4 dailies 'severely punished for lying'

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 November, 2009, 12:00am

Lies, damn lies and statistics can get you into hot water - especially if you're in mainland media.

Four mainland newspapers have been 'severely punished' for publishing reports stating that 70 per cent of the mainland's wealth is in the hands of just 0.4 per cent of the population - and that most of the super-rich have close ties to senior party officials.

Mainland censors branded the reports as false and partially based on 'figures deliberately created by an overseas anti-China website', People's Daily reported yesterday, without specifying details.

In 'using or distributing this false information' the four papers and other unspecified websites had 'seriously misled readers, creating an undesirable influence on society', the paper said.

The stories date back to an article published in Shanghai Securities News in October 2006, which contained references to the disputed statistics and linked the wealthiest individuals to top officials.

People's Daily reported that a 'certain expert' quoted the figures at an unspecified public forum in June this year, adding that the 'expert' attributed them to 'an overseas research organisation'.

An article followed in the People's Political Consultative Daily which, People's Daily said, 'without checking the veracity' changed the source of the information to 'relevant Chinese authorities'.

The Guangdong-based Time Weekly used the People's Political Consultative Daily and Shanghai Securities' reports as the basis for another article several days later.

This article was in turn reprinted in Youth Times and a number of news websites.

The reports struck a nerve with the mainland's increasingly vocal online community, and they were widely distributed on internet chat rooms.

The growing wealth gap between the mainland's haves and have-nots is a source of underlying dissatisfaction - something the government does not want to see encouraged.

The General Administration of Press and Publications 'recently' issued a severe criticism of the four papers, People's Daily reported, having issued warning letters to their editorial chiefs and called upon them to 'deal with those responsible'.

The paper did not report what specific actions had been taken by the newspapers involved.

The original 2006 story appears to have been based - at least in part - on a study of household wealth published the year before by Boston Consulting Group.

That study - part of a worldwide survey of household wealth - found there were some 250,000 households on the mainland with a net worth over US$1 million.

It concluded that this group - 0.4 per cent of the population - had amassed 70 per cent of the country's private wealth.

A more recent update of the study, which was published last week, said that the number of millionaire households was likely to reach 450,000 by the end of the year.