China imposed a widespread ban on coverage of last week’s high-speed train crash, forcing newspapers across the country to scrap pages of stories, a Hong Kong newspaper reported yesterday.
The Sunday Morning Post said that Chinese propaganda authorities issued a censorship order late on Friday, banning all coverage of the crash “except positive news or information released by the authorities.”
The ban came after state media published rare criticism of the government over its response to the July 23 crash, which killed at least 40, injured almost 200 and called into question the fast expansion of China’s high-speed rail network.
“After the serious rail traffic accident on July 23, overseas and domestic public opinions have become increasingly complicated,” the order from the Publicity Department of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) said, according to the Post.
“All local media, including newspapers, magazines and Web sites, must rapidly cool down the reports of the incident. [You] are not allowed to publish any reports or commentaries, except positive news or information released by the authorities,” it said.
The sudden ban sent to newspaper and Web editors forced the China Business Journal to scrap eight pages of its paper, the Post reported, while the 21st -Century Business Herald had to scrap 12 and the Beijing News nine.
The papers had planned special coverage to mark the seventh day after the disaster, the report said. Xinhua news agency was forced to warn subscribers not to use a report it had issued.
The apparent ban was the second since the fatal crash, after propaganda authorities a day after the accident forbade local journalists from questioning the official line, according to the US-based China Digital Times.
That order appeared to be widely ignored, with a comment piece in the CCP mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, on Thursday arguing that China “needs development, but does not need blood-smeared GDP.”
After Friday’s reported order, angry journalists and editors published the spiked pages on the Twitter-like service Weibo, the Post reported, complaining they were forced to concoct other stories to fill the empty pages at the last moment.
“I was ordered to write something to fill up the empty pages at 10pm. At midnight I could no longer control myself and cried,” one reporter was quoted by the newspaper as writing.
The Hong Kong Journalists’ Association (HKJA) condemned the ban, saying it was not in line with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s (溫家寶) pledge of an “open and -transparent” investigation when he visited the crash site last week.
“HKJA is appalled by such a move and demands that the -Chinese Communist Party’s -Propaganda Bureau withdraw this directive and allows the media to report the truth freely,” it said in a statement issued late on Saturday. “We urge premier Wen to personally follow up on this issue.”
The association — which -represents 500 journalists in semi--autonomous Hong Kong, which enjoys rights not seen elsewhere in China — urged media to continue reporting on the crash “so that the whole world will know what is going on.”
Analysts last week predicted a clampdown on Chinese state media and possibly also on Weibo, where furious Web users have vented their views since the crash.