First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World
I will repeat it again for those who have not heard it the first several hundred times: When the media are controlled by the government the people trust rumors more than the official reports. This leads to instability in society.
The latest example of how China’s policy of controlled media leads to social instability comes from a report by the L.A. Times on salt sales in China.
Japan radiation fears spark panic salt-buying in China
Because the media are controlled in China and limited about what it can say (all in the name of ensuring stability), people tend to not believe what is aired/printed. They, instead, prefer to believe whatever fanciful rumor gets passed around by SMS or word of mouth.
Let’s look at the latest round:
- Rumors a radioactive cloud from Japan’s quake-damaged nuclear plant will reach China. (FACT: The prevailing winds are taking whatever small radioactive clouds AWAY from China.)
- Iodized salt will protect against radiation poisoning. (FACT: False.)
- China’s sea salt supplies will be contaminated because of the damaged power plants. (FACT: No way.)
The salt issue took on major proportions. Besides the concerns about the Japanese power plants causing the problem, rumors circulated that an earthquake in Taiwan was going to disrupt the salt supply.
- There was no earthquake in Taiwan, and
- No one could explain how an earthquake in Taiwan would affect China’s salt supplies.
According to the L.A. Times story
In a scene repeated across the country, online video from the eastern city of Wenzhou showed panicked shoppers filling their baskets with tubs of salt and street vendors complaining about being cleaned out.
To restore “stability,” the Chinese government had to go into information overdrive. The problem is that no one believed the government’s statements.
Chinese authorities have tried to quash the rumors, explaining that the country has massive reserves and that 80% of its salt sources were on land.
Thousands of television screens on Beijing’s subway cars displayed a public service announcement Thursday that said: “The local salt bureau has stated that there’s an adequate supply of salt. Salt is a special product that is controlled by the government. Supply is greater than demand.”
Think about how much money and time was wasted explaining something that could have been prevented if the people had a reliable source of information. Such as independent and free news organizations.
The ruling Communist Party in China says it must control the media to ensure stability. That the people cannot properly deal with information that is not carefully vetted and cleared for “the public good.”
Without independent media poking and probing the public has nothing to rely on but rumors. This latest episode shows once again that the policy of controlling the news is more destabilizing than allowing for competing news organizations to freely and openly investigate and issue and expose the truth.
(BTW, I understand that even with competing and free news media, there will always be a group of people who believe the fantastic over facts. Just look at all the Americans who still question the birth location and religious beliefs of Pres. Obama despite all the facts that have been presented. But at least the facts are available and confirmed for anyone who wants to know.)