A journalist from central China details control and punishment measures the CCP employs on media outlets during the COVID-19 epidemic.
by Zhang Feng
During the coronavirus outbreak, China’s state-run media was busy playing the role of the CPP’s mouthpiece, doing everything possible to maintain the reputation and stability of the regime.
“In this special time, the CCP is like a sensitive monster that could snap and bite if touched by accident, so everyone is very cautious,” a staff member at an official media outlet in central China explained to Bitter Winter, who agreed to talk on the condition of anonymity.
The woman said that the local publicity department issued special requirements to media outlets to be followed during the epidemic. Among them, the bans on direct reporting from other provinces (only the government pre-approved information is allowed to be published), so that the local authorities could control the narrative. Also, journalists could not report about certain topics, like crematorium staff being transferred to Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, or female medical personnel taking drugs to delay menstrual cycle, so they wouldn’t have to change their protective clothing.
Media outlets in some areas were also prohibited from using the Chinese term “援鄂” (yuánè, meaning, “helping Hubei,” the name of the province abbreviated to “鄂” (è)) because it is a homonym for the term “援惡” (yuánè, meaning “abetting evil”). The journalist also revealed that to ensure confidentiality, all documents and notices issued in localities are ordered to be copied by hand and conveyed by specially assigned “confidentiality officers.” By not circulating official materials, the CCP hopes to avoid criticism and responsibility if its decrees about the handling of the coronavirus surface in the future.
The government ordered all journalists to closely follow its policies and guidance, threatening to punish them for any sign of disobedience.
“The guiding principle for reporting now is to show the public support for the government’s policy that businesses have to return to work,” our source continued. “For example, we write stories about enterprises that rent airplanes or buses to take their staff to work, and that all of them undergo a thorough medical examination. But media outlets can’t, under no circumstances, report that some of the returned people have a fever and are suspected of being infected because this would be against the policy that people should return to work.”
On February 23, at a nationwide video conference, President Xi Jinping demanded to “return to work and production in good order.” But the measure “to protect the stability of the economy” and the political regime is implemented at the cost of people’s lives.
“This is nothing short of murder. Just like the news in the beginning that ‘the epidemic is preventable and controllable’ and ‘it won’t spread from human to human,’” the woman added. “As China’s news outlets, in essence, serve the regime, you can only read whatever news the government allows you to read, and you have to think in a way it allows you to think.”
The journalist complained that the censorship requirements might change overnight, putting the reporting journalists and media outlets in complicated situations. She gave an example. The Cyberspace Administration of China, the central internet regulator, demanded one day to propagate that the government is doing everything to prevent the spread of the epidemic, so journalists were told to report about numerous checkpoints set up on expressways. But if a piece of news came out on the next day when the government announced that people should return to work, reports about the checkpoints would be viewed as “contradictory to the government’s policy,” and journalists can be punished.
The journalist added that officials from the local government and propaganda department keep warning media outlets that they should be meticulously careful what they report. “They say this is for our safety: we’ll get into trouble if our reports fail to reflect the central government’s will,” she said. “Everyone is in constant fear. If a journalist makes a mistake, he or she, also their editors, will have to write self-criticism statements, over and again. They will also be criticized publicly and could be fired.”