Police prepare to block reporters from covering the site of a fatal gas explosion in Sanhe, a city in China’s northern Hebei province, on March 13, 2024. (Photo: AP/Ng Han Guan)

Rare rebuke for Chinese police who harassed state journalists covering gas explosion

Police blocked and harassed reporters from the state-owned broadcaster CCTV at the site of a fatal gas explosion in Sanhe, a city in China’s northern Hebei province, on March 13, 2024, according to news reports. The explosion was triggered by a gas leak at a restaurant, which killed seven and injured 27.

During a live broadcast about the tragic incident, two police officers interrupted CCTV reporter Yang Hailing and attempted to block the camera. At least 10 officers allegedly pushed another CCTV reporter, Xu Mengzhe, and two colleagues while they were reporting live on camera.

The incident prompted a rare rebuke from the All-China Journalists Association, a group overseen by China’s Communist Party. The association issued a statement demanding local authorities allow journalists to report on incidents concerning public security.

The Sanhe local government apologized to the reporters, noting that “some reporters were forcibly persuaded to leave while covering the event, exposing the shortcomings and inadequacies in our work.”

“We feel deeply responsible for this and apologize to reporters from CCTV and other media outlets,” the local government said in a March 14 statement.

CPJ has documented multiple incidents of harassment against Chinese state-run media reporters.

Separately, on March 4, Chinese authorities announced the cancellation of the annual press conference by its premier, which is one of the rare moments when a top Chinese leader would answer questions from journalists, according to news reports. The surprise announcement was not followed by an explanation for the cancellation.

The annual news conference has been held for decades at the end of the yearly parliament gathering but was scrapped at the close of this year’s annual parliament meeting and will not be held for the remaining term of China’s parliament, ending in 2027.

China was the world’s worst jailer of journalists, according to CPJ’s latest annual prison census, with at least 44 behind bars as of December 1, 2023.