China / Society

Details on deadly fire in Tianjin sought

By Cao Yin in Beijing and Li Xiang in Tianjin (China Daily) Updated: 2012-07-09 09:03

Experts have called on authorities to release up-to-date and detailed information about a shopping mall that caught fire in Tianjin at the end of June, rather than simply announce a death toll.

The fire engulfed the five-story Laide Shopping Mall in Jixian county, in the northern part of the port city on the afternoon of June 30, killing 10 people and injuring another 16, according to a statement published by Tianjin municipal government.

Authorities did not release new information about the blaze until Friday, when a death list was posted to an official micro blog.

The municipal government then listed the names of the 10 victims and confirmed that all of them were women whose ages ranged from 25 to 44.

On Saturday the municipal police said no one else who was in the mall when the accident occurred is missing.

The police announced on Sunday the fire was caused by the power cord of an air conditioner short circuiting on the first floor of the building, which lit nearby inflammables.

As the government was releasing the information, reports about the accident's death toll were circulating on the Internet.

Wang Li, a friend of Yang Saiqun, one of the victims, said the death toll had confused her and she hoped the government would release more details about the fire.

"I don't believe the big numbers that are being circulated online," the 25-year-old said. "But the lack of official information has given me a lot of room to make guesses."

Shen Yang, a professor specializing in information management from Wuhan University, said on Sunday that Tianjin authorities' reaction to the case has not allayed the public's greatest concerns.

"Until Friday, the municipal government had only published three messages about the fire on its micro blog and used a lot of vague words to explain what had happened," Shen said.

A lack of details led to confusion among the public, he said.

The professor said he approved of the way authorities in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, handled a case in which three people were killed when a drunk driver drove a sports car into two taxis on May 26.

The accident gave rise to questions from the public and prompted the police to hold four news conferences to offer answers.

"The Shenzhen police published information that was not only timely but also detailed and avoided unnecessary misunderstandings," he said. "Meanwhile, the authority has held a series of press conferences to clear the air and given itself a good image in dealing with the fatal accident."

"Publishing information in a timely fashion is just the first step," said Yu Guoming, a journalism professor at Renmin University of China.

Cheng Manli, a media professor at Peking University, echoed Yu, saying regulations on the release of official information in China are short of details and carry few, if any, practical punishments.

"There is no specific punishment for officials who don't release information in a timely manner, as emergencies happen, which gives them opportunities to hide the truth," she said.

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