Media regulation

A curious correction

This week's Oriental Outlook includes the following correction:

The article "The highly suspicious case of the murder of the mayor's family" that ran in issue #50 (2006) of this magazine contained erroneous information concerning the Guizhou Province Propaganda Department. The magazine has dealt with the reporter involved and offers our sincere apology.

The article in question was a report on the murder of Wen Jiangang, mayor of Xingren County, Guizhou, along with his wife, sister, mother-in-law, nurse, and five-year-old son. Cao Hui, a local man who had previously been arrested for vagrancy, was charged with all six murders, which were said to have been committed in the course of a robbery. The case has been controversial, however - there are suspicions about the motive, and many people believe that Wen was murdered at the behest of local mining companies over his orders in 2005 to close illegal mining operations.

The Oriental Outlook article recorded a conversation with the Xingren County propaganda chief, who confirmed that there was bad blood between Wen and the mining companies. However, the provincial propaganda department was mentioned only at the very end of the article:

No one may accept interviews

On 6 December, a reporter from this magazine arrived at the general department of the Xingren County government office. The two women in the office told Oriental Outlook that after the murder case took place, the county government set up three headquarters, one of which was in charge of funerary affairs. The director and vice-director of that headquarters had just conducted a memorial service for Wen Jiangang in Xingyi the day before and had not yet returned from the city. They had a rule that no one was to accept an interview with the media.

This magazine's reporter went on to visit director Zhang of the Xingren County Propaganda Department. Director Zhang said that following the "11.28" case, the Guizhou Province Propaganda Department head Li Jun said that all outside propaganda must follow the conclusions given by the provincial PSB, and no media interviews were to be given. [emphasis added]

Though buried at the end of the article, this tidbit caught the attention of a number of portals that reposted the report, where it was used as a replacement title: "Doubts abound in mayor murder case, propaganda department demands an end to interviews."

Since there is only one way that the statement could be in error, the fact that the apology doesn't really include any sort of correction shouldn't prevent the careful reader from concluding that the provincial propaganda department didn't actually ban interviews at all. Other reports note that various government departments were avoiding or declining interviews, but only Oriental Outlook, quoting a local propaganda chief, suggested that this was explicit policy.

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