Local officials are still trying to strike the proper balance between transparency and the traditional Chinese methods of information dissemination (or lack thereof) which we have all become so familiar with — namely, “monitoring,” “controlling” and “blocking.”
If the government had been open about the details of the “unusual death” of the girl in Weng’an on June 22nd, could it have prevented the destructive mass protests nearly a week later? That is the question asked by Ma Jun of yWeekend, translated here.
Thanks to Chinese citizen reporting online, news of the incident in Weng’an traveled quickly. Here is where the beginning of several breakthroughs in official coverage took place. Instead of simply scrambling to block any and all mention of the incident (although a fair share of that did still take place and Chinese netizens worked up new ways around it), this time around officials made more effective use of what amounts to PR control.
More than a dozen teachers who were familiar with the Internet were selected and transferred from the county schools and they acted systematically and purposefully to dispel rumors and calm people down with comments on the Internet… An official with the emergency handling command center also explained, “Apart from Weng’an county, all other counties and cities in the Southern Guizhou Prefecture assigned 5 Internet commentators each. Each day, they consulted the Xinhua news reports and other recently published information, and then they use a variety of flexible methods to guide Internet discussion.”
The second breakthrough in methodology came when just one day after the mass protest took place, it was covered by Xinhua news. Compare this to the past where several days would pass in complete silence while officials assessed the situation before issuing a formal statement. Finally, local officials arranged for outside media to interview principals involved to help dispel rumors and calm the angry citizens. Granted, the interviews took place with officials looking over their shoulders.
Even local Chinese reporters like Ma Jun and Wang Weibo of China News Weekly are not immune to receiving the run-around and dealing with “filtered” information. So while officials may be experimenting with loosening their hold on the media leash, it is evidently still too early to let go entirely.
Photo from Sohu News