11/24/2005, 00.00
CHINA
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Officials (belatedly) apologise for lying about the Harbin disaster

For ten days TV stations played down and lied about the problem. Newspaper commentaries now express outrage.

Beijing (AsiaNews/SCMP) – More than ten days after the disaster, the authorities have apologised for withholding information from Harbin residents about the pollution in the Songhua River. One consequence is that China's press is up in arms against this habit of not disclosing bad news.

Jiao Zhengzhong, Deputy Governor of Jilin province, made an apology to the people and businesses of Harbin for not reporting the gravity of the pollution in the Songhua caused by a November 13 explosion in a petrochemical plant in Jilin.

Right after the blast, Jilin authorities had denied that any pollution had taken place. Similarly, national TV repeatedly reported that "the incident had not caused any serious pollution" explaining that the spilled benzene had burnt and been reduced to a harmless gas.

Eventually ten days later, it was the truth that started to spill out when Harbin's water system was shut down, ostensibly, the announcement said, for regular maintenance. Only when people started expressing disbelief and panic did the authorities tell the real facts about the serious pollution incident.

For the past few days, China's press has been relentless in its criticism speaking of unjustifiable lies, of an "irresponsible" and "terrible crime against society".

Papers have blamed the authorities for causing panic, endangering the public and reducing public trust in the government.

Only timely, full and truthful information can restore such trust and this has become an urgent priority.

The press has also called on the authorities to impose severe punishment on those responsible for the disaster. (PB)

 

 

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