China seeks to muzzle reporting on train crash

2011-07-26 14:09

Beijing – China has ordered its media not to probe a deadly high-speed train crash that has triggered public anger and raised questions over the rush to develop the rail system.

Journalists have been ordered to focus on “touching stories” and avoid questioning official accounts of the disaster, which killed at least 39 people, Chinese bloggers and the US-based China Digital Times website said.

China’s railway minister said Saturday’s accident, which left nearly 200 people wounded and was the worst ever to hit the country’s rapidly expanding high-speed rail network, had taught the country a “bitter lesson”.

“We must on one hand extract these lessons and deeply examine and reflect on them, while rousing ourselves from this setback and concentrating our efforts on inspecting and rectifying hidden safety problems,” said Sheng Guangzu.

The government has sacked three senior railway officials and announced an “urgent overhaul” of the national rail network.

But the moves have failed to stem a tide of criticism of the government’s handling of the disaster, which initial reports blamed on a lightning strike knocking out power to the first train.

Despite the reporting ban, many continued to question why the driver of the second train, which ploughed into the first – crushing some carriages and forcing others off the rails – was not warned in time to stop.

The official China Daily said today there were “unanswered questions” over the signalling system, and quoted experts as saying the accident may have been caused by “a failure in despatch management”.

The front page of the English-language Global Times carried the headline “Anger mounts at lack of answers” and interviews with family members of victims who questioned the official death toll.

In a commentary, the daily said that safety “should be the core principle of China’s development,” but that “blind and hasty finger-pointing should be avoided”.

Even the state-run Xinhua news agency published a piece about widespread criticism of rail authorities, saying the way they handled the aftermath of the crash had “done nothing to reassure the public of their professionalism”.

However, the report, which carried comments by survivors, on-line users and analysts, was only published in English and not in Chinese, in a sign it may have been destined for a foreign audience.

Criticism on the internet was more outspoken, with many bloggers voicing outrage.

“Maybe a fact we have to face is that we are paying the price for chasing after an excessively rapid pace of development,” wrote one blogger under the name Tong Dahuan.

“The government and officials that dominate public construction do not have any natural advantages when it comes to morality, intelligence or capability.”

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