Saturday, 24 May 2008


Quick media response reveals transparent gov't in China 2008-05-24

BEIJING, May 23 (Xinhua) -- On May 12, a powerful
earthquake measuring 8.0 on the Richter scale jolted
Sichuan Province, southwest China, with its tremors felt in
most parts of the country and some neighboring nations.

Minutes later, the Xinhua News Agency began pouring out
stories on the quake, while the China Central Television
(CCTV) interrupted its regular programs to give viewers
round-the-clock coverage of the disaster.

Death toll from the devastating earthquake increased to
55,740 nationwide as of Friday noon. In Sichuan alone
55,239 people had been confirmed dead as of 7:00 p.m.
Thursday, according to official figures.

The whole world was watching the quick and efficient relief
work carried by the government and the people, seeing tens
of thousands of military and civilian rescuers rush to the
quake zone, with President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao
standing on the ruins to soothe the survivors and encourage
relief workers.

Some observers attributed the timely and overall coverage
of the quake to the ideological emancipation that
accompanied the country's reform and opening-up drive over
the past 30 years, which brought about remarkable political
progress and transparency in China.

In the past, breaking news was a top secret to China's own
people and the international community was poorly informed
or left to guess.

On July 28, 1976, a quake measuring 7.8 on the Richter
scale devastated Tangshan City in northern China and
severely affected Beijing and Tianjin municipalities,
causing more than 240,000 deaths.

But the death toll was not declassified until three years
later,by a daring Xinhua veteran editor Xu Xuejiang, who
happened to learn about the death toll of the Tangshan
earthquake at an academic workshop in 1979.

"I made tremendous efforts to get the authorities to agree
to publish the figure," recalled Xu, who acted as a deputy
editor-in-chief of Xinhua in the mid-1990s.

The deadly epidemic of SARS (Severely Acute Respiratory
Syndrome) in 2003 was another good example. It was covered
up by some local governments in the initial weeks and the
public went into a panic. Beijing Mayor Meng Xuenong was
later forced to step down.

It was SARS that made the Chinese authorities aware of the
importance of protecting the public's right to know and the
dangers and risks of a possible government cover-up.

This year, the Chinese media did not hesitate to report big
events like the severe winter weather in southern China,
the Lhasa riot on March 14, and the derailment and
collision of passenger trains in Shandong Province on April

"Globalization means that nobody can cover up any news,"
said Wang Xiaozhen, an executive of CCTV. "The viewers want
us to release news in a timely way."

In recent years, the Communist Party of China led by Hu
Jintao has tried hard to deepen political reform. The media
have been allowed to play a bigger role in promoting
political transparency.

The 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China
(CPC) in October 2007 impressed people with the progress in
political reforms, by accepting the concept of protecting
people's right to know, participate, express themselves and
scrutinize the government, which drew great public

At the Party congress and this year's parliamentary session
in March, Chinese and overseas journalists were quite free
to observe panel discussions and interview legislators.

Nowadays in China, both the government and the public are
paying increasing attention to issues relating to people's
lives, Wang said.

The Provisions on the Opening of Government Information,
which took effect on May 1, say that the government must
publicize the information necessary for the public to know
widely or participate in.

Meanwhile, the Law on Emergency Responses, enacted Nov. 1,
does not prohibit media from reporting accidents on their

Information transparency on the quake is the latest, direct
proof of China's ideological emancipation, said Xiong
Wenzhao, a professor with the Law Institute of the Central
University for Nationalities.

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