Chinese rescue workers by the wreckage of train cars in Wenzhou on Sunday. (AP/Color China Photo)
Chinese rescue workers by the wreckage of train cars in Wenzhou on Sunday. (AP/Color China Photo)

China obstructs train disaster reporting

New York, July 25, 2011–Information authorities should allow open reporting on Saturday’s high-speed rail crash in Zhejiang province, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

At least 35 people were killed and 200 people injured when one bullet train collided with a second near the city of Wenzhou, according to the BBC.

Propaganda authority directives to news outlets ordering them not to send reporters to the scene were leaked online, according to Hong Kong University’s China Media Project. The directives said “the Wenzhou train accident should be reported along the theme of ‘major love in the face of major disaster,'” with no doubt or speculation regarding the cause, according to the Media Project translation. 

China’s Central Propaganda Department issues a near constant stream of directives to control the reporting on sensitive issues, particularly when reporting can turn critical of the authorities.

“China’s propaganda machine must allow news outlets to provide victims of this tragedy, and the people of China, with an honest account of what happened,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ Asia program coordinator. “Wantonly dishonest and manipulative policies aimed at obstructing the media only lead to misinformation and rumor and make it hard for the authorities to improve safety in the future.”

Rail authorities said the first train lost power when it was struck by lightning, but some state media said both trains were moving when they crashed, leading to online speculation about a cover-up, according to international news reports. Images showing the prompt removal and burial of the mangled train cars, ostensibly to protect the technology, circulated on social networking sites. The response added fuel to the claims that authorities were trying to cover up design flaws or wrongdoing and to avoid an open investigation, the reports said. Although reporters made it to the scene, coverage in the country’s mainstream media generally reflects propaganda officials’ guidelines.

Three senior rail officials were dismissed, but critical discussions of the official response to the crash and suspicion about the newly introduced high-speed rail continued in online forums, according to Reuters