The Chinese Censors Are At Work Again

But this is not your usual story.

Here is a story from Xinhua in Chinese and in translation:






[in translation]

According to what our reporter learned from the National Development and Reform Committee on January 16, in the work on reorganizing the coal mines that were either illegal or do not have adequate production safety conditions, Fujian has failed to close or suspend the license of any coal mine as yet, and there are nine other provinces which have completed less than one-third of the plan.  

The National Development and Reform Committee has issued an emergency notice.  As of December 23, 2005, Hunan, Chongqing, Sichuan, Shaanxi, Kansu, Guizhou, Shanxi, Heilongjiang and Yunnan have closed or suspended fewer than one-third of the planned numbers.  Of the thirty mines that Fujian planned to close, none have been closed yet.

The emergency notice demanded that strong efforts be made in reorganizing the coal mines that were either illegal or do not have adequate production safety conditions.  The various levels of coal industry administrations must speed up their work and refuse to accept excuses and delays.  Those who make serious delays will be criticized and the principals will be held responsible.

According to the "State Council's Special Regulations On Preventing Unsafe Production Events In Coal Mines" and "State Council Office's emergency notice on resolutely reorganizing coal mines that are illegal or do not have safe production conditions", all coal mines which have been found not to have applied for safe production licenses or fail to meet the conditions for the licensing must cease operations immediately; they will receive one final chance for inspection and be totally shut down if they fail again.

At the beginning of the year, 26,377 mines held coal production licenses, of which 5,000 were planned to be closed.  As of December 23, 2005, 43.1% of the planned closings had been accomplished.  Inner Mongolia and Guangdong have accomplished the plan ahead of time.  Xinjiang and Beijing are near completion.

The following is a widely circulated Internet post by Xu Linlin.  This is published at Xinhuanet as well as many other places.

[in translation]

On January 16, Xinhua released an article: The National Development and Reform Committee issued an emergency notice to criticize ten cities/provinces for failing to reach 1/3 of the planned number of mine closings, and none of the 30 planned closings in Fujian was accomplished.  (January 17, Xinhuo Xinbao: "Ten cities/provinces (including Fujian) criticized for inadequate work on the problem of coal mine closings.")

On the next morning, I read this news item on the Internet, and I saw that Hunan was listed at the top of the list of 10 cities/provinces.  At 10am, I went through the local newspapers such as the provincial mainstream media (Sanxiang Metropolis News and Changsha Evening News).  I could not find the Xinhua article.  Instead, Dangdai Shangbao, which has limited influence, carried this item of six hundred or so words on the top of page A11.  But, the word "Hunan" was removed.  As a news worker, I was quite stunned: how can an important political news item released by Xinhua be treated in this manner?

As everybody knows, Hunan is a province with frequent mining disastsers.  The frequently cited phrase (官煤勾结 "collusion between government and mines") originated from a China Youth Daily interview with Ludi City party committee secretary Cai Lifeng.  Although the Hunan departments have done a great deal of work over the past year or so to clean up "collusion between government and mines" and close down illegal mines, one must consider that there is some justification for the National Development and Reform Committee to list Hunan at the top of the criticized cities/provinces.  It stands to reason that the local media should be using the Xinhua release immediately so that the public can find out the evaluation of the central government of Hunan's work.  Such is the duty of public media, and it is an effective way of publicizing government work in respect of the public's right to know.  Yet, who would have thought that these so-called "mainstream media voices" would go silent and refuse to print a word about it in their many dozens of pages?

According to my speculation, there are three reasons:

First, the upper echelon at these media were trying to play smart.  Hunan is holdings its two "congresses," and the people on top are demanding positive reporting during this period.  Maybe there is some rationale for that.  But some of the media bosses misuderstood the idea and spent all their time trying to manufacture an atmosphere of joy and celebration and avoid any trouble for the "two congresses."  In their views about this piece of "negative" press release from the national news agency on the local government, it is safer not to publish it.  So these editors ended up collectively ignoring the Xinhua release that represented the voice of the National Development and Reform Committee.

Second, pressure was applied by the government departments.  The Xinhua release could be seen on the Internet on the evening of January 16.  So there is this possiblity that the local government department heads learned about their being criticized and they were afraid that it would be an embarrassment at the "two congresses," so they immediately began "public relations" work, and even used administrative orders, to directly or indirectly force the media not to publish the critical article from Xinhua.

Third, the propaganda department sets up its own rules.  Recently, I was outside the province particpating in a large-scale activity that involved the senior-level management of almost a hundred national media.  I heard that some city/provincial propaganda department publicly declare that when there is a sudden public incident, all newspapers, radio and television are allowed only to use the electronically transmitted news release from the city/provincial propaganda department.  The media are not even allowed to use the Xinhua release on the same incident.  Any violator would be either criticized or issued serious warnings ("yellow card").  Does Hunan have the same rules?  I have not heard about that as yet.  But for several daily newspapers to simultaneously ignore the Xinhua release that was critical of the local government is perhaps slightly more complicated than imagined.

Xinhua is the mouthpiece of the Party and the country.  The news from Xinhua contains a great deal of authority and trustworthiness.  For those critical articles that concern national plans and people's livelihoods, Xinhua expresses the national will and highlights public opinion.  I believe that no local media and officials can edit in part or banish in full these types of articles.  Besides, at a time when media and information are so well-developed these days, censoring the voice from Beijing is just fooling yourself.