Features include interactive map, in-depth stories, and more.Download now. »
The week's top five must-sees,
delivered to your inbox.
LinkAsia | Mar 4
A side effect of rapid industrialization and few regulations, China's rivers are often treated as little more than sewers. But as LinkAsia contribu...
Over in China, the government is continuing its trend of letting news organizations report sensitive, breaking stories. Stories that would have been censored just 10 years ago, like earthquakes and industrial accidents, are now being covered by state media. But as our contributor in China, David Bandurski, explains, the government's insistence on being the only source of information is leaving many Chinese people with a deep sense of doubt.
On July 1, China's official Xinhua News Agency reported that a fire in a shopping mall in the city of Tianjin killed 10 and injured 16 on June 30th. Photos like these were shared across websites and social media, where doubts about the official version of the story were already emerging.
Here's an online story that leads with the official Xinhua report, but adds accounts from eyewitnesses, like this one who says people were jumping from third story windows to escape the blaze. But the official Xinhua story was the only story in the newspapers. 10 dead, 16 injured. End of story.
By July 5, doubts and accusations were piling up on social media. This post reads:
"Online they are reporting 378 deaths, but the government is only reporting 10. Ah, what a corrupt government, our officials are like dogs."
And in this gruesome online cartoon, a slimy official lies before two shocked news reporters:
"There's just one body," he says. But the bulges under the sheet tell a different story.
Fuller reports of victims were already circulating on social media. In this one, "Tianjin" is substituted with "New York" to avoid temporary blocks of the city's name:
"Four in a family of five from New York's Shuilixin Village died in the blaze," says one entry. That's, of course, Tianjin's Shuilixin Village, located right near the site of the fire.
Late on the night of July 5th, the editor of one of China's biggest newspapers directly addressed the discrepancy in numbers:
"Regardless of whether public doubts are well-founded," he wrote, "these voices have drowned out official numbers once again showing us just how weak the government's credibility now is."
But the next day, just one newspaper in the entire country spoke up. The Qianzhong Morning News in far-flung Guizhou province, wrote:
"We need more openness of information about the blaze. Court investigators should look into the question of responsibility, speak up for those who died and offer the truth to the public."
That never happened. On July 9th, the news was dominated by another official Xinhua story. It stood by the original numbers and even quoted Tianjin police sources as saying "several web users who inflated the numbers of dead were being dealt with" and had already admitted their crimes.
Web users responded with fury and frustration:
"Now they say web users are spreading rumors. That's because they weren't open to begin with. If the government was open and transparent, rumors would not stand."
The truth about the Tianjin fire remains a mystery. No eyewitnesses have yet been able to speak. And as the story moves on, the public is left with an even deeper sense of doubt and mistrust of the official, authoritative voice. If there is only one voice -- even if it speaks the truth, does anyone dare to believe it?
In Hong Kong, I'm David Bandurski for LinkAsia.