By Madeline Earp/CPJ Senior Asia Research Associate
The sacking of Chongqing party leader Bo Xilai has sparked some entertaining gossip this month, leaving journalists covering China with the difficult task of reporting on unconfirmed reports. The Chinese government blames the international media, not its own lack of transparency and comprehensive censorship apparatus, for the burgeoning rumors.
Here are some of the juiciest:
Chinese information officials have played a key role in this mess. Internet censors have been working overtime to delete Chinese-language posts on all of these topics, international news reports and media analysts say. Chinese government spokespeople have been unforthcoming. "I am not aware of this case," the Foreign Ministry told the Mail when asked about Heywood. But by tamping down the rumors, authorities are feeding speculation that they have something to hide.
In the world of propaganda, however, attack is the best form of defense. The government camp hastened to blame journalists themselves for the information vacuum: "Rumors have been vigorously spreading on the Internet, a few of which even indulge in ludicrous speculations," the state-run Global Timestutted in an editorial Tuesday. It's baffling remedy? "Tolerance is still needed over delayed information release in some pivotal fields." Well, that's cleared that up, then. "Some media have done reports which are all like jigsaw puzzles, because their information is not complete, and where they're lacking they rely on their imagination. ... So these jigsaws are all incorrect, and even absurd," another official told a press conference about the Bo Xilai drama, according to The Wall Street Journalwebsite.
Here's the problem: Journalists and their readers alike know the jigsaw is incorrect. We're not happy about it either. When you finish a puzzle, you can move onto the next one, but no one will give up on one that's incomplete. There is a way to deal with rumors, but it's not censorship. It's time for the government to release the rest of the pieces.
Madeline Earp is senior researcher for CPJ's Asia Program. She has studied Mandarin in China and Taiwan, and graduated with a master's in East Asian studies from Harvard.