"The Malaysia Airlines mystery is the biggest China story of the year so far—at least 152 passengers on board were Chinese—yet the Chinese media have been snoozing. More accurately, they've been sedated."
"Self-criticism" has long been a practice of China's Communist Party, going all the way back to its earliest days under Mao. But it was still surprising to see an op-ed in China Daily on Thursday lambasting Chinese news organizations for their shoddy coverage of the Malaysia Airlines MH370 disappearance. "Chinese media outlets seem to lag behind their Western counterparts, especially when it comes to timely coverage of big global events," wrote the commentator Zhang Zhouxiang. If the inept Malaysian government has become the villain of this tragic narrative among Chinese viewers, the unlikely heroes have been the oft-maligned western media.
The Malaysia Airlines mystery is the biggest China story of the year so far—at least 152 passengers on board were Chinese—yet the Chinese media have been snoozing. More accurately, they've been sedated. After the plane disappeared on March 8, the Central Propaganda Department sent out a directive to Chinese journalists and bloggers: "The media may not independently analyze or comment on the lost Malaysia Airlines flight. Related coverage must strictly accord with authoritative information issued by the Civil Aviation Administration of China and with Xinhua News Agency wire copy." The message also prohibited news media from "inciting discontented sentiment"—a challenge, given the tendency of horrifying plane disasters to incite discontented sentiment. Chinese news organizations have dutifully colored within the lines, with only the occasional exception.