How did China’s media play news of the Xinjiang attacks?

By David Bandurski — Hong Kong’s Apple Daily reported at the tip-top of page one yesterday that the Tuesday edition of People’s Daily reported nothing whatsoever of the terrorist attacks in Xinjiang that left 16 police officers dead and 16 wounded on Monday. Commercial newspapers “like Southern Metropolis Daily, Beijing Times and The Beijing News,” said the Hong Kong paper, mentioned the Xinjiang attack only briefly in the inside pages.

But while Apple Daily‘s point that coverage of the incident was scant is basically sound, it is not true the People’s Daily ran no coverage, and not exactly true that commercial papers ran the story only inside.

So what did the pages look like?

For starters, everyone did use the official Xinhua News Agency release, or tonggao (通稿), so there were no breakthroughs so far as we can see. We recommend that readers visit the Newsweek blog for some relevant observations on breaking coverage of the bombing.

First off, People’s Daily‘s front page looked like this on Tuesday morning.

peoples-daily-august-5-2008-frontpage-no-terror-story.JPG

At top right there is a positive story about volunteers for the Beijing Olympics. Directly below is the leading official news story, about President Hu Jintao heading up a meeting of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The story to the left and below is again about the IOC meeting, this time with the text of Hu Jintao’s remarks.

There is nothing about the Xinjiang attack. That is, until we turn to page two. There we find a busy layout full of mostly snore-inducing official announcements, including a State Council notice concerning China’s anti-monopoly law.

Once you have trudged downhill through all of this stodgy matter, however, you can locate a tiny, timid headline announcing major news: “Severe Violent Attack Against Police in Xinjiang’s Kashgar.”

peoples-daily-page-2-domestic-news-with-tiny-xinjiang-terror-story.JPG

This burying of major news on page two of the People’s Daily is something that happens quite frequently in China, and something we’ve called attention to before.

Moving on to the Beijing Times, a commercial spin-off of the official People’s Daily, we see a slight change in treatment of the Xinjiang story, reminiscent of the way the two papers treated the Liu Zhihua corruption case in 2006.

Here is Tuesday’s front page at the Beijing Times.

beijing-times-august-5-2008-frontpage.JPG

The leading news stories are about the Beijing route to be taken by the Olympic torch, and the starting time for the opening ceremony in the “Bird’s Nest” (4 pm for those of you who are curious).

The larger headline toward the bottom of the page — the one circled in red — is about the Xinjiang attack. The headline reads: “16 Killed in Bomb Attack on Border Police in Kashgar.”

We are then referred to page 17 for the full article, presumably the Xinhua news release, but the page has, for some unknown reason, been removed from the newspaper’s electronic version.

Readers should notice, however, that aside from placement and headline size, the Beijing Times has reported the number of police who died in the attack directly in the front page headline.

And what about Southern Metropolis Daily, one of China’s leading commercial newspapers singled out by Apple Daily?

Southern Metropolis Daily does in fact give the Xinjiang story front page treatment, emphasizing again the number of dead and injured. “Bomb Attack on Police,” announces a bold yellow headline against a black background, “16 Dead, 16 Injured.”

nfdb-august-5-2008-frontpage-terrorist-headline.JPG

We are then referred to page A23 for more coverage. There we find a great big headline again announcing 16 dead and 16 injured, but adding that two suspects are now in custody. At right, in the upper right-hand corner of the page, we find the Xinhua release.

nfdb-august-5-2008-pga23-domestic-with-terror-report.JPG

The Oriental Morning Post, one of Shanghai’s leading commercial newspapers, gives the story even more prominent front page play.

The headline is less conspicuous, placed underneath a fatter banner headline for a story about the closure of stores in subway stations as an Olympic Games safety measure. The smaller headline reads: “16 Killed, 16 Injured in Bomb Attack on Border Police in Kashgar.”

But directly below this small headline is a dominating image, an artist reconstruction, of how the Xinjiang attack might have happened.

oriental-morning-post-august-5-2008-frontpage.JPG

Oriental Morning Post coverage continues on page 3 with the Xinhua release on the Xinjiang attack, following immediately below by the paper’s own report on statements by Olympics officials about safety and anti-terrorism during the Games.

oriental-morning-post-august-5-2008-pg03-terror-article.JPG

Like the Oriental Morning Post, the Metro Times, a commercial newspaper in China’s southwest Yunnan Province, augments the Xinjiang release on the terrorist attack with comments from the IOC on safety at the Games — this time a news release from China News Service.

Directly below the official wire story on the IOC is the paper’s own commentary, followed by comments from Web users taken from major Internet news sites.

The result at Metro Times is what looks like more comprehensive coverage. Look more closely, however, and you will realize that all of the coverage keeps tightly to party discipline — there is a clear emphasis on positive news.

metro-times-august-5-2008-pg03-with-terror-article.JPG

That said, Metro Times does give us what is probably the boldest front page headline on the Xinjiang attack, spread right across the top of the page and giving us the number of dead and injured.

metro-times-august-5-2008-frontpage-with-terror-headline.JPG

Clearly, given a propaganda department ban, no newspapers have gone out on a limb on this story, unlike the Liu Zhihua case two years ago, when the Oriental Morning Post made the gutsy move of augmenting the official news release with information on Liu given on the Beijing city government website.

That information, following Xinhua’s report of Liu’s “corrupt and degenerate” activities, pointed to his senior position in the Beijing city leadership — and also, we should remember, to the fact that he was responsible for overseeing the construction of sporting venues for this year’s Olympic Games.

[Posted by David Bandurski, August 7, 2008, 5:29pm]

One Comment to “How did China’s media play news of the Xinjiang attacks?”

  1. [...] Behind the sporting glitz, anxieties about minorities and the economy. ● China Media Proyect, How did China’s media play news of the Xinjiang attacks?. ● The Huffington Post, The Olympics: Unveiling Police State 2.0. ● Un oeil sur la Chine, Moi, [...]

Leave a Comment