Officials keen to show media they have responded quickly
Mainland authorities are keen to create the impression they have responded quickly to the global spread of swine flu through 'full governmental information transparency'.
As the deadly A/H1N1 swine flu epidemic in Mexico spread quickly to other countries, prompting fears of a global pandemic, workers in the mainland media said it was suggested that they give full coverage to the mainland's efforts to work with the international community to help curb the spread of the virus.
The mainland has not reported any human cases of swine flu, and state media have been bombarding the public with updates on epidemic control and tips on hygiene. There have been no instructions from propaganda authorities about any 'forbidden zones' for reporters.
'We haven't received any notice of a ban, and from my experience in dealing with the health and disease-control administrations, it seems they are trying to be co-operative this time,' a reporter for a Beijing newspaper said yesterday. 'It gives me a feeling that the authorities are trying to present a positive image of being efficient and co-operative.'
Editors at internet portals said they could create special columns for swine flu coverage, and many reporters said they were even informed about press conferences and website updates during weekends, a rare practice.
Governments in provinces including Hebei, Shanxi, Henan and Jiangxi have arranged news briefings for local news outlets.
An editor at a central government newspaper said imposing a news blackout was not necessary, since the epidemic 'was far away from China', but it was wise for Beijing to show openness and transparency to ensure social stability at home and allay any global concerns of a cover-up.
'It's not comparable to the Sars outbreak in 2003, when China suffered a severe hit of the virus,' the editor said. 'The government learned a lesson from the experience of an information cover-up and showing officials' incompetence in dealing with public health emergencies.'
Beijing was harshly criticised in 2003 for initially covering up the severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic, which, after originating in Guangdong, claimed more than 340 lives on the mainland and infected 5,300 people.
The public outcry for prompt information disclosure continued during outbreaks of bird flu, but praise was expressed for the temporary lifting of a media ban after the Sichuan earthquake last May 12.
People's Daily ran a commentary yesterday emphasising the 'importance of prompt information disclosure'.
'We should be committed to disclosing information, as only by this can the public believe each piece of related information released by governmental departments is accurate,' the commentary said.
Beijing was criticised for covering up the Sars outbreak in 2003
The epidemic eventually claimed more than 340 lives on the mainland and infected: 5,300