Commercial media and police in Guangzhou face-off over “daze drug” rumors

February 16 — Is it an urban myth cooked up by attention-seeking commercial media or a news story in the public interest? … Two days ago law enforcement authorities in Guangzhou said at a press conference that a “thorough investigation” had found no evidence to support rumors that criminals might be using an anesthetic solution, or “daze drug”, to disarm victims in the city. Nevertheless, Guangzhou media persisted in reporting the “daze drug” story today, and it continued to gain national attention through popular Web portals like Sina.com. [BELOW: Screenshot of special coverage of the "daze drug" story at Sina.com, beneath today's story from Guangzhou's New Express].

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It was the latest installment in an ongoing war of words between Guangzhou law enforcement authorities and local media, who have faced numerous accusations lately of building up stories to drive up circulation. Back in January, Guangzhou’s top law-enforcement official, Zhang Guifang (张桂芳), blamed media for the worsening sense of public safety in the city.

News reports alleging attacks using “daze drugs” began surfacing in Guangzhou in September last year, creating concern among city residents, according to a report yesterday in Guangdong’s official Nanfang Daily.

One of the most controversial news reports at the time came from Guangzhou’s New Express, a popular commercial newspaper, which sent reporters out on the street to purchase “daze drugs”. According to their story, the reporters conducted an experiment with a white rat on site after purchasing a spray solution. The rat reportedly went unconscious as a result. The news report generated considerable interest in Guangzhou.

Nanfang Daily reported yesterday that police had carried out laboratory analysis of samples of an alleged “daze drug” and found ingredients ranging from ammonia water and menthol to camphor, but had found no chemicals capable of “controlling human thought or movement”.

The New Express was not convinced. In a report today, the paper re-visited the question and defended local media reports, speaking with Guangzhou residents and the reporters responsible for the above-mentioned story.

Mrs. Wang, a reader [of the New Express] who lives on Chebo Road called into the newsroom and said that in the last two years the public safety situation in Guangzhou has turned around a bit. The hard work of the police is to credit for this, but the investigations of the media are also inseparable. It’s because of media reports that a number of terrible cases and new types of cases have gotten widespread attention, causing the police to apply their strength. The “daze drug” issue is one example, and [she] hoped our newspaper would continue to report on crime problems.

The paper also offered testimony from a Ms. Luo, who claimed to have been the victim of a “daze drug” attack:

She said yesterday to this reporter that the last time she spoke to police was when they paid her a visit on September 6 [last year], and that no-one has sought her out since. Nor had she received any final word or response from the police. “I’ve never once changed my story. What I told the police was the same thing I told the press,” said Ms. Luo. “I am not lying. But no one has been reasonable with me”.

The article quoted one of the New Express reporters on the original “daze drug” story, curiously choosing to protect their identity:

“Now the police are saying ‘daze drugs’ don’t exist. As one of the original reporters on the undercover story, I can say we’re really happy. Because our intention in doing the report was to call police attention to this problem. We achieved our objective in looking into the so-called ‘daze drugs’ bandied about on the Web … But we’re also not convinced. Why were the explanations of criminals in the [police] case so different from the facts we uncovered in our investigation?”

MORE SOURCES (Chinese):
[Special page on "daze drugs" at Sohu.com]
["Do 'daze drugs' daze you? Not true!", Guangzhou Daily, February 15, 2007]

[Posted by David Bandurski, February 16, 2007, 6:55pm]

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