As the number of coronavirus infections in China continues to surge without any sign of slowing down, the ruling Communist Party has clamped down on the news media and the internet, signaling an effort to control the narrative about a crisis that has become a once-in-a-generation challenge for leaders in Beijing.
With frustrations running high across the country, China’s leaders appear to be strengthening information controls after a brief spell in which news organizations were able to report thoroughly on the crisis, and many negative comments about the official response were left uncensored online.
In recent days, both the state-run news media and more commercially minded outlets have been told to focus on positive stories about virus relief efforts, according to three people at Chinese news organizations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal directives.
Internet platforms have removed a variety of articles that suggest shortcomings in the Chinese government’s response or are otherwise negative about the outbreak.
Local officials have also cracked down on what they call online “rumors” about the virus. China’s Ministry of Public Security this week lauded such efforts, which have continued even after one person who was reprimanded for spreading rumors turned out to be a doctor sounding the alarm about early cases of the illness.
In the early days of the crisis, online vitriol had largely been directed at the local authorities. Now, more of the anger is being aimed at higher-level leadership, and there seems to be more of it over all, said King-wa Fu, an associate professor at the Journalism and Media Studies Center at the University of Hong Kong.
Reporting was contributed by Elaine Yu, Daniel Victor, Sui-Lee Wee, Raymond Zhong, Tiffany May, Carlos Tejada, Isabella Kwai, Amy Qin, Elsie Chen, Chris Buckley, Michael Wolgelenter, Motoko Rich and Campbell Robertson.