Chinese Media Told to Play Up Positives of Traffic Test

Friday, August 17, 2007

BEIJING, Aug. 16 -- Determined to have good news about the Olympics, the Communist Party ordered local journalists to emphasize the positive side of Friday's million-car driving ban.

In directives that went out last week, Beijing reporters said, newspaper and broadcast editors were told their coverage should focus on a lack of traffic jams and the reduction of pollution. Scenes of overcrowded buses or complaints from inconvenienced commuters were placed off-limits, they said.

The order, from the municipal Propaganda Department, was relayed and explained in newsroom meetings throughout the capital. It reflected the party's abiding determination to decide what information reaches the Chinese people and, in this case, to make sure Olympic news is upbeat.

The task is not always easy, as one episode showed during ceremonies Aug. 8 marking the one-year countdown to the Beijing Games.

The government-run China Daily ran an item on its Web site that evening pointing out that the site of the festivities, Tiananmen Square, was also the place where in 1989 the People's Liberation Army crushed pro-democracy demonstrators, killing many. The item -- true but touching on a subject banned from Chinese newspapers -- was taken down the next morning and an investigation was launched. The author, colleagues said, had lifted the sentence directly from the Reuters news agency in a copy-and-paste maneuver common in Chinese journalism.

The offending journalist was suspended without pay for a month and fined the equivalent of $133, they said.

-- Edward Cody

© 2007 The Washington Post Company