April 29, 2010 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Propaganda Department sets rule for covering Shanghai Expo and Qinghai earthquake

The Propaganda Department and the government Information Office have imposed strict rules for coverage of the Shanghai World Expo that begins this weekend and the 14 April earthquake in the Tibetan province of Qinghai.

In a 23 April directive, the Propaganda Department asked the Chinese media to wait until after tomorrow’s opening ceremony to run articles about the exhibition’s best pavilions and advised them to use the official news agency Xinhua’s reports about the content of the pavilions.

Reporters Without Borders has been told that another directive from the Propaganda Department on 25 April asked the media to reduce their coverage of the consequences of the Qinghai earthquake and increase the number of reports and features about the Shanghai exhibition.

According to the information obtained by Reporters Without Borders, the Propaganda Department has set the following rules for covering the earthquake: Talk of the earthquake in “scientific terms" ; Do not criticise the earthquake forecasting agency ; Do not focus too much on the efforts by Buddhist monks to help the victims ; and Give extensive coverage to the appeals for donations organised by state-owned CCTV.

“The Propaganda Department’s attitude is incredibly paternalistic and conservative,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We call for an end to censorship of the consequences of the Qinghai earthquake and for the release of the Tibetan writer who was arrested last week because of the comments he made.”

It was to denounce this kind of censorship and repression that Reporters Without Borders has launched for the Shanghai Expo a virtual Garden of Freedoms on its website at

The Chinese authorities are also preventing the Hong Kong-based newspaper Apple Daily from going to Shanghai to cover the exhibition. In 2008, the authorities initially refused to give the newspaper permission to cover the Beijing Olympic Games before finally relenting.

The Information Office, whose responsibilities include monitoring the Internet, has reminded major news websites that they can not do their own reporting. As regards the earthquake, the government has ordered sites managers to make sure that reports contain no mention of the Dalai Lama and the solidarity campaigns organised by Tibetans.

The government has also told the main websites to provide only limited coverage of the leadership changes in Xinjiang province and to prevent any comments on subjects linked to the conflict under way there.

These directives have coincided with the arrest of Tibetan writer and scholar Tagyal, who is better known by the pen-name of Shogdung, for signing an open letter about the earthquake. Local police in Xining, in the western province of Qinghai, arrested him during a search of the offices of the Qinghai Nationalities publishing house on 23 April. The police also seized computers from his home that evening. His wife said they later came back to give her a copy of the order for his arrest.

Signed by Tagyal and other Tibetan intellectuals and released on 17 April, the open letter offered condolences to the families of the victims and criticised certain aspects of the Chinese government’s handling of the relief efforts. The authorities had prevented Tagyal from visiting the quake-hit areas.

The authorities meanwhile also jammed a special programme of condolences broadcast by Voice of Tibet, an independent radio station based abroad.

Finally, Zhu Di, the editor of the opinion pages of Nanfang Dushi Bao (Southern Metropolitan), a daily based in the southern province of Guangdong, was suspended on 17 April for allowing the publication of an opinion piece six days earlier that was entitled “Loving one’s country does not mean loving one’s government.” Her suspension was ordered by the province’s governor.