On Friday, the Chinese government imposed what amounts to a near-total news blackout about about the July 23rd accident between two bullet trains near Wenzhou in China’s eastern Zhejiang province. 40 people died and over 200 were injured in the crash, which officials say happened due to a signal that turning green instead of red. But families of those who died and were injured want to know if human error had anything to do with the accident. On Wednesday, says the Guardian, China’s state media said that more than 100 relatives of crash victims protested outside a railway station on and demanded to know the “true cause.”
Below is Chinese video footage of the crash:
Last week, the Guardian reported that the government had sought to control coverage of the accident in the media, with journalists ordered to report not about the actual details of the accident, but on “extremely moving” stories, such as about blood donations, with the overall theme about “great love in the face of great disaster. Then, last Friday, the Communist Party’s publicity department sent out an order: no reporting about the disaster except for “positive stories or information officially released by the government,” says the New York Times.
The result has been that newspapers have had to “frantically tear up pages of their Saturday editions, replacing investigative articles and commentaries about the accident that killed 40 people in eastern China with cartoons or unrelated features.” Many internet portals have also removed links to information about the crash. While the outcry continues on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, which is blocked in China — about why the accident happened, about possible errors made in the rescue effort and about “why images from the site showed wrecked train cars being buried in pits even before investigators began their work” — the traditional news media has been silenced:
“Tonight, hundreds of papers are replacing their pages; thousands of reporters are having their stories retracted; tens of thousands of ghosts cannot rest in peace; hundreds of millions of truths are being covered up,” the editor of Southern Metropolis Daily, a privately owned newspaper based in Guangzhou, wrote Friday. “This country is being humiliated by numerous evil hands.” His post, on the site Sina Weibo, was later deleted.
“My story will not go to print today and looks like I will have to write something else,” wrote another journalist. “I’d rather leave the page blank with one word — ‘speechless.’ ”
The New York Times reports that some publications have gone ahead and published their stories about the train crash:
One prominent weekly, the Beijing-based Economic Observer, ignored the directive, rolling out nine pages of coverage of the accident in its Saturday edition. The report described the Railway Ministry as a runaway operation; reconstructed the events in Wenzhou from the viewpoint of dozens of survivors; and examined the failure of the official, state-operated media to report the accident when it occurred.
The producer of a news program on CCTV, China’s state-owned television network, has reportedly been “reprimanded” and possibly “fired” for airing a program which included the following:
In a segment two days after the accident, the host of that program asked: “If nobody can be safe, do we still want this speed? Can we drink a glass of milk that’s safe? Can we stay in an apartment that will not collapse?”
“China, please slow down,” the host said. “If you’re too fast, you may leave the souls of your people behind.”
The response from Chinese authorities to the families of those killed and injured has been underwhelming. China’s Chinese premier Wen Jiabao did not visit the crash site until the middle of last week due to what were said to be health problems, an “extremely unusual comment in a country where the health of leaders is one of the most sensitive topics,” says the Guardian . Ten families have accepted compensation of 915,000 yuan ($142,000), which is double what the government initially offered to families of those killed. But says the BBC, other families are rejecting the offer.
This video shows a construction crew cleaning up the site of the crash.
The Chinese government has devoted huge resources to build the world’s largest high-speed rail network, with 10,500 miles of railway built in just the past few years. But the train wreck, and the continued cover-up about reporting about it, indicate to many Chinese an endemic problem with China’s Communist government: Is China “sacrificing people’s lives and safety in pursuit of breakneck development and is cloaking its failures in secrecy or propaganda”?
The answer seems to be an unfortunate “yes.” The Chinese government issued a similar silence on reporting about another health and safety scandal in 2008 about tainted baby formula which led to the deaths of at least six babies, and to about 300,000 children falling ill.
Related Care2 Coverage
Photo of Honqiao Railway Station by triplefivechina