Reporters Without Borders condemns the controls on information about the situation in the industrial port city of Tianjin that the government has imposed in the wake of last week’s tragic events there.
The Chinese Communist Party has issued a series of directives to online media and Internet users since the massive chemical explosions in Tianjin on 12 and 15 August. With the support of the propaganda departments of various provinces, the Cyberspace Administration of China (the government agency in charge of Internet censorship) is trying to control the story by celebrating the heroism of the fire-fighters and highlighting moving rescue tales. But at the same time, it is concealing concerns about the cause of the explosions, the deaths of many fire-fighters and rescue personnel, and the fate of those who are missing. “In a distress situation such as this, it is essential to provide the maximum information, especially to those directly effected by the disaster,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “We regret that the initial reactions of the authorities suggest a scenario similar to the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, when they opted for a policy of censorship and repression. By orchestrating the now traditional succession of propaganda and censorship measures, they are displaying a flagrant indifference to the public’s legitimate concerns.” The Cyberspace Administration of China has insisted that coverage of the explosions is limited to use of the dispatches published by Xinhua, the government news agency. Adding personal comments or opinions is strictly forbidden. Live video feeds are also forbidden. The Tianjin Propaganda Department has banned the employees of TV channels, radio stations, newspapers and microblogging platforms, including reporters, presenters and editors, from posting information about the explosions on social networks. In some provinces, online news media outlets have been ordered to withdraw text references and photos of the Tianjin disaster from their homes pages and from their lists of recommended articles. On 13 August, CNN correspondent Will Ripley was harassed and jostled by individuals while reporting live from a hospital that was receiving victims. As a result, he was forced to stop broadcasting. Policemen who were there made no attempt to intervene and even prevented a colleague from coming to his aid. Seth Doane, a reporter for CBS, another US television broadcaster, and his crew were prevented from filming the same day by policemen who put their hands over the lens of his camera. Officials also confiscated the memory card of a Taiwanese reporter for Eastern Multimedia when he went too close to the site of the blast. China is ranked 176th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.