Journalists and media restricted following deadly explosion in China

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) expresses concern over the restrictions for journalists and media workers trying to report on the deadly explosions in Tianjin on August 12. The IFJ reiterates its calls made on August 14 for the government to ensure media workers have free access to report on the incident.

According to state-owned media Xinhua and China Central Television, at least 104 people including 21 firefighters died in the explosions. The death toll is expected to rise as dozens of firefighters are still missing and over 700 people have been injured. 

On August 13, the day after the explosions, the Chinese government announced that all media were banned from any independent reports, analysis or live broadcasting. Instead all media were to only republish reports by Xinhua, the People’s Daily Online and Tianjin Northern Online. Numerous Mainland media ignored the requests and instead published independent reports.

Zhengzhou Evening Newspaper (a subsidiary newspaper of Zhengzhou Daily which is under control by Zhengzhou government) ignored the request and as such were punished by the State Internet Information Office. The Office said that the Newspapers social media platforms did not verify the information they were posting. As such the account was shut down for one week.

On August 14, the State Internet Information Office said that they had shut down more than 360 social media accounts following the explosions. The Office said that the accounts had violated the administrative regulations by disseminating rumours or defrauded people’s money. The Office also said that some prominent bloggers were creating an atmosphere of terror by comparing the Tianjin explosions to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings in 1945. As such over 70 social media accounts of prominent bloggers had been shut down permanently.

On August 15, the State Internet Information Office shut down another 50 websites for the publication of information relating to the explosions. 18 of those websites were shut down permanently, while the remaining were shut down for one month. On August 16, the Tianjin Police Department arrested a man for allegedly reporting higher casualties of the incident on his social media account, QQ.

Journalists reporting close to the scene were also punished, with four journalists from New Beijing forced to leave by police on August 13. Images taken from their mobile phones, cameras and computers were checked and deleted by police, and a body search was conducted on one journalist for any concealed memory cards.

According to Foreign Correspondents’ Club in China, at least five journalists were interrupted during broadcast by either unknown people or the police, including CNN’s Will Ripley and New York Time’s Andrew Jacobs. Both journalists received verbal abuse from unknown people outside the hospital where many of the injured were taken. Members of the crowd also demanded Ripley delete his recorded footage of the aftermath.

A similar incident happened to Seth Doane of CBS News, where a local policeman used a soda bottle to cover the camera while another attempted to physically drag Doane away from the hospital.

On August 13, China Central Television was criticised for abruptly disconnecting a live broadcast of a press conference without explanation. During the press conference, officials were unable to provide answers to a journalist’s repeated questions about the minimum distance between the chemical warehouse and residential area.

The IFJ Asia Pacific Office said, “It is evident that media workers are still being interrupted by unknown people and policemen after the Minister of Tianjin Propaganda Department assured journalists that their duties and rights would not be hindered. The media community has a right to report on the Tianjin explosion and the people of China also have a right to information – not simply the information provided by the state media.”

The IFJ calls on the local and national government to ensure the media has free access to the site of the explosion and is free to report on the incident as it develops. 

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0946 

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 134 countries

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