The Yancheng Explosion
This is a very unusual pair of blog posts.
First, there is China Youth Daily reporter Li Runwen writing about his experiences in covering an explosion in Xiangshui county, Jiangsu province. By itself, it is not that unusual that reporters should face official obstruction in covering emergencies. Even the parade of massage girls into the hotel rooms to persuade the reporters not to report should not be all that unexpected.
What is unusual is the second blog post, which is an internal report by the Xiangshui county party publicity department gloating about how they successfully stage-managed the news coverage, including their views about how to handle uncooperative reporters like Li Runwen.
(China Youth Daily reporter Li Runwen's blog via Fatianxia blog) Yanchang (Jiangsu) prohibited news gathering, procured girls for reporters.
At 10:15 on November 27, there was an explosion at the Jiangsu Lianhua Technology Company Limited in Xiangshui county's industrial district. There were dozens of casualties.
After the incident, the Yancheng city government carried out an emergency plan to stop reporters from gathering news. The measures include threats to use force, placing reporters under house arrest, offering monetary bribes and using sex as the bait.
At 3:30pm, Xinhua, <Yangzi Evening News>, <Jinling Evening News> and other media reporters had arrived at the scene. But access to the site was blocked by several dozen police officers and security guards. When the reporters tried to take photographs or gather information, the police stopped them and made them leave.
That evening, the various reporters received telephone calls from their respective organizations to leave and use the standard press release for their reports instead.
That evening, the Xiangshui county publicity department invited all the reporters to go to an entertainment club to sing.
At 23:40, this reporter arrived at the Five Continent Hotel in Xiangshui county. This was the press center for the Xiangshui county incident. The Xiangshui county publicity department deputy director Zhou Qingda met this reporter and arranged for his stay at the hotel. But this reporter never expected that he would be totally under their control and essentially placed under house arrest from then on.
At 8am, November 28, Zhou Qingda came to the hotel room of the reporter and took out an envelop. He said that this was the press release.
Inside the envelop was a piece of paper wrapped around a stack of money bills.
"This is for your hard work." After repeated attempts, the reporter could not make Zhou take the envelop back. The reporter counted the money and there was 1,000 RMB in total. According to information, every reporter received 1,000 RMB for their hard work.
At 9am, this reporter sneaked out of the hotel.
There were police officers guarding the hospital entrance. They questioned everyone who entered. The reporter got in by claiming to be the relative of a patient. There were casualties all along the corridor. There were uniformed people patrolling back and forth. This reporter spoke to one patient, and was immediately expelled from the hospital by the doctors and security guards.
At the Lianhua Company entrance, the police chased this reporter away. Three then persons followed him and forbade him to take photographs or speak to anyone until he left the area.
That morning, the Xiangshui county publicity department and the Yancheng city party publicity department telephoned this reporter more than 30 times. They wanted the reporter to return to the hotel because of a press conference.
In the afternoon, this reporter went to the Guannan county funeral home and claimed to be looking for a relative. A Lianhua Company manager asked to see the identity card of the reporter. He grabbed the reporter by the shirt collar, searched his body and the rental car. He threatened the driver, "I'm going to record your license plate number and then I'll come back for you."
Fortunately, the publicity department was callling again at that moment. The reporter asked the publicity department to call the police for him. So they let the reporter go. But they followed him by car.
When the reporter returned to the hotel, he immediately informed the Xiangshui county publicity department and the Yancheng county party publicity department about what happened. But they did nothing. The reporter asked to visit the scene of the blast and the hospital, but they kept the reporter in his room because they wanted to arrange a joint interview.
On the evening of November 28, the reporter wanted to switch to a different hotel because of the lack of Internet access here. After many hassles, they sent four workers to go with the reporter to the new hotel on the grounds of "providing service and guaranteeing his personal safety."
They obtained three rooms. The reporter stayed in the room farthest down. That night, they kept asking the reporter to go for bathing, foot bathing, massage, singing, playing cards and eating. They offered many times to find a girl for the reporter.
The reporter turned them down sternly. The four persons continued to hang around the reporter's room, so that the reporter could not work. At 1am, one of them even moved into the room. At the reporter's persistent demand, the man finally left the room.
At 5:30am on November 29, the reporter quietly left his room. There was one security guard on duty in the lobby. The two workers from the publicity department were fast asleep on the lobby sofas.
When the security guard saw the reporter going out, he woke the two publicity department workers up. The two did not even have time to put on their shoes. They grabbed the reporter by the hand and refused to let go. So the reporter ended up going back up to this room.
At 9am, the reporter wanted to leave the room. But they blocked the door and told him that they were still trying to arrange his interviews.
This reporter lodged a strong protest to the Yancheng city party publicity department deputy director Jiang Youxin, but this was ignored. Upon strong demand, the publicity department took the Xinhua reporters to the scene and some photographs were allowed to be taken at some 50 meters away from the scene of the blast. These were the only pictures that the media released for this incident.
For the whole morning, this reporter was trapped inside his hotel room. Even when he made a personal telephone call, someone stood next to him to listen on the side. This reporter was afraid to use the hotel telephone.
The reporter had arranged to work together with the Xinhua reporters. But the other party knew to segregate the two news organizations, because they were worried that the reporters might exchange information with each other.
In the afternoon, the Xinhua reporter Deng Huazhu wanted to return to Nanjing and the other party was going to escort him back. Admidst the confusion, the Xinhua reporter Liu Shaoquan and this reporter got into the Xinhua vehicle parked in the backyard of the funeral home. A dozen people immediately rushed over to block the path of the vehicle as well as tried to open the car doors. Someone closed one of the gates, but the vehicle dashed out of the other gate.
The men tried to chase the car by foot. The car made three turns and went through a farmers' produce market before losing them.
Deng Huazhu sent a SMS to us to say that Yancheng city party publicity department deputy director Jiang Youxin was very angry and ordered the Yancheng police to look for the Xinhua car.
After finishing the interviews, this reporter returned to the hotel in the evening. He took his regular bath and was resting when several girls wearing heavy make-up entered the hotel room. The Xiangshui county publicity department deputy director asked the reporter to select a girl and get a massage. The reporter refused.
Xinhua reporter Liu Shaoquan had the same experience. Several groups of girls came to his room to give him massage service but without success.
On the morning of November 30, the reporter found out that the Xinhua press vehicle was blocked front and back by two vehicles. Thus, it could not move.
For the entire day, this reporter was trapped in the hotel. That afternoon, after repeated requests from the reporters, Xiangshui county held its second press conference. The request by this reporter to interview the principals of the case was denied.
We arranged to interview somebody, but we could not get out. So we asked the Xinhua driver Xiao Han to contact that person.
At 18:00, Xiao Han went downstairs to check the car. Someone from the Xiangshui county party committee followed him. He walked around a bit without being able to shake his shadow. Suddenly, Xiao Han went into a sprint. Next, the two men engaged in a long-distance race on the road. Xiao Han used to be a military scout and he finally broke away from his chaser after more than 2,000 meters. Xiao Han met with the other person and arranged for a new time and location for the interview.
That evening, the three of us (including the driver) were once again pestered by the offering of girls from the publicity department. In the end, they did not succeed.
On December 1, this reporter agreed with the Xinhua reporter that we should leave Xiangshui county and return after we shake them off.
Two vehicles from the Yancheng city party committee and the Xiangshui county party committee escorted the reporters out of Yancheng onto the expressway to Yangzhou. Along the way, three different vehicles with Yancheng registration plates appeared within our vision. The driver Xiao Han determined that they were tailing us. They did not disappear until we entered Yangzhou city.
At 19:30 on December 1, the reporter went back once again. We were afraid that our vehicle would be too big a target. So we rented a car in Lianyungang city and went from there to Xiangshui county. At midnight on December 1, we met our interviewee who told us what happened.
He said that the factory and the village authorities had held meeting and warned them not to talk about this matter among themselves or to reporters.
After the blast, there were many rumors. Some people even claimed that more than a hundred people had perished and that the factory had shipped out the bodies secretly by truck.
After the incident, people in the know wrote about the explosion on the Internet, but those posts have been deleted.
Calmly deal with an emergency event; spare no effort to guide public opinion --
the principal measures on managing news reporting of the November 27 incident
Xiangshui county Chinese Communist Party publicity department (December 24, 2007)
On November 27, there was a huge explosion at the Lianhua Technology Company in the Chenjiagang chemical industrial district of Xiangshui county. After the explosion, we immediately carried out the emergency plan for news publicity in the aftermath of emergency events. Under the personal attention of the principal city and county leaders and under the proper leadership of the city and county emergency center, the city party publicity department and the city news publicity department went into full action to deal and mediate. In the two weeks or so after the incident, we received 69 reporters from 21 media organization such as Xinhua, China Youth Daily, Chinese News Agency, Xinhua Daily, Jiangsu Legal System Daily, Yangzi Evening News, CCTV Digital Channel's <Safety Online> program, Jiangsu TV, etc. Because we responded deftly, we acted appropriately and we mediated properly (and with the cooperation of the major media inside our own city), the entire mediation process was steady and positive. The mainstream voice stood out and suppressed the space for rumors, inaccurate reports and hypes to spread. Social stability and calm were thus insured and a favorable external environment was created for dealing with the matter. In the following, we list our major actions.
1. We had to make sure that we achieved the "Three Firsts" in order to take the initiative in news management.
The mediators had to arrive first at the scene. The November 27 explosion occurred at around 10:11am. We received the report and we were at the scene of the incident just after 11am. Based upon our initial understanding of the basic facts, we foresaw that many media reporters would be rushing to the scene. So on that day, we decided to set up a temporary press reception center in the conference room of the chemical industrial district administration office. We also set up a press center at the Yancheng county Five Continent Hotel which would provide lodging for the reporters. The entire organization was mobilized with more than 30 people from the television department, radio department and news information center to mediate on the news and publicity. At the same time, four deputy directors from the publicity department would be posted at the scene of the incident, the hospital, the press conference and the support logistics center respectively.
The reporters must be met in the first instant. When a reporter is identified and verified, we invite them to stay at the Five Continent Hotel. Each day, we will tally the reporters present and report the situation back to the command center. We ask the command center to maintain strict control of the scene of the incident and forbid any unauthorized reporters from taking photographs or interviewing people. At the same time, we ask the public security bureau to check all the hotels, hostels and motels in Yancheng county and Chenjiagang to look for reporters. We treat all reporters the same. We treat them as friends, we deal with them honestly, we care about their lives and we cooperate with their work. We try to satisfy any reasonable demand, in order to win their understanding, cooperation and support. The Xinhua reporter Deng Hualin had to return to Nanjing because of some other business. So we provided someone to accompany him all the way back. After arriving there, we spoke to him again and dissuaded him from coming back again. The CCTV program <Safety Online> sent an editor/cameraman team of three persons on the third day and went to stay at the Xiangshui hotel for the purpose of making an educational film for the CCTV Digital Channel. After we found out, we went over there immediately and persuaded them to stay at our reception hotel. We arranged five comrades and a vehicle to follow them and provide service. During the seven days, we insist on appealing to them through personal emotion and logical rationality. Our 24-hour-a-day companionship stopped them on four occasions when they attempted to gather news on their own. Ultimately, they abandoned their efforts. When they returned to Beijing, we sent a special car to accompany them to Lianyungang city and we waited until we saw them board the train.
The press releases must be provided to the media in the first instant. During the spreading of the news about an emergency incident, the most scary thing is not reporters fighting to file reports first. Rather, it is reporters filing reports that did not come from the government. Whoever files the news first holds the initiative on public opinion management. Normally speaking, the first 24 hours after an incident are the most critical. At a time when information spreads so rapidly, a delay would cause the public to lose confidence in the government. Therefore, with the approval of the command center, we distributed a written press release at 5pm on the day of the incident at the conference room of the Chenjiagang chemical industrial district administration office. Included in the press release was a preliminary report about the explosion. At around 11am on November 28, we held a second press conference at the Five Continent Hotel and we reported on the progress of the investigation. At 5:30pm on November 29, we held a third press conference at the Five Continent Hotel and we achieved the anticipated effect. The reporters were relatively satisfied.
3. We insisted on the "Three Unites" to create favorable conditions for mediating the news reporting
We insisted on uniting prevention and persuasion. At the scene of the incident, our workers collaborated with the comrades from the chemical industrial district. We patrolled the scene day and night and we prevented any unauthorized news gathering activities. During this period, three separate group of reporters attempted to enter by scaling the walls of the Lianhua Company. But they were discovered by the patrols and then persuaded to leave. At 6:30pm on the evening of the incident, two groups of reporters were discovered as soon as they arrived at the scene. They were politely invited back to the Five Continent Hotel by our workers.
At the County People's Hospital and other emergency medical centers, we wanted to create a tranquil environment for the medical treatments to proceed. Therefore we insisted on guaranteeing that no reporters would be allowed in the casualty areas. As soon as we discover any reporter, we would approach them to explain our policy and ask them to go to the press reception center instead.
We also paid attention to persuasive methods. Each day, we reported the activities and arrangements of the reporters to the command center and we recommended the timely delivery of press releases and the holding of press conferences. By providing the progress report to the reporters on a timely basis, we improved the exchange of information. From the incident to now, we held three press conferences. We explained the preliminary findings about the cause of the explosion and the identities of the deceased persons. We addressed the questions from Xinhua and China Youth Daily reporters and cleared up their doubts with good effects.
We insisted on uniting the uniting the important and the normal. We treated all the media organizations equally, but we also made some distinctions. We treated the important media as important and the normal media as normal. Xinhua is the state news agency and it is influential and authoritative. We treated Xinhua with the greatest importance, using a deputy manager and a 24-hour-a-day team the whole time. We were aware of their actions the whole time. Xinhua reporters Deng Hualin and Liu Shaoquan published our press releases. But they also wanted to go to the scene of the accident, including trying twice to break through our workers by force. Under the circumstances, after several discussions, the command center agreed for us to accompany them to the scene in order take photographs of the air quality monitoring equipment and the corner of the factory. The reporters objectively reported on the proper handling at the scene. Many websites carried this report and it became the mainstream voice. This overcame the excessive actions that the small number of reporters from China Youth Daily and Lifeweek carried out because they believed in rumors instead. Ultimately, most of the reporters followed or cooperated with our news mediation efforts.
We insisted on uniting concentration and dispersion. During our work, we concentrated our efforts on the press reception center and the mediation of news reporting. In the name of the command center, we centralized the responsibilities of the chemical industrial district, the county people's hospital, the funeral homes, the Lianhua Technology Company, the public security bureaus, the environmental protection agencies, the car rental companies and other units. We asked them to do their own jobs well while actively cooperating with the news mediation work. We asked them to pay careful attention to the actions of the reporters and make timely reports. We asked that no units or individuals should grant press interviews. On the evening of November 27, the Xinhua reporter went to the county People's Hospital and demanded to conduct interviewing there. The hospital staff refused to let him enter. They contacted the county hospital leaders who kept the reporters outside of the hospital ward on the grounds that they were interfering with the medical treatments. On the morning of December 5, three reporters from CCTV's <Safety Online> went to interview people in Shatang village, Chengjiagang. They hired a rental car form Wenhua Taxi and they asked the driver to turn his mobile telephone off. Under the circumstances, the driver asked to borrow another person's telephone and made a report to the company headquarters. This was very important in putting a stop to this particular news gathering effort.
During our reception process, we discovered that there were good and bad things in centralizing the reception. The good thing was that the reporters can be controlled more readily. The bad thing was that the reporters might get together and exchange information, thus causing problems with the news mediation process. Therefore, we used both approaches. The China Youth Daily reporter had been uncooperative ever since he showed up and he pressed many times to go to the scene of the incident. On November 27, we discovered that he was talking to the Xinhua reporters. So we made the decision to arrange for him to stay at the Xiangshui Hilton Hotel and we assigned a publicity department deputy director and three other workers to keep him company 24 hours a day. At 5am or so on November 28, this reporter tried to sneak out of he hotel but he was discovered by the comrades keeping watch in the hotel lobby and dissuaded from leaving.
3. We sought the "Three Supports" in order to guarantee the news mediation would work
We sought the support of the leaders, especially the leaders of the relevant departments. ... [Note: there is a long list of names of government and party officials credited here -- this is important to the extent that there are any questions about whether this purported internal report was fabricated because the fabricator would have to be familiar with the names, jobs and responsibilities of these persons.]
We sought the support from the backrooms of the media. For this news mediation effort, we obtained the genuinely sincere and understanding support of the <China County-Area Economic News>, <Yangzi Evening News>, <Modern Express>, <Jiangsu Legal System News> and other media. <Jiangsu Legal System News> sent four groups of reporters over. After we spoke to them, they said that they understood and they did not file any reports. The <Jiangnan Times>'s Yancheng bureau leader listened to our explanation and said that he understood. Their reporter was withdrew that night and nothing was reported there. <China County-Area Economic News>'s Jiangsu bureau did not even sent any reporters here and they actually volunteered to mediate with the other news reporters on our behalf.
We sought the support of people from various sectors, especially those comrades from Xiangshui who work in media or related organizations. We contacted them that night and told them about the situation. We asked them to speak for us to persuade the media organizations to use our press releases and de-emphasize the reporting of the case. A Xiangshu comrade now with the State Council called the China Youth League leader in charge of <China Youth Daily> to call their chief editor and asked for the matter to be de-emphasized and not hyped up. Sheyang county party committee publicity department director Zhou Feng also actively assisted us to mediate with the news reporting by the Xinhua reporters.
On the afternoon of December 4, we were attending the fifth anniversary event for the Jiangsu bureau of <Jiangsu Legal System News> and we learned from a media friend that the CCTV program <Focus Interview> intends to come to Xiangshu to cover the November 27 incident. We took a high degree of attention. On one hand, we reported to the relevant leaders to make sure that the preparations were made. On the other hand, we quickly found out the name, mobile telephone number and background of the informant and applied pressure through the department that employs him. At the same time, we quickly made contact with the informant and met with him directly in Quanyun. We discussed with him rationally and we appealed to his feelings. We asked him to contact the CCTV reporter and said that the information was inaccurate. This stopped the CCTV team from coming and therefore prevented what could be a major news story just in time.