Following the massive Sichuan earthquake in 2008, Chinese media were under orders on how to report on the temblor, with the Propaganda Department (yes, that’s the official name) issuing orders on how the disaster should be covered.
Unfortunately, as Sophie Richardson, advocacy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division, noted in an opinion piece yesterday, local and national officials’ involvement didn’t end with ‘guidance’ over coverage—those speaking out about the shoddy construction standards of the collapsed school buildings were effectively persecuted for asking questions.
However, Richardson also notes that at the time, some reporting restrictions around the earthquake zone were lifted, prompting what she described as: ‘[R]elatively unprecedented coverage of the disaster inside China and around the world, leading to an extraordinary outpouring of support.’
It’s not clear yet, though, whether the government will have learnt its lesson from this. Malcolm Moore of the Daily Telegraph Tweeted a few hours ago that he had heard that foreign journalists weren’t being allowed within 80 kilometres of the Qinghai quake zone, while discussion of the quake is apparently being blocked on Baidu chat rooms. That said, I’ve seen information from one source stating that some foreign media have made it to ground zero of the quake, in Yushu.
At the time of writing, the quake had claimed at least 617 lives, with more than 300 people still reportedly missing. Securing accurate information from the remote town is obviously going to be a significant challenge. But for those interested, some images are already being posted online of the aftermath. A warning though—some of these pictures from the quake, and the thousands left homeless, are pretty graphic.