Caijing and Xinhua: a hasty comparison of party and commercial earthquake coverage

By David Bandurski — In a scurry to live up to CMP’s promise to provide sideline analysis of Chinese media coverage of the Sichuan quake, we offer the following selections from Caijing magazine, one of China’s leading business and current affairs publications (now strongly online), and Xinhuanet, the online site of the official Xinhua News Agency. [Frontpage Image: Screenshot of Caijing online feature page on the Sichuan earthquake.]

Impressionistic and totally unscientific, these selections prove a point, admittedly, that hardly needs proving – that there are substantial differences in reporting style and focus between China’s commercial media and official party outfits like Xinhua and CCTV.

While noting obvious differences, we should also recognize that not all reports from Xinhua, CCTV, China National Radio, etcetera, have focused narrowly on political figures and their movements and emotions.

Having settled on these two sites, we selected the top two to three headlines appearing, in order of prominence, at 6:30pm Hong Kong time, May 15. This is what we came up with.

xinhuanet.jpg

[ABOVE: Main page of Xinhua News Agency website as it appeared at 6:30pm on May 15.]

The top of Xinhua’s site was dominated by two articles in particular. The first, announced with a banner headline, was called, “72 Hours After the Quake, We Again Sound the Charge to Save Lives.” We’ll let the article’s lead and initial graphs speak for themselves.

According to earthquake experts, the first 72 hours after the disaster occurs is the golden period [in which lives are most likely to be saved]. After 72 hours, the chances of survival for those trapped among the rubble drop dramatically as time passes. But as Wen Jiabao, commander of the relief effort, has said, even if there’s only a one percent chance, we must give one-hundred percent of our effort. While the initial 72 hours have passed, the effort to save lives in the disaster area goes ahead with orderly anxiousness.

The Wenzhou earthquake has tugged at the heartstrings of the CCP. After the earthquake occurred, General Secretary Hu Jintao immediately issued important instructions, demanding that the injured be rescued quickly and the safety of lives in the disaster area be ensured. Premier Wen Jiabao arrived in the disaster area the same day, and he remains on the front lines directing the rescue and relief effort. Army, police, officials, firefighters, medical workers and all manner of relief personnel are getting into the disaster area despite the fact that roads are blocked and heavy equipment cannot make it in.

They climb onto dangerous structures, clear away the rubble, ever faced with the danger of aftershocks, doing everything in their power to save any life that can be saved. According to the latest reports, rescue workers saved 18,277 injured in the disaster area on May 14, bringing the total number of people saved to 64,725.

[The report continues at length, detailing the “tireless efforts” of the rescue teams.]

Below this piece, at the top of the news docket, was an article called, “Reading the Popular Sympathies (民生情怀) of the Premier from His Disaster Relief Journey”. It was essentially a play-by-play look at the actions of Wen Jiabao.

At 2:28pm on May 12 an earthquake measuring 7.8 occurred in Sichuan’s Wenchuan County. The earthquake’s waves were felt in 16 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities, including Sichuan, Ningxia, Gansu, Qinghai, Shaanxi, Shanxi, Shandong, Hebei, Henan, Hubei, Hunan, Chongqing, Jiangsu, Beijing, Shanghai, Guizhou and Tibet.

After the earthquake occurred, the party and government responded at the first moment, and with General Secretary Hu Jintao’s approval, Premier Wen Jiabao moved with resolve to fly to the front lines, despite the imminent danger of aftershocks and the interruption of transportation and communication.

[A detailed description follows of Wen Jiabao’s movements. Who he consulted with. When his plane took off. When he arrived in Sichuan, etc.]

The home page at Caijing‘s website most prominently featured an editorial by Huang Puping (皇甫平) urging postponement of the Olympic torch relay so that all resources could be concentrated on the relief effort. Huang suggested, as an alternative, a symbolic relay of the torch directly from Wenchuan – the quake’s epicenter – to Beijing once China is through the initial phase of rescue and relief work.

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[ABOVE: The main page of the Caijing website as it appeared at 6:30pm on May 15.]

The next piece under the “daily news” section was called, “Number of Dead in Sichuan Quake Approaches 20,000”. The article focused on the latest figures for the quake devastation as given by official sources at the provincial level.

The number of dead in Sichuan has risen to 19,500, the number of injured is put at around 100,000, and 13,000 people have been rescued. Rescue teams have still not entered 58 townships.

Zhao Jianfei (赵剑飞), Li Weiao (李微敖), Chengdu – According to information from the Sichuan Provincial People’s Government, the number of dead in the Wenchuan earthquake in Sichuan province has reached 19,500, up from 5,000 reported yesterday (May 14). The rescue effort is tackling key problems, and the central government has sent an additional 90 helicopters.

At 5:22pm on May 15, the Information Office of the Sichuan Provincial People’s Government held a brief press conference to relay the latest developments in the Wenchuan earthquake disaster and the rescue and relief effort.

Sichuan’s vice-governor, Liu Chengyun (李成云), said that so far 19,500 people had died in the Wenchuan earthquake, an estimated 102,100 people had been injured, and 13,400 people had already been rescued . . .

[Subsequent paragraphs provide further provincial government details on the rescue effort, such as the need to provide maps and coordinates for the 58 townships that had yet to be reached by rescue teams.]

Finally, the second major “daily news” piece reported on the movement of disaster relief supplies into the affected areas. Called, “Why is it so hard to get relief resources into the hand of disaster victims”, the piece provided a rather in-depth look at how the disaster response process worked within the Ministry of Civil Affairs. The report also quotes a United Nations representative in Beijing.

The Ministry of Civil Affairs explains that the primary reason is congestion and blocking of transportation. Air drops are now beginning for those areas that cannot be reached.

Reporter Cao Haili (曹海丽) — In the two days since the Wenchuan earthquake disaster occurred, this correspondent has reported from the scene that disaster victims are in urgent need of relief supplies. But many disaster victims have still not received any help whatsoever. Concerning this problem, a spokesperson from the Information Office of the Ministry of Civil Affairs surnamed Cao explained to the Caijing reporter that this situation has occurred because “supply transports are unable to enter [the area].

According to this source, the Ministry of Civil Affairs put into effect a “Level-Two Response” pre-plan (“二级响应”预案) around 4pm on May 12, within two hours of the quake, deciding that the head of the ministry would organize an earthquake relief working group and travel directly to the disaster area [to oversee the effort].

This so-called “Level-Two Response” was made according to the stipulations of China’s January 11, 2006, “National Disaster Response Plan” (国家自然灾害救助应急预案), in which four response levels were established, Level One being the most severe.

Cao explained to Caijing that they issued a Level-Two response because after the earthquake occurred all communication lines were disrupted, and at the time “we had no idea what the situation was, or how serious it was.” But when the ministry reported to the State Council, Premier Wen Jiabao decided himself to lead the team to the disaster site, and the response was elevated to Level One.

According to the National Disaster Response Plan, the National Disaster Mitigation Committee of the Ministry of Civil Affairs (民政部下属的国家减灾委员会) is the body tasked with overall coordination of relief and rescue efforts in natural disaster situations.

[The article continues to describe in great detail how, “in theory”, responses to disasters are to be coordinated from the Ministry of Civil Affairs. The subject then turns to international aid.]

In terms of aid supplies offered by the international community, Cao said these are also distributed by the Ministry of Civil Affairs. Green channels have already been opened at customs [to facilitate such aid]. Two shipments of supplies from Russia have already arrived in Chengdu. Of course, China is still primarily relying on domestic strength.

Ten countries have already donated aid money and supplies to China. Among international organizations, the United National Children’s Fund has already donated 300,000 U.S. dollars in aid. The United Nations Volunteers representative in Beijing, John Floretta told Caijing that a number of organizations under the U.N. are negotiating and making assessments with their Chinese counterparts in order to determine the scale and nature of relief work by U.N. bodies.

Floretta praised China’s government for its relief work so far, and said that while the U.N. was standing at the ready, he believed “it is not yet the time for the United Nations to send relief workers.” Unlike 30 years ago, he said, China today had sufficient financial resources and organizational ability to deal with this natural disaster. If foreign aid workers were let in now, this might cause distraction due to problems of communication and other obstacles, impacting the effectiveness of rescue and relief work.

[Posted by David Bandurski, May 16, 2008, 4:45pm HK]

2 Comments to “Caijing and Xinhua: a hasty comparison of party and commercial earthquake coverage”

  1. [...] for en mere kritisk dækning skal man kigge på for eksempel Caijing. China Media Project har lavet en god og uvidedenskabelig sammenligning af de to mediers dækning, der giver et godt [...]

  2. DBC says:

    Thanks for this. A good unscientific but necessary review.

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