The intense debate generated by a documentary on the environment is the target of Chinese censorship. The video, which is no longer visible in China, had nevertheless been produced and distributed with the active participation of some officials.
Online on February 28th, the film “Under the dome” immediately shook the Chinese Web. The documentary, which looks at the problem of air pollution, particularly acute in major Chinese cities, hit the spirits with his novelty: for the first time, the issue of pollution is considered, straightforward, in terms of health risk and responsibility.
On March 6th, the video was still visible online, but the comments were censored by order of the Ministry of Propaganda motivating web citizens to uses tools such as web proxy and VPN. . On March 7th, however, the documentary was eventually removed from all sites in China. The status of this documentary towards the authorities seems ambiguous. Its innovative approach, the extent of its audience, the support it has received, the reporter Chai Jing has a lasting impression. The downside: the question of independence arises. Ironically, the quality of its investigation woke censorship up – but especially the Chinese lobby of energy.
An innovative approach
“The interest of the documentary “Under the dome” is threefold,” said the daily Nanfang Cantonese Dushibao in one of the few editorials in the mainstream press. “The popularization of scientific knowledge on smog, questions of public policy, and encouraging greater public participation.” On these three plans, the road ahead will be long, warns the newspaper.
The video takes the form of a public presentation of the results of the investigation by the television journalist Chai Jing. On a fast and direct tone, she comments a series of field reports, interviews of scientists and officials from various administrations, graphics developed by scientists in support. Emission standards, lack of control, weak administration and overpower the economic argument: in 104 minutes, she articulates facts already known by most, but this time by explicitly raising the question of responsibility.
During the two days following the initial release of this survey, on February 28th, more than 200 million Chinese had already watched the video on the Internet, and an equal number of comments circulated on social networks. The extraordinary success of this documentary, “is primarily a phenomenon of communication,” said Chang Ping, a renowned columnist exile in Germany, on the Chinese website of Deutsche Welle. “But it is very difficult to know whether this will have political consequences.” Chang Ping stressed that the personality of the reporter Chai Jing, former presenter of the television station, plays a large role in this success.
The specialist press and media Zhan Jiang, a professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University, the microblogging site Weixin, adds: “Certainly the audience was at first, foremost, intellectuals, officials and businessmen, and people who have received higher education. But all these people intensely relayed the documentary on the social networks. “To this power of social networks, there is also the choice of a crucial time for the broadcast “on the eve of the opening of the annual parliamentary session which generally limits the discussion to some political issues.”
Manipulated or censored?
The very fact that the Chai Jing initiative has been possible posed questions to the Chinese who are used to the fact that sensitive issues are censored. At a time when public opinion is particularly controlled, how this documentary was possible?” questions Chang Ping. Is that a truly independent journalist who had been able to meet all these officials?
Even the spread seemed dubbed by official media: Renmin Wang, the People’s Daily website, the organ of the Chinese Communist Party, was one of the first broadcaster’s documentaries. The site also published an interview of Chai Jing confirming this feeling.
“I have visited many people, including in state administrations. Nobody refused to talk to me,” said Chai Jing in response to a question from the official website. “They all responded openly and directly. I think they are hoping that we can publicly discuss these problems because the only hope for them to be resolved is to be first exposed.” She stated to have sent all the results of her investigation to the Commission of the laws of the Assembly and the government teams “currently working on oil sector reform projects and natural gas.”
As for him, the new environment minister, Chen Jining, which took office on March 1st, thanked Chai Jing and assured his support on the following day, according to the website of liberal economic information Caixin. In her documentary, she deplored the lack of power of the authorities responsible for the environment to deal with polluters.
Four days after the start of the broadcast, the Propaganda Ministry finally ordered traditional and digital media not to “focus” on this documentary, and censorship began to take its course. On March 4th, it removed all related comments, including the interview of the Renmin Wang site. This is not the first time that the Chinese Internet is all the way shake down by this kind of events.
The energy sector strikes back
In the end, the question that arises is who does Chai Jing bother? She directly challenges the sectors of energy, oil in particular, as the main cause of air pollution. These sectors were the first or the only ones to respond.
On the sidelines of the parliamentary debates, the director of the Standards Commission of the petroleum industry, Cao Xianhong, has said that China, since 2000, steadily improved the quality of petrol and diesel. “It is wrong to say that the rise in gasoline quality is too slow in China,” he said, according to the South China Morning Post. He rejected the findings of Chai Jing, that the Commission is strongly influenced by the industry itself.
A senior engineer in the oil industry, Wan Zhanxiang, CNPC, said in a dedicated section taken up by the portal Tencent that releases of exhaust pipes were not the main culprits, as Chai says, responsible for the smog in northern China, as it would be better attributed to the intensive use of coal. China remains an attractive destination for foreign investors despite the possible backlash the Medias can suffer and the problems of getting a Visa in China.
The Internet in China remains unique as it creates its own universe and tries to protect itself from the outside world and more recently from its inner sources.