Xinhua News Agency

Xinhua breaks with tradition to be first to report leader's death

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 June, 2007, 12:00am

Unlike the previous coverage of the deaths of mainland leaders, the official Xinhua news agency was the first to report the news of the passing of vice-premier Huang Ju yesterday.

Xinhua said Huang died of illness at 2.03am yesterday, quoting a joint obituary issued by the party's Central Committee, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress and the State Council.

The report did not say what kind of illness Huang had suffered from and praised him as 'an excellent party member, a long-time loyal fighter for communism and a brilliant leader'.

The obituary became the top story by China Central Television on its 7pm newscast, with anchors in black suits reading out the 155-word obituary in a grieving tone. The CCTV report also did not reveal Huang's illness.

Other news media on the mainland, including state-owned China News Service and online media, merely duplicated Xinhua's coverage without further details.

Xinhua's report first appeared at 6.30am. Coincidentally, its English-language version was published at the same time. As the English report normally comes several hours later, it seemed the agency had prepared the coverage well in advance.

Both Xinhua and CCTV posted a side-view portrait of Huang, not a front-view file photograph from Xinhua's leadership profile record. The photo was obviously not taken recently.

In the past, Xinhua has always played the role of 'confirming' earlier reports from overseas media about the deaths of influential leaders such as Deng Xiaoping and Zhao Ziyang .

On May 9, London-based The Times posted a report on its website by its Beijing correspondent, Jane Macartney - who also first reported Zhao's death in January 2005 - saying that Huang had died after a prolonged battle with pancreatic cancer at No301 military hospital in Beijing.

A few hours later, the report gained wider circulation and credibility when Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV, which has close ties with mainland authorities, reported the news in an on-screen ticker.

However, the State Council Information Office later took the unusual step of denying the news, and Phoenix TV withdrew its report and apologised.

Rumours of Huang's death had circulated at least three times before Xinhua's report yesterday, with internet users seizing the opportunity to vent their anger in chat rooms about current social and political problems.

It is unusual that only positive comments about Huang appeared in yesterday's chat rooms on the mainland. In the People's Daily online forum, Qiangguo Luntan, all negative comments were quickly deleted and replaced by reports about Huang's past interviews and activities.