Government bans reporting on bridge collapse; journalists assaulted

AUGUST 16, 2007
Posted August 21, 2007

Local journalists

Wang Weijian, People’s Daily
Hong Kefei, China Youth Daily
Long Zhi, Southern Metropolitan Daily

Unidentified journalist, Economic Observer
Unidentified journalist, Liaowang Oriental Weekly

The Central Propaganda Department banned journalists from independently reporting on a deadly bridge collapse in China’s Hunan Province and instructed media to use accounts from the official Xinhua News Agency, The Associated Press reported. Dozens of people died in the collapse. Shortly after the ban was issued, editors ordered staff to leave Fenghuang, the tourist town where the collapse occurred, one local journalist told the AP.

The same day, a group of about seven men and women in plain clothes assaulted five reporters as they conducted interviews with members of a family who had lost several men in the collapse, according to international news reports and articles published online. The assailants punched and kicked People’s Daily reporter Wang Weijiang in the abdomen after the journalist asked them to show identification, according to a firsthand account that was published on several domestic and overseas Web sites. The group, identified in the article as including the head of the local agriculture department and members of his staff, reportedly beat up Hong Kefei and Long Zhi when they attempted to stop the attack. Two more unidentified journalists were roughed up when they called police using a mobile phone.

This account of the incident was published on Tianya, a popular Chinese Internet forum, and the China Public Opinion Monitor, a Web site that registers human rights complaints. An English-language version appeared on the Hong Kong-based blog EastSouthWestNorth. Reuters reported that journalists on the scene confirmed the Internet account but declined to provide more details, “citing government wariness of contact with foreign media.”

Police responding to the journalists’ call for help brought them to a local station. A local propaganda official eventually came and apologized to reporters from the official People’s Daily newspaper and from Liaowang Oriental Weekly, a magazine run by Xinhua. However he was less conciliatory with the other reporters. “Apart from People’s Daily and Xinhua, all of you are gathering news illegally,” he said, according to the translation published by EastSouthWestNorth. “We will take steps against you for these illegal activities.”