Chinese police have arrested 12 people, including staff members of China’s state television. They have been accused of causing a massive fire that destroyed a 30-storey building in Beijing on Monday night. Now the Communist government finds itself dousing flames of discontent among its citizens. Since the incident, Chinese bloggers have been venting their resentment against the state-controlled media.
The fire was reportedly caused by an illegal fireworks display
On Monday night, as the rest of Beijing celebrated the Lunar New Year, a 30-storey glass and steel skyscraper went up in flames next to the headquarters of the China Central Television or CCTV, the state television station. The recently finished building was to house the Mandarin Oriental hotel, a television studio and an IT centre. The blaze also damaged part of the CCTV’s own headquarters.
Yet, no news of the fire appeared anywhere on China’s official news channels. Chinese authorities sent out directives to the media demanding no photos, videos or coverage of the burning building.
Later it was revealed that the fire had been caused by an illegal fireworks display organised by CCTV itself. The CCTV had hired a company to use powerful fireworks banned for the general public, despite warnings from police officials.
Bloggers vent their anger
This has unleashed a wave of angry responses in China’s blogger community. Despite restricted media coverage of the incident, the news was spread over the internet through camera phone images and emails. Prominent blogger Wang Xiaofeng wrote on his website: “Even though the fire was up to their eyebrows, they were still trying to hide the truth. In this breaking news, the official media was defeated by citizens' media.”
Ling Cangzhou, freelance writer and media critic in Beijing says that the cynical reaction on the Internet is a painful signal for the country. “It symbolises a divided China. On the one hand, there is so much false propaganda coming from above, and on the other, the people have no means to show their discontent and indignation. It is quite a dangerous signal,” says Ling.
Protest against “false propaganda”
Bloggers have been defying state censorship and ridiculing CCTV in their entries, while some have even celebrated the fire as a deserved punishment for what they refer to as the station’s propagandist approach. Chinese authorities have been deleting all these critical blogs. But more needs to be done if the public is to be placated, says Ling.
Ling says that the first thing to do would be for the concerned individuals such as the head of CCTV to resign. “Of course, CCTV has already apologized. But they didn’t mention the fireman, who died during the fire disaster. That shows that the idea of humanism still does not have priority. I think this is the real tragedy of China,” says Ling.
The incident has laid bare hidden resentment among the citizens towards CCTV, which is one of the Communist party’s main propaganda arms. Just last month, 22 academics launched an online boycott campaign against CCTV’s “brainwashing” and failure to report sensitive or negative news related to China.