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Posts Tagged ‘China Media Project’

Why is PR So Bad in China?

July 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Amongst the myriad thousand questions that the Wenzhou train accident last weekend has raised, one that lingers around the most is “why is PR so bad in China?”.  I had previously written about the epic gaffes that CCTV had played on the public, ranging from using footage from Top Gun in a report about a new fighter jet, to Hu Jin Tao visiting the home of a Chinese woman who claims to pay only 77rmb per month in rent.

From start to finish, the efforts of the spokespersons of the various government agencies that are involved in the train crash have been particularly underwhelming:

Wang Yong Ping’s (the spokesman for the Ministry of Railways whos was spotted recently taking the plane instead of the train)statement explaining (or not, as the case may be) why train carriages were buried at the scene of the accident almost instantly became an internet meme when he said

“…During the emergency rescue operations, the area was very complex, and there was a marsh below, so it was very difficult to do our best job. We also had to deal with all the other train cars, so (the earth-moving equipment operator) buried the front car below, covering it with earth, and it was mainly just a case of dealing with the emergency. This was the explanation he offered. Whether you believe it or not, I certainly do.”

Which wasn’t particularly reassuring, especially since, they’ve dug them back up again.

When Premier Wen eventually turned up to do the consolation thing that he’s so good at, he told reporters “I am ill, having spent 11 days in bed, but I managed to come today only after my doctor reluctantly allowed me to check out of hospital. This is why I didn’t come here sooner,”.  Not so ill, it would seem, to have met several different leaders of state in the last 11 days, however.  Not only did he lie, accordingly to The Shanghaiist, he lied to the same state controlled media that had in fact been openly reporting on the fact that he wasn’t ill and had attended several meetings:

On July 18, Wen received Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
On July 19, Wen presided over a State Council meeting on climate change and sustainable development.
On July 20, Wen presided over a State Council working session.
On July 21, Wen met up with Cameroonian President Paul Biya.
On July 24, Wen received a delegation from the Japanese Association for the Promotion of International Trade.
On July 27, Wen presided over another State Council working session.

The government appeared to want to use the crash as another attempt to stir up all the emotions that a growing dictatorship needs from it’s populous – instructing the media to specifically focus on stories that were “more touching” whilst telling them not to even think about investigating the causes of the crash themselves, along with terse, clear instructions not to reflect or comment.  The rules were happily ignorned when the journalists found out that no-one was really answering any questions at the press conferences.

The Chinese press has drawn parallels with another train crash that happened last year in Guangdong:

“Train K859 derailed on May 23 last year (the death toll given was 19), and a rescue worker tells our reporters: ‘The accident happened at 2am, and trains were running by 6pm [the same day], so last time the rescue work was even shorter. They used diggers to make a pit, then dragged the train cars into the pit. After that they used tractor shovels to crush them down. Some body parts that hadn’t been taken out were mixed in and buried together [with the wreckage]. A couple of weeks later, after the incident had settled down, everything was dug out again, everything cleaned away and carted off.”

When the company that supplied the railway signals held a “press conference” that was either grossly misreported on or so fantastically awful and mismanaged that it beggars belief and went through all the colours of the rainbow, starting as a calamity, through to a major crisis, and finally deciding on taking flight as a fully-fledged catastrophe (again from The Shanghaiist):

Q: What railway signals equipment has your company been supplying for the D trains?
A: You can check it out from our website yourself.

Q: What is your company’s relationship with the Ministry of Railways?
A: It’s not convenient to talk about that.

Q: What is the government board that is directly in charge of your company?
A: If you’ve made it to this press conference, you should know the answer.

Q: So why are you conducting today’s press conference?
A: Uh. I don’t know. The weather’s been really hot, and you guys have been having a hard time running around outside. (The phone rings.) Uh. Can I take this call?

Media: Can you please show us some respect around here? This is a press conference!
A: Uh. Please let me take this call really quickly.

Finally, when the names of the people who would be providing the “swift, open and transparent” investigation of the Ministry of Railways ordered by Wen Jia Bao, it appeared that almost all of them officials on the investigating committee are currently employed by the, er, Ministry of Railways.  According to the China Media Project’s Newswire, noted scholar He Weifang wrote that “Officials from the railway ministry stand out [on the list]. They should decline [participation]. No one can be a judge of events that directly concern their own interests — this is the most basic demand of procedural justice.”  I don’t think that anyone is holding their breath over that one.

For the most part, the Chinese government seem to have understood that they have lost this propaganda battle for now.  They may have taken the view that it’s probably best for the outrage to burn itself out in the press and in the Chinese cyberscape.  When the CCP decides that enough is enough, they’ll start clamping down on coverage sending the message that it’s no longer acceptable to discuss the failings of the Party.

Wenzhou Train Crash Round-Up

July 26, 2011 1 comment

By now you have probably heard about the Wenzhou Train Crash, which is China’s worst train crash since the Qingdao derailment in 2008.

The actual accident and the belated, lacklustre response from the government (and you might want to do a wordcloud on how many times “government reponse appears in this post) have been amplified well beyond any level that the CCP would wish for.

The Beijing-Shanghai high speed line was, of course, one of the flagship engineering projects that the government had been trumpeting for the last year or so, and the opening of the line coincided with the 1st July celebrations that were organised to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party.  It’s no big secret that things were pretty much rushed through to meet the deadline, and the Kunming Highway Project had already claimed ten lives a mere day and a half after it was opened.  What began as a unifying, rallying celebration of Chineseness has quickly dissolved into a backlash of fear and paranoia fostered on the Chinese internet through Weibo and Youku and has become a platform for scathing attacks from both the national press on the government, and for angry journlists who have begun demanding more that the usual excuses from party officials.

The China Media Project has a comprehensive  rundown of the salient points of the accident, starting with the now infamous claim from Wang Yong Ping that  “The Beijing-Shanghai High-speed Railway and Japan’s Shinkansen can’t even be raised in the same breath, because many of the technologies employed by China’s high-speed rail are far superior to those used in Japan’s Shinkansen,”

ChinaGeeks has been covering the days (Sunday, Monday and Tuesday since the crash, offering translations and reposts of the Chinese reaction to the accident and the government response.

Much has been made of the Chinese Propaganda Department’s media directives that were almost immediately leaked online that show exactly how the Chinese government manipulates the media to stir up feelings of national pride:

The latest directives on reporting the Wenzhou high-speed train crash:

1. Release death toll only according to figures from authorities.

2. Do not report on a frequent basis.

3. More touching stories are to reported instead, i.e. blood donation, free taxi services, etc.

4. Do not investigate the causes of the accident; use information released from authorities as standard.

5. Do not reflect or comment.

Reminder on reporting matters: All reports regarding the Wenzhou high-speed train accident are to be titled “7.23 Yong-Wen line major transportation accident.” Reporting of the accident is to use ‘In the face of great tragedy, there’s great love’ as the major theme. Do not question. Do not elaborate. Do not associate. No re-posting on micro-blogs will be allowed! Related service information may be provided during news reporting. Music is to be carefully selected!”
「温州事故报道的最新要求:1、死伤数字以权威部门发布为准;2、报道频度不要太密;3、要多报道感人事迹,如义务献血和出租车司机不收钱等等;4、对事故原因不要挖掘,以权威部门的发布为准;5、不要做反思和评论。

宣传提示:温州动车脱轨事故报道名称统一使用“7.23甬温线特别重大铁路交通事故”。温州动车事故从现在起以“大灾面前有大爱”为主题报道,不质疑,不展开,不联想,个人微博也不要转发!节目中可提供相应服务信息,音乐注意氛围!」

The Chinese microblog site has been at the centre of much of the outrage, starting with the survey that showed 97% of it’s users were unhappy with the government’s handling of the accident.  Chinese Youku users have been uploading videos to Youku and other sharing sites, including one  that shows a body being recovered from the crash.  Angry journalists demanding answers from the officials in charge of the recovery operation have also been posted online.

The Economist has an overview of how The Party responded in typical fashion – not blaming anyone and firing a few token officials (God forbid that they should resign and say sorry) and there’s blunt response from Stan Abrams over at China Hearsay to Megan MacArdle’s article in The Atlantic.