Opinion / Zhu Ping

Disaster reports reveal two sides of new media

By Zhu Ping (China Daily) Updated: 2014-07-26 09:19

The three air tragedies, as expected, have got wide coverage in Chinese new media. But in their effort to catch up with the Western media giants, they have almost ignored the disasters that struck China during the same period. Page view-oriented new media have to cater to readers' choice if they want to survive in the fiercely competitive news market. But the digital gap in the Chinese society may leave blind spots in new media.

According to China Internet Network Information Center, China had more than 632 million netizens by the end of June, and 523 million of those were mobile phone users. But about 450 million rural residents do not have access to the Internet, and netizens aged between 20 and 29 years comprise 30.7 percent of the total Internet users. This partly explains the poor coverage of typhoon-hit southern China - rural residents, many of whom are "left-behind" parents or children, do not have a say in Chinese new media.

The death toll from Typhoon Rammasun rose to 56 on Wednesday, with 20 people still missing. Many typhoon-hit areas, especially the rural parts of Guangdong, Hainan and Yunnan provinces, as well as the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region are still facing shortages of water and electricity. Rammasun, the strongest typhoon in four decades, has affected more than 11 million people in southern China. Therefore, Chinese media as a whole should have realized that people and organizations cannot reach help to the affected areas without knowing what is going on.

Similarly, few Chinese media outlets reported in detail the accident on the Shanghai-Kunming Highway in Shaoyang, Hunan province, on July 19 in which 43 people were killed. It is true that road accidents claim about 200,000 lives in China every year, but that does not mean the Chinese media should shirk their responsibility to report the serious ones in detail.

Chinese new media cannot be blamed for disbursing reader-oriented news, but judging by their performance over the last few days, they should shoulder more social responsibilities by attaching more importance to the digitally disadvantaged groups. Hopefully Chinese media outlets will reflect on this shortcoming.

The author is an editor with China Daily.

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