BEIJING - Since 2010, China’s number one state-owned newspaper, the People’s Daily, has published quite a number of commentaries concerning hot-button social issues. We are very pleased and applaud this. In general, these commentaries have a higher purpose and discuss national issues with sharpness.
Recently, though, the People’s Daily published a commentary written by Bai Long and entitled “Media, don’t be the hands that push negative social emotion.” The commentary, which is a criticism of Chinese media, also dishes advice to journalists, such as how to search for the truth – in a rational and objective manner – in the context of public clamor.
Nevertheless, the basic viewpoint of the commentary is very debatable. It quotes a few specific events and blames certain newspapers for “market-driven journalism” that add fuel to fire on hot social issues to gain readership.
Though the author doesn't specify what media he is referring to it is, however, it is very clear that he is talking about the urban newspapers that are particularly popular with readers for their coverage of controversy. And this is precisely what makes the difference between the “superior” People’s Daily and what it regards as “low-end” newspapers.
In 2008, President Hu Jintao divided the Chinese press into three categories: state-owned newspapers, radio and television; urban media; and online media. This trichotomy affirmed the different value and function of each different kind of media.
The professionalism and writing style so highly regarded by Bai Long are much better embodied by the urban media than by the Communist Party’s mouthpieces. They offer diverse and pungent commentaries as well as investigative reports with vigorous interviews that expose abuses of power.
Questioning the truth
These city newspapers took root in the late 1990s and went on to become the chief “questioners of truth,” testing and reflecting media competence as well as spirit. For example, in 2003, the Southern Metropolitan Daily exposed the tragic story of Sun Zhigang, a migrant worker who was arrested for not having a legal resident permit and then beaten to death in custody.
In 2011, Caixin media’s Century Weekly published a shocking story about a family planning agency in Hunan Province that forcibly took away infants whose families were violating the one-child policy and sent them to an orphanage, which in turn sold them to foreign adoptive parents. These outstanding reports led to significant social repercussions and helped to push forward China’s institutional reforms.
The majority of state-owned newspapers don’t hold a candle to these city newspapers. Even if the People’s Daily has demonstrated capacity for change in the past two years and should be praised for its commentaries, investigative journalism is not its strong point, and it shouldn’t be criticizing other media.
To say the least, even if some media do “market-driven journalism,” they don’t go as far as being “the hands that push negative social emotion.” Here are the three reasons why:
First, public opinion and the press should be entitled to “no-fault suspicion.” The press can suspect something but can also prove that earlier reports are either true or false by following them up. This will be then accepted by the majority of readers or concerned parties. When news are not accepted, it is often due to the fact that Chinese authorities are neither open nor timely with information of specific events.
Second, let’s take the foreign press as an example. In Hong Kong or the UK, tabloids will often present news in a provocative way. In many ways, their information is even more unreliable than the Chinese newspapers, which are much more regulated. Nevertheless, neither in Hong Kong nor the UK, the media have sunk so low as to become the source of a negative social mood.
Third, the performances of the Twitter-like Chinese microblogging sites prove that the phenomena of “rampant rumors” and “intensification of negative social emotion” are exaggerated. On the contrary, these microblogging sites are the voice of reason, and they also, to some extent, offset certain drastic actions off line.
Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?
BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.
The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.
This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.
Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.
"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.
Can you trust environmental officials?
For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.
This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.
It could have sunk because of the rain.
After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.
The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.
"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.
"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.
Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water
A questionable claim
That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.
"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.
He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."
Living in pollution
The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.
"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.
He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.
The mining work should have been stopped long ago
Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.
The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.
In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.
The mine has affected the landscape around the villages
Resisting lignite mining
The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.
The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.
They were dependent on others' land for work.
Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.
In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.
The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.
"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.