Sun, Aug 05, 2001 - Page 1 News List

Mine disaster in China illustrates press confusion

THE FOURTH ESTATE In their coverage of some local disasters and scandals, Chinese journalists are producing surprising scoops and highlight the disorder in the state-run press

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , BEIJING

This week, it looked like an all-too routine announcement of yet another appalling Chinese mine disaster.

A tin mine in the poor southern province of Guangxi flooded in mid-July, a major Shanghai newspaper, The Wenhui Daily, said on Tuesday. Seventy bodies had been recovered, and up to 200 more miners were feared lost.

Another newspaper, The Tianfu Morning News in Sichuan, reported that day that 200 men were believed trapped in the Nandan mine, 250km north of the Guangxi provincial capital, Nanning, after water stored in a shaft had rushed into active tunnels.

More than two weeks after the accident, on July 17, the facts are still in dispute. But the insistent denials of any significant death toll by local officials and the contradictory reports in some Chinese news media that hundreds have indeed died had become a study of creeping disorder in the state-run press.

The New China News Agency, or Xinhua, usually the central government's arbiter of the official "truth" about big events, has said nothing about the accident. Yet the Web site of the People's Daily, flagship of the Communist Party, weighed in Friday with an eyewitness report of mass tragedy, in effect calling Guangxi officials liars.

When it comes to news about communist leaders or important foreign-policy events, the central propaganda department still directs the media nationwide like a well-rehearsed orchestra. In their coverage of some local disasters and scandals, dogged and impatient Chinese journalists, often exploiting the power of the Internet as well as interprovincial rivalries, have produced surprising exposes.

On Wednesday, after the dire reports in a few papers, safety officials in Guangxi called them grossly exaggerated. "So far, I have not heard of any deaths," one official told the China Daily, the party's main English-language paper.

Yet even as it reported that assertion, the China Daily -- in a departure from its normal lap-dog tone -- dripped skepticism in a manner usually seen only in foreign reports. "Up to 300 may be trapped in tin mine accident" was the headline. The article quoted a resident of Nandan, by the surname Lu, who said local television had reported more than 300 trapped.

Chinese journalists who are working in the region said that they had been harassed by local authorities and warned not to write about the accident, and the local news media in Guangxi have recently been muzzled on the issue. But some reporters e-mailed articles outside the region this week, resulting in that first round of alarms.

In the latest surprise, the Internet news site of the People's Daily quoted a survivor from the disaster on Friday who said that 200 to 400 miners were lost. He accused local officials of a cover-up. Separately, a People's Daily reporter in Nanning said by telephone that he had personally seen an official list of 70 known dead.

People's Daily reporters in the area of the accident "feel their personal safety is at risk," one of them said. "We have had similar cases before when reporters were badly beaten while investigating mine accidents in this area."

This story has been viewed 3962 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top