China's media coverage more transparent, but restrained

People wearing facemasks wait at Wuhan Red Cross Hospital in Wuhan on Jan 24, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING • Chinese state media, acknowledging that "government agencies cannot hide information even if they want to" in the age of social media, has sought to be more transparent in its reporting of the Wuhan virus as compared with the restricted coverage during the Sars outbreak of 2003.

Still, perhaps in an attempt to prevent a greater sense of panic and to limit criticism of the authorities' response, the state media, including the People's Daily and China Daily, has not splashed the coverage of the virus outbreak across their website home pages.

The Global Times, the Communist Party's nationalistic tabloid, was the only newspaper that parked the coverage of the outbreak at the top of its website home page, titled "Digging deep: Wuhan pneumonia". It also featured high on the home page an editorial with the headline "Salute to Wuhan citizens for their sacrifice".

On Thursday, China Central Television (CCTV), the state broadcaster, treated the situation in Wuhan as a footnote in its evening newscast - one of the most watched television programmes in China, The New York Times noted.

The CCTV aired a roughly one-minute report on the outbreak, it added.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, who had on Monday ordered resolute efforts to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, did not mention the crisis when he addressed a Chinese New Year reception at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Thursday.

In his speech, Mr Xi vowed that the anti-poverty battle will be won before the new year ends.

Mr Xi's speech was published yesterday as the top item on the home page of the People's Daily, the Communist Party's mouthpiece.

China's state news agency Xinhua also carried Mr Xi's address as the top item, followed by a story on China's more than 800 confirmed cases of the coronavirus.

The China Daily, in its China edition, also featured Mr Xi's address as the top item.

Its global edition, however, chose the news story titled "WHO: Coronavirus not yet global health emergency" as the main item.

In an editorial on Tuesday, the China Daily stressed that transparency and cooperation are crucial to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

"The speed of response is testimony to improved global preparedness for such epidemics. Now concerted efforts based on the experience accumulated by Chinese health experts and their foreign counterparts during the joint fights against such epidemics as Sars, swine flu and avian flu are needed to win the fight against the latest health hazard," it noted.

The People's Daily, in its Opinion section, ran a piece on Thursday calling for the Chinese people to stand united against the pneumonia outbreak.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2020, with the headline China's media coverage more transparent, but restrained. Subscribe