Newspaper editorial calls for greater information openness to combat snowstorm woes

By David Bandurski — As snowstorms continued to wreak havoc across China today, the principal editorial in The Beijing News (新京报) said the government could do more to offset problems by loosening controls on the flow of information. “Obstruction of information is the enemy of emergency relief, and the present snowstorms are no exception,” the editorial said.

The editorial made particular mention of reports over the weekend that congestion on the Hunan sections of the Beijing-Zhuhai and Hengzao (衡枣) expressways had been caused not just by weather conditions but by the closure of expressways in neighboring provinces. Hoping to circumvent route closures elsewhere, tens of thousands of vehicles entered Hunan only to find expressways closed there as well.

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[ABOVE: Screenshot of Sina.com news photo page on snowstorms]

“Chaos in the release of traffic information . . . made traffic problems resulting from the snowstorms worse,” said The Beijing News.

From this we must learn that we can avoid unnecessary oversight, bungling and chaos by opening up the flow of information and ensuring the whole nation works together to avoid disaster.

The actions of many government agencies, said the editorial, have gone directly against the principle of openness.

According to Xinhua News Agency reports on January 27 power outages disrupted national arterial train routes in eastern Guizhou, where storms were particularly fierce. When the Xinhua reporter approached relevant government offices to inquire about this situation, government personnel not only refused to answer his questions or provide information, but even accused him of “stirring up trouble.”

“Train disruptions, their causes and repair status are information travellers should have at their disposal, and this should be actively provided to media (理应主动向媒体通报). We must put an end to the bottling up of information by government offices,” said The Beijing News.

[Posted January 29, 2008, 12:52pm HK]

MORE SOURCES:
Blizzards strand thousands in China,” AP, January 29, 2008
Wild China weather kills 25, besieges heartland,” Reuters, January 29, 2008
China issues severe weather warning amid fuel shortage fears,” AFP, January 28, 2008

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