another commentator added: 'People should not be impressed with this - it's his responsibility to reach out to the people; it's what he is supposed to do.'

Guangming Daily commented on a divide between, on the one hand, so-called mainstream media outlets, particularly those controlled by municipal governments, and, on the other, social media platforms and a few outlets from outside Beijing, over their coverage of the worst rains to hit the capital in six decades.

Most official media reports focused on any future storms heading towards Beijing, busying themselves with relaying official warnings and praise for government rescue operations. In contrast, residents are blanketing online and social media platforms with tirades about the high death toll, which they say is inexcusable for a metropolis that prides itself on modernisation.

The death toll from the storm rests at 77 with 11.6 billion yuan (HK$14.2 billion) in economic damage. The number of residents displaced by the floods stood at 97,000 as of Wednesday, with 39,000 hectares of farmland under water, according to a Beijing News report on Thursday.

A popular topic of discussion online is Beijing's lack of a contingency plan. Why couldn't police and firefighters help a victim trapped in his car at a flooded bridge in downtown Beijing? Why was the capital's drainage system so ill-prepared for the rains?

Official media outlets, particularly those controlled by the Beijing municipal authorities, have been pushing hard to drum up support for the government.

In a signed commentary in the Beijing Daily on Wednesday, Jing Ping appealed to the public to adopt a more sophisticated understanding of the complicated issues behind the disaster. Rural areas, Jing wrote, accounted for 90 per cent of Beijing proper and these were especially susceptible to natural disasters.

The Beijing Times, a local newspaper, published commentaries on Monday and Tuesday, praising three grass-roots officials including Li Fanghong , a director of a police station in Fangshan district, who was electrocuted during a relief operation on the day of the flood.

Despite widespread anger with officials, the Beijing party secretary announced a donation drive on Monday calling for assistance to get the city get back on its feet.

Citing statistics from the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Civil Affairs, the Beijing Daily reported on Thursday it had raised more than 40 million yuan by Wednesday evening, including more than 420,000 yuan from more than 150 municipal government officials.

But the donation drive has been roundly mocked on the internet, where commentators point the finger at the huge sums the government spends on maintaining social stability and supplying aid to other nations.

One commentator said: 'They ducked our question about what went gone wrong with Beijing's drainage system and they were evasive when we asked how many people had been killed in the flood. They turn a deaf ear to our questions about who should be held to account. But they aren't shy to ask us for money.'