Friday, 27 July 2012

Continuing to Fight for the Truth

After several days of criticism, the Beijing government has revised its number of dead from the heavy storm to 77, more than double the original number of 37.

At a press conference last night, the authorities said at least 77 victims were counted, with 65 civilians, including an eight-month-old baby, and the other five were officials.

Most of the bodies were found in the outskirts of the city in Fangshan, which was hard hit by the heavy rainstorm, and others in Chaoyang and Dongcheng districts, both of which I've lived in, making it hard to fathom what happened to these victims.

Residents were still scathing in their opinions of how the government handled the natural disaster.

"Seventy-seven people died in a rainstorm in a metropolis -- a host city of the Olympic Games. Can you believe it?" said Sina Weibo user Dazuihouye.

Others wanted officials to apologize and take responsibility. "Will the government lower the flag at half mast for the dead?" asked another microblog user under the name Wangwengang.

Meanwhile Chinese state media were trying hard to find out the truth, but many obstacles were thrown in their way.

A press conference was held on Wednesday and there was intense speculation the government would announce a higher death toll. Apparently a CCTV reporter had seen a spokesman's prepared speech with the number of dead at 61, but in the end the official never mentioned it.

After this media briefing, more than 30 reporters from Beijing-based media outlets were invited "to have tea", until about 2am with Lu Wei, the capital's deputy mayor and propaganda chief.

"To have tea" is a euphemism to be summoned for questioning. Lu apparently explained to the media the authorities were still identifying bodies, so perhaps in this case there were no interrogations but the government was stalling for time so that the reporters would not be able to have time to write their stories by deadline.

What's interesting is that even the People's Daily was annoyed at the authorities for not updating the number of dead. In its commentary, it lambasted the decision not to give the latest figures. "The public's concern about the deaths and injuries will not fade [until] accurate figures are released," it said.

And then in the case of Guangzhou-based Southern Weekly, eight pages dedicated to storm reporting were pulled at the last minute after seven reporters travelled more than 2,000 kilometres to report on the disaster.

In addition, the paper was not allowed to publish a full-page obituary for more than 20 victims -- only for the five civil servants who died.

So the other victims -- innocent victims -- don't deserve to be remembered in any way?

This is some of the worst behaviour of Chinese officials dictating how Chinese state media should report on emergency situations.

With no documentation of the dead, there can be no demand for retribution.

Which only leaves victims' families and critics seething with even more anger.

The farce of manufactured reality continues to grow.

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