Newspaper suspended after exposing mining accident cover-up

New York, September 27, 2005— The Committee to Protect Journalists today condemned the suspension of a Chinese daily for reporting in August on the cover-up of a coal mining accident in the central city of Ruzhou. Henan Shang Bao (Henan Business News) was suspended for a month from September 17 for “inaccurate reporting” on orders of the General Administration of Press and Publications and the Central Propaganda Department, according to the Singapore-based Chinese-language daily Lianhe Zaobao. A reporter and an editor have been suspended, and prominent Henan journalist Ma Yunlong, a news advisor to the daily, was asked to resign, according to news reports.

“It is outrageous that Chinese authorities should ban a newspaper from publishing for a month simply because it reports attempts to cover up yet another accident in an industry with a troubled safety record,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said.

Henan Shang Bao detailed attempts by officials to suppress news of a flood in the mine in July. Local authorities paid a total of RMB 200,000 (US $24,715) in hush money to hundreds of real and bogus reporters who arrived in Ruzhou, the paper’s reporter Fan Youfeng wrote. Fan, who had expected to be offered hush money, said that he accepted a bribe of RMB 1000 which he turned over to his office. Fan wrote that people posing as reporters turned up as news of the accident spread, believing that officials had paid hush money in the past. Fan’s report was picked up by newspapers and online bulletin boards.

“The story is true; I have the interviews on tape. But I have been questioned by the government. It is very sensitive. I hope you understand I cannot say any more to you,” Fan said when contacted by Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, according to a September 14 report.

Mining accidents kill thousands of workers in China each year, and often go unreported because of intimidation or bribes. In 2003, government-run Xinhua news agency reported that 11 of its reporters had been found guilty of accepting large bribes in the cover-up of a gold mine explosion that killed 46 people in Shanxi province the previous year.