Media the saviour in milk scandal

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 May, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 May, 2004, 12:00am

When staff at a hospital in Anhui province detected an increasing number of malnourished babies, they took the information where they thought it would do the most good - the media. The decision lead to a series of sensational reports about how substandard milk powder had lead to the deaths of at least 16 babies and the malnourishment of hundreds of others in Fuyang, prompting Premier Wen Jiabao to order a State Council investigation.

But it also called into question the People's Hospital in Fuyang's choice to go to the media with the news, rather than to local government officials.

In an interview with China Central Television, Fuyang Vice-Mayor Du Changping, who is in charge of food and health issues, was asked why the hospital did not report the findings to her officials.

'I wonder if people think that if they go to the media, it is more direct and effective than reporting to the government,' she said.

Ms Du said if the hospital had gone to the government as well as the media, the government would have acted faster to get the substandard powder off the shelves.

Hospital officials have not fully explained their motives for going to the media, and are reluctant to discuss the issue when approached.

Earlier, hospital officials said malnourishment was not a reportable disease so there was no requirement to go to the government. They said they went to the media to make sure the public was informed.

Still, Beijing University politics and administration lecturer Zhang Guoqing said it was strange that the hospital officials decided to go outside official channels.

Appearing on the same CCTV segment as Ms Du, Mr Zhang asked if she would resign in accordance with new regulations requiring officials to offer to step down for policy blunders and man-made disasters in their jurisdictions.

Ms Du replied that it would be up to the local government and Communist Party to decide her fate. When pressed if she would resign voluntarily, she said it was up to the people to decide whether they trusted her and other officials to clean up the mess.

Resigning voluntarily to take responsibility for one's actions or negligence is an alien concept to mainland officials.

Analysts say the rise to the top is arduous, and once officials have achieved a high ranking, it is difficult for them to willingly give it up, no matter how honourable it is to resign.

In the case of the fake milk powder, it is not just Ms Du who is passing the buck. The local deputy director of quality supervision, Zhu Lanying, tried to shift the blame to the Bureau of Commerce during another CCTV programme on April 23.

While Anhui was worst hit by the scandal, substandard milk powder was also found in Chongqing , Zhejiang , Guangdong, Henan , Hunan , Hubei , Jiangxi , Beijing and Shanghai, according to the Beijing Youth Daily.