An oil pipeline explosion in Qingdao, one of China’s eastern cities, killed at least 52 people and injured more than 100 on November 22, 2013. The pipeline belongs to the state-owned Sinopec Corp, one of China’s largest oil companies. After the incident, the chairman of Sinopec Fu Chengyu made a public apology on China's state broadcaster CCTV.
Local media in Qingdao, however, took little note of the explosion, running no coverage whatsoever of the disaster in the next day’s editions. With photos of the explosion widely circulating on Chinese social media, a chorus of critical Chinese netizens rose in the face of the state-controlled media’s silence.
“Baigu Lunjin” posted Qingdao’s Morning newspaper on Weibo and criticized [zh]:
How much perseverance does it take to choose to be silent when faced with 47 lives, a tragic loss for dozens of families! As a media person, are you worthy of the bloodshed, Qingdao? Worthy of those innocent lives?
Instead of reporting about the truth behind the incident, Qingdao’s official Weibo account became a platform to flatter the “top officials”. On November 24, it published [zh]:
This afternoon, General Secretary Xi Jinping cordially met with hospital staff treating those injured in the Sinopec explosion. Jinping expressed sincere thanks and kind regards to the doctors and nurses and praised their efforts.
Netizens ridiculed the report, with one particular user, “CE sir”, writing [zh]:
Such a tragic incident, many people died and injured, but the report sounds like it’s a great cause!
Sources outside of Qingdao are responding to the tragedy, with Beijing News raising questions [zh] about the explosion:
1 漏油为何轻易进入市政网络？ 2、输油管道为何紧邻居民区？ 3、#漏油至爆燃，地方政府为何7小时未疏散民众，避免悲剧发生？# 4、漏油发生后，中石化为何未第一时间报告海事部门？ 5、中石化10月“安全大检查”，为何未能消除输油管线隐患？
1. How did this oil spill happen so easily in the municipal network? 2. Why was the pipeline so close to a residential area? 3. During the seven hours from oil spill to explosion, why wasn't the local government able to evacuate people to potentially save lives? 4. After the oil spill, why didn't Sinopec report the incident to the maritime sector in time? 5. Sinopec had conducted a “safety inspection” a month before in October, so why weren't they able to prevent this tragedy?
Online personality “Pretendtobein NY” wrote [zh]:
Many in the media are busy these days writing positive reports about disasters, which reminds me of the Wenzhou train collision. Seven days after the incident, all media reporting on it were banned. Beijing News’ headline on that day was “Seven days of constant rainy days, one day of two warnings”. The first “seven” hints at seven days of dead people, the latter hints at the warnings of a media ban. Oriental Sports Daily wrote: “You can seal the mouth, but you can’t seal the grief.” Censorship will always exist, but the media's real strength of character can always find a way to show its courage and conscience.
Writer Tianyou suggested [zh]:
I recommend that the flags be lowered to half-staff in a national day of mourning for those who died. Not only it is a way to mourn the victims, it is also a way to remind state enterprises to pay attention to production safety.
In response to the suggestion, many responded [zh] sarcastically:
If we start lowering the flags after this case, I guess the top part of the flagpole will be useless.