/Minitrue: Warn Vendors Against Foreign Media Interviews on Henan Floods – China Digital Times (CDT)

Minitrue: Warn Vendors Against Foreign Media Interviews on Henan Floods – China Digital Times (CDT)

The following censorship instructions, issued to the media by government authorities, have been leaked and distributed online. The name of the issuing body has been omitted to protect the source.

Currently many foreign media are conducting on-the-scene coverage near the Jingguang road tunnel. Given the sensitivity of this topic, it could easily attract a high level of international public attention and stir up international public sentiment. It is recommended that each administrative district office assign personnel to thoroughly conducting door-to-door visits to each local business, warning all these vendors to sharpen their vigilance, not give interviews to foreign media, and deny the other side any opportunity to take quotes out of context and distort the facts. If any such incidents are discovered, notify the administrative district office or report it to the police. Pay attention to work method: absolutely do not use SMS or WeChat messages, please go door-to-door to give spoken notification. (July 24, 2021) []

This suspected local “grassroots propaganda notice” has been circulating online from various sources following last week’s disastrous floods in Henan. An earlier directive published by CDT urged domestic media to focus on post-disaster recovery and not to “publish unauthorized images showing dead bodies, take an exaggeratedly sorrowful tone, or hype or draw connections to past events.”

NPR’s Emily Feng reported on last week’s events at the tunnel named in the instruction above:

Only a few hundred feet north of Wang’s restaurant is the Jingguang traffic tunnel, built in low-lying, formerly swampy land. Water began rushing into the mile-long tunnel last Tuesday, creating a strong current against which Wang and her son fought to stay upright.

“Around 20 or so people – male, female, old, and young – were also trying to get home in the storm, so we linked arms, with the front pulling the back row forward, and the back pushing the front onwards,” says Wang. She made it home, a few hundred feet away, in just over an hour.

Those inside the tunnel were less lucky. Nearly 200 cars inside became stuck in several feet of water, then began floating. Several drivers behind them stayed in their cars, believing the pause to be traffic. At least two passengers never made it out.

[…] As of Sunday, rescue teams were still draining water from two of three sections of the tunnel. When NPR visited the tunnel three days after the flood, hundreds of police hovered around the site, shooing away curious onlookers while several mud-caked cars sat nearby, having been dredged from the waters. []

Anger has flared online in the wake of foreign media coverage of the floods. Many reports questioned aspects of the authorities’ preparation for and handling of the floods. These include the provincial capital Zhengzhou’s “sponge city” flood control strategy, and the decision to keep the city’s subway running for as long as it did. (More than 500 people were trapped underground when the system flooded, and at least 12 drowned.) Much of the criticism has focused on Robin Brant of the BBC. The organization has suffered a backlash in recent months over its coverage of mass detentions in Xinjiang, leading one of its reporters to leave the country.

Several foreign journalists have described uncomfortable scenes while reporting from the flood zone:

exactly the same thing happened to me yesterday at almost precisely the same location… I got reported to the police

— Dake Kang (@dakekang) July 25, 2021

Later on we realized that was actually a screenshot of @robindbrant from the BBC, and that Weibo users had been calling for a manhunt to catch the “rumormongering foreigner.” They’d been photographing Mathias for days and posting shots online saying he must be the BBC

— Alice Su (@aliceysu) July 25, 2021

Prior to this we had been chatting w people on a street where several huge holes and opened in the road. Shopkeepers were distressed about insufficient govt help to drain water from their underground stores, w all their goods still submerged after four days pic.twitter.com/4bVFsujhhn

— Alice Su (@aliceysu) July 25, 2021

There were many other ppl in Zhengzhou and the surrounding worse-hit areas who were open and even eager to talk about the destruction and difficulties they’re facing. But this crowd seemed really angry and eager just to tell the foreigners off (有人说“我们要捍卫中国”)

— Alice Su (@aliceysu) July 25, 2021

We weren’t the only foreign reporters who encountered hostility in Zhengzhou this week: https://t.co/ttCiC0CrlE

Just to give you guys an idea what environment leads to this kind of incident. This is a post by Henan’s Communist Youth League asking netizens to follow around @robindbrant and report his whereabouts. https://t.co/y18TTR9JY4 pic.twitter.com/mPoETs3sVu

— Mathias Boelinger (@mare_porter) July 25, 2021

How times have changed… https://t.co/REP0dUSHUH

— Mathias Boelinger (@mare_porter) July 26, 2021

Su was previously detained and expelled from Inner Mongolia while reporting on language protests in the region last September. Bölinger described mounting interference with foreign journalists’ work at Deutsche Welle in March following the release of this year’s annual report from the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China:

Mathias Bölinger, a DW journalist based in China, said while the situation in China has deteriorated over the last few years, it has dramatically worsened over the last year. “It has become harder to find interviewees and scheduled interviews are often cancelled,” Bölinger said.

He added that Chinese people are less willing to talk about political topics and are often warned not to give interviews to foreign journalists. Foreign correspondents are also facing more and more restrictions in other aspects.

“Previously, foreign journalists were only followed by Chinese police in sensitive regions like Xinjiang, Qinghai, and Inner Mongolia, but now foreign journalists are also being followed in major cities, such as Hangzhou,” Bölinger said. “In addition, quarantine rules, such as isolation rules, are being used arbitrarily, especially in Xinjiang.”

9/ Informational access is diminishing. 88% said interviews were cancelled by subjects were barred from speaking to a foreign journalist. This represents an increase from 76% in 2019.

— Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (@fccchina) March 1, 2021

Since directives are sometimes communicated orally to journalists and editors, who then leak them online, the wording published here may not be exact. Some instructions are issued by local authorities or to specific sectors, and may not apply universally across China. The date given may indicate when the directive was leaked, rather than when it was issued. CDT does its utmost to verify dates and wording, but also takes precautions to protect the source. See CDT’s collection of Directives from the Ministry of Truth since 2011.