Asiana plane crash

Chinese media scramble to cover US air crash

Outlets scramble to uncover details of the Chinese victims of Asiana Flight 214, with some reports thought to cross privacy line

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 July, 2013, 1:50am

The crash of Asiana Flight 214 in San Francisco triggered a competitive frenzy among the mainland media last week, as outlets scrambled to uncover compelling details about the victims and examine the overseas study tours had brought many passengers on board.

Of the Boeing 777's 290 passengers, 141 were Chinese, including the only fatalities. Three Chinese girls lost their lives, as a third succumbed to her injuries on Friday.

As has become the norm in such disasters, social media provided the first reports from the scene. Survivors rushed to Sino Weibo and other microblogs to publish pictures, thoughts and observations.

Xu Da, a general manager with the online shopping site Taobao Marketplace, was on board with his wife and son. When the jet neared the ground, "I heard the plane's engines roaring loudly again and my heart sank. This was not a good sign," Xu posted two days after the accident.

Xu and his family survived. After escaping the plane through a hole where the tail had broken off, he started to post live on Weibo. So did many other passengers, long before encountering any professional journalists. The public quickly discovered the Weibo accounts of the two students from Jiangshan Middle School, Zhejiang province, who died at the scene: Wang Linjia, 17, and Ye Mengyuan , 16.

The official China Youth Daily went overboard in its effort to show authorities' sympathy in one article on Tuesday.

"If they were alive and knew that Zhejiang Organisation Department chief Cai Qi cared about them, Wang Linjia would probably open her smiling eyes and Ye Mengyuan would hardly believe it and jump up with joy," it said. Cai Qi followed the two girls on Weibo, it said, although it was not clear when he began doing so.

The flattering report sparked fierce criticism online. The China Youth Daily rushed to repair its public image by taking down an online version of the story and posting an apology.

Meanwhile, reporters were flooding into Jiangshan to collect details about the victims, causing some to raise privacy concerns.

A commentary posted on rednet.cn a Hunan news website, urged the media to be careful when disclosing personal information about the dead girls and their family members.

"Shall we show more respect to the privacy of the deceased, more silent care to the families?" the commentary asked.

The accident also drew attention to the study tours that have become popular for Chinese pupils.

Half of the 141 Chinese passengers were students and chaperones from Jiangshan and Taiyuan city, Shanxi province, on their way to a two-week summer camp in the United States.

In an apparent overreaction, the education bureau in Quzhou, another Zhejiang city, ordered all study camp activities to cease.

The official Guangming Daily criticised the Quzhou action, saying: "We should encourage students to get educated via oversea tours. The authorities should get stricter in approving these projects, rather [than imposing] a ban for a single accident."

Others tried to analyse why study tours had become so popular. "Many parents and children are actually 'hijacked' by a certain mindset," a Worker's Daily commentary said. "They don't want to be left behind as other children have taken part in [overseas tours].

"Why rush overseas in flocks before having a good understanding about China's traditional culture?"

In the face of the media bombardment on student tours, the Shenyang Evening Post stood out with its piece on the need to counsel youngsters frightened by the crash. "Parents should teach their surviving children to feel grateful and love life more than before," it said.