The ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is set to suppress rumors, speculation and opinions about China Eastern’s crash from the country’s tightly controlled internet, while even state-licensed journalists have reported problems accessing the crash site.
Since authorities announced on March 22 that all 132 people aboard Flight MU5735, a China Eastern Boeing 737 en route from Kunming to Guangzhou that crashed in a mountainous part of Guangxi outside Wuzhou, had died. , any information on the investigation of the cause of the accident has been strictly restricted by the authorities.
Chinese journalist Du Qiang recently complained on social media platform WeChat that he and a colleague, Chen Weixi, were denied access to the crash site by the police after going there on same day, having only managed to take a few photos from a distance before being ordered to leave.
Du wrote that the roads leading to the crash site were blocked by three police checkpoints and that fellow journalists working for Japanese broadcaster NHK had suffered similar treatment.
He wrote that official journalists working for the state broadcaster CCTV and the Xinhua News Agency used to visit disaster sites in the past in the hope of taking prized pictures or images of the area, but that it now seems impossible.
His post on WeChat, which also called for better press arrangements, including wider access to official press conferences, garnered a large number of views and comments, but has since been deleted.
“Could the leaders of China Eastern Airlines and relevant departments be better prepared so that more questions could be raised? Du’s message said, also calling for more interviews with rescue teams or grieving relatives. “Is it possible to ask the opinion of family members and let those who wish to meet the media?”
A photographer who only gave the nickname Xiao Gao told RFA that he also tried to visit the site around the same time.
“I have never encountered such strict controls at a disaster site as this time,” Xiao Gao said. “We tried to interview people in nearby villages…but there were obstacles at every turn.”
Hebei-based journalist Huang Tao said authorities were keen to ensure they controlled all aspects of reporting of the accident in the media and on social media.
“It must be to prevent information leakage,” Huang said. “There’s probably a lot of evidence at the scene pointing to something they don’t want reporters to find out.”
Suppression of “rumors”
China’s powerful cyberspace administration said on March 26 that it had deleted more than 279,000 posts containing “illegal content” related to the crash, including 167,000 rumors and 1,295 hashtags.
It said it also closed 2,713 social media accounts.
Among the “rumors” deleted from social media were claims that China Eastern had already suffered losses of tens of billions of dollars and cut maintenance costs in a bid to improve its financial situation.
But Huang said he believes much of what authorities call “rumor” is authentic information.
“You can tell which reports are true by looking at what they remove,” Huang said. “[So] reports that the airline did not maintain [the aircraft] properly to save money…maybe true; it seems increasingly likely that it has to do with maintenance.”
An aircraft maintenance engineer named Chen said the fact that parts of the plane’s tail were found about 10 kilometers from the crash site suggests there may have been issues with it. this part.
“[If] the torque was too large, it could have been sheared, which would not be surprising,” Chen said. “The accident will either be due to human error or mechanical failure.”
The two black boxes, the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder, were recovered and taken to Beijing for decoding, said Zhu Tao, an official with the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC). , to reporters on March 27.
Inquiry seeks answers to questions about why the Boeing 737 descended 6,000 meters in just one minute, before sinking 20 meters deep into a mountain as it began its descent to Guangzhou.
Deliberate media control
US economist He Qinglian said media controls are likely top-down and deliberate.
“They won’t let them report from the crash site –– it’s the dead hand of the CCP that controls the media,” he said. “It’s to make sure no one starts making interpretations that don’t conform to the official narrative.”
Meanwhile, authorities have yet to release a list of the passengers and crew who were on board the doomed flight, with Hong Kong media saying the families of the victims are under close round-the-clock surveillance by police. Chinese officials.
An online appeal from families of the victims complained that they too were being kept in the dark by the authorities.
“Due to the pandemic, there is almost no way for family members [of victims] to communicate with other family members,” said the call, which was no longer visible on Toutiao on Tuesday.
However, authorities responded to some of the requests from relatives by taking them to the crash site in separate groups, to view the scene and make offerings for their loved ones at a temporary shrine in the area.
A family member wrote: “Even if they don’t find anyone, I hope to return home with dirt from the crash site. [in lieu of remains].”
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.