Tianjin: China Cracks Down on State Media Critics, International Reporters

AP Photo
The Associated Press

The Chinese government is censoring media and citizen coverage of the deadly explosion in Tianjin. Reports are circulating of Weibo accounts critical of Chinese media being shut down, and CNN’s Will Ripley was forced off the air by angry alleged relatives of victims.

During a live broadcast, Ripley was forced off air by a group of loud bystanders while broadcasting outside of a hospital in Tianjin, apparently using his phone or a small camera. Men can be heard yelling at Ripley to stop recording before the feed cuts off.

CNN then tweeted that upset friends and family interrupted Ripley, not government officials.

But China’s pervasive censorship leaves room for doubt. In addition to the incident users on Sina Weibo, a China-approved social network, are claiming their posts on the disaster disappeared. Users even found that “the number of searchable posts on the disaster fluctuated, in a sign that authorities were manipulating or placing limits on the number of posts.”

Free Weibo captures all messages censored or deleted on the social media platform. The company found that the words “Tianjin” and “explosion” “have also become the most censored.”

All journalists, including Chinese, must stay six miles away from the blast. One journalist took pictures inside a hospital, but security guards demanded he “delete the images.” Another station could not interrupt normal coverage since reporters “waited for permission to start covering the story.”

“I was watching Tianjin TV at 8am and they were still showing ‘First Wives’ Club’ – I could barely breathe! I feel as though this country’s media… shows an inhumane response to emergencies,” user “Xing zhi a fei” posted on Weibo.

Last September, the government blocked the photo-sharing site Instagram due to the massive pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. Protesters used the social app to post pictures of police using tear gas on demonstrators. In January, the government banned media from interviewing family members and friends of those who died in a stampeded on New Year’s Eve. Just last week, the Chinese Ministry of Culture banned 120 songs due to “obscenity, violence, crime” and potential to “harm social morality.”

Warehouses filled with chemical materials exploded late Wednesday night in the city. It started in a building owned by Tianjin Dongjiang Port Rui Hai International Logistics. State media reported officials took the executives into custody. Over 50 people are dead, including 12 firefighters, and 500 are injured. No one knows exactly what caused the explosion.