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China seeks to muzzle reporting on high-speed train crash

China has banned local journalists from investigating the cause of a deadly high-speed train crash that has triggered public outrage and raised questions over safety, reports said today.

world Updated: Jul 26, 2011 11:40 IST
china

A-man-sits-by-the-wreckage-of-a-train-accident-in-Wenzhou-in-east-China-s-Zhejiang-province-A-Chinese-bullet-train-crashed-into-another-high-speed-train-that-had-stalled-after-being-struck-by-lightning-in-eastern-China-causing-four-carriages-to-fall-off-a-viaduct

China has banned local journalists from investigating the cause of a deadly high-speed train crash that has triggered public outrage and raised questions over safety, reports said on Tuesday.

China's propaganda department issued the order on Sunday, according to a copy of the directives published by the China Digital Times, a US-based site focusing on internet news from China.

News that journalists had been ordered to focus instead on "touching stories" about blood donors coming forward and free taxi services emerged as the official death toll from Saturday's crash near the eastern city of Wenzhou rose to 39.

Nearly 200 more were injured when two trains collided during a heavy thunderstorm, apparently after a lightning strike knocked out power to the first one, shunting four carriages from a viaduct and forcing two off the rails.

The government ordered the media to "use information released from authorities" and not "conduct independent interviews", according to the directive, details of which also appeared on several blogs in China.

Saturday's accident was the worst ever to hit the country's high-speed rail network, which only opened in 2007 and is already the world's biggest, triggering questions over whether safety had been compromised in the rush to modernise.

Authorities are investigating the cause of the accident, but web users and the media have questioned why the second train was not made to stop when the first was brought to a halt, and questioned the signalling system.

Parts of China's state-run media have joined in the criticism and on Tuesday, some state media outlets still appeared to be ignoring the directives.

The front page of the English-language Global Times on Tuesday carried the headline "Anger mounts at lack of answers" and interviews with family members of victims who questioned the official death toll.

However, in a commentary the daily said that safety "should be the core principle of China's development", but that "blind and hasty finger-pointing should be avoided".

Even the official China Daily, the English-language mouthpiece of the Communist Party, ran a story saying there were "unanswered questions" about why the driver of the second train was not warned that the first had halted.

"The ministry of railways has not explained yet why the second train was apparently not warned there was a stalled train in its path," it said.

Criticism on the internet was more outspoken, with many bloggers voicing outrage.

"Maybe a fact we have to face is that we are paying the price for chasing after an excessively rapid pace of development," wrote one blogger under the name Tong Dahuan.

"The government and officials that dominate public construction do not have any natural advantages when it comes to morality, intelligence or capability."

China's propaganda authorities typically move swiftly to limit coverage of major disasters that could embarrass the government, forcing media outlets to rely on coverage from the official Xinhua news agency.

The trains involved in Saturday's collision were the first generation of China's high-speed trains designed to travel at a top speed of 250 kilometres per hour.

More recently, China has introduced a second generation of bullet trains that can run up to 380 kph, although their speed is restricted to 300 kph for safety reasons.

The first train involved in the collision was jointly manufactured by China and Japan, while the second was produced by a joint venture between China South Locomotive and Rolling Stock Industry Corporation and Canada's Bombardier.

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