And the clampdown has begun.
According to leaked directives from the propaganda department on Friday: “All articles on the Wenzhou train collision are to be put off the homepage with immediate effect. None are to be put on the homepage itself. In the news section, only one article may be placed there, but no commentaries are allowed. Promoting the discussion of related topics on forums, blogs and microblogs are not allowed. Forum sites are to remove all previously promoted articles and blogposts off from the frontpage and mini-sites immediately. All posts, blogposts and microblog posts that do not meet with the requirements of this afternoon’s orders are to be resolutely deleted. All sites are to implement this order with immediate effect, and to complete execution within half an hour. Checks will begin within half an hour.”
All major web portals have already duly complied with the orders, and mini sites specially created earlier for the Wenzhou train collision have all but disappeared.
In a related development, the producer of the CCTV programme 24 Hours, Wang Qinglei (王青雷) is said to have been sacked after the airing of the July 25 show. In the segment, host Qiu Qiming (邱启明) asked these very pointed questions:
“If nobody can be safe, do we still want this speed? Can we drink a glass of milk that’s safe? Can we stay in an apartment that will not fall? Can the roads we travel on in our cities not collapse? Can we travel in safe trains? And if and when a major accident does happen, can we not be in a hurry to bury the trains? Can we afford the people a basic sense of security? China, please slow down. If you’re too fast, you may leave the souls of your people behind.”
Wang Qinglei, producer of CCTV’s “24 Hours”, has been dismissed
It’s not clear if Wang was dismissed for his part in crafting or approving the above script, or for his views expressed in one of his microblog posts which went viral on Sina Weibo, and was subsequently deleted. In it, he said:
“In every society, there are always a few what I call “baseline occupations”, eg., teachers, doctors and journalists. If there is at least one teacher in this country who endeavours to set children the proper foundations, then this country still has hope. If there is at least one doctor who refuses to give preferential treatment by receiving bribes, then this country still has life. If there is at least one journalist who will not bow to the powers that be, then this country still has soul. China has lots of these!”
Another host Bai Yansong (白岩松), who has his own show “News 1+1” is also rumoured to be made to write a report after unusually critical remarks he made on air. The daily show was replaced with another programme for a day, sparking rumours that it had been cancelled, but it returned subsequently.
As for print media, the Economic Observer was praised yesterday for its bold (defiant?) feature entitled “Is there a miracle in Wenzhou?” even as other newspapers began consciously cutting back on coverage. The ten-page feature included such provocative articles as “What is the Ministry of Railways hiding?”, “Please respect life”, “Where the Ministry of Railways went wrong” and “The Ministry of Railways has a cold steely heart”.
Even so, coverage of the Wenzhou train collision is expected to decline significantly in the print media from now, as the propaganda department cracks its whip and demands stricter toeing of the line.
As news of the media crackdown sparked fury and incredulity, some have called for the media to jointly defy the orders of the propaganda bureau. Zhang Xuezhong (张雪忠), lecturer at the East China University of Political Science and Law in Shanghai, called on the Chinese media to close ranks and work together to defend its dignity. He said, that if the media could join forces to act in accordance with their conscience, they might very well be changing the course of history.