Friday, December 04, 2009

Xinhua deletes self-criticism

It may not surprise many to know that Xinhua is selective in what it publishes on its website. While it may not be able to avoid big stories critical of China it often takes an approach whereby statements by officials make their opinions known. It also takes an active role in finding news which criticises or pokes fun at the west, particularly the US or Britain. A story about a Chinese police officer who posts nude pictures on the Internet would never see the light of day on Xinhua, but a similar story that was much reported in the UK recently was soon made available on their website. Reporting of Obama's visit to China was carefully vetted. There was no mention of the US president's comments on censorship or of Twitter, the popular micro-blogging social networking site. In fact Xinhua rarely ever mentions that sites are blocked at all in China, while at the same time reporting the virtues of YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and other sites.

Occasionally, and usually in error, stories are posted which indirectly criticise China. One such story was posted yesterday [Thursday 3rd November 09:08]. Running with the headline "One third of toys contain toxic chemicals in U.S.", the story was evidently a poke at the United States. The story made no reference to where the toys were made, though for many readers this may well have been obvious. 

"This might be astonishing news: a third of the most popular children's toys in US this year were tested containing harmful chemicals such as lead, cadmium, arsenic and mercury, a U.S. consumer group said as quoted by media reports Thursday," the story stated.

Of course most toys, not only in America but in many parts of the world, are manufactured and exported from China. This fact, though omitted in the Xinhua copy, soon became evident to staff at China's state news agency and the story was deleted from the servers after a little over 4 hours after being posted. The link now directed users to a virtually blank page with a few Chinese characters which translated as "The manuscript has been deleted or expired, Sorry!" [已删除或过期的稿件, 抱歉!] 

China consistently avoids reporting news which reflects poorly on the country. There are no recent stories in the Chinese media which refer to lead being found in toys in Australia as reported by SMH recently. In America the concerns over drywall construction has once again pointed the finger at China. Yet Xinhua has only one story dated 3rd November in which it claims there was "no evidence" to suggest the building materials were unsafe. While the story acknowledges sulphur and other compounds were found in drywall by the EPA, Xinhua claims these were small. It also says the criticism of Chinese manufactuiring was unfair "because the product was made according to standards provided by US importers". Quoting an anonymous 'Chinese expert' the story continues, "It is unfair that now everyone says it is Chinese drywall's fault". It is a commonly held opinion amongst many Chinese that the US and other countries constantly raising the ceiling of safety standards, thus by the time the product arrives it does not meet requirements.

However, as regards lead in toys the 300ppm level was set in February, more than enough time to implement quality controls. While some US companies may have not properly overseen production in China, it is hard to see why they would, as suggested by many Chinese, give blueprints to manufacture substandard or dangerous goods. Imports are often rigorously checked, especially following the scandals over pet food, tyres and toys last year. In addition for many companies such a controversy would hurt the brand, sometimes irreparably. 

CBS recently reported that problems with drywall may not be isolated to Chinese made products and that some American made drywall contained even higher levels of sulphur. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has received more than 2,000 complaints to date [November 2009]. The agency recently has released details on 44 of them under the heading "imported drywall." But CBS News discovered that 10 of the cases, nearly a quarter, actually involve drywall made in the United States.

Drywall are panels made of gypsum plaster pressed between two thick sheets of paper, then kiln dried. Known by other names such as gypsum board, wallboard & plasterboard, they are a cheap alternative to traditional plaster. But in recent months there have been rising numbers of complaints from homeowners saying the boards emit a foul odor as well as producing health effects and corrosion of metal within the structure. In November 2009, the CPSC reported a "strong association" between Chinese drywall and corrosion of pipes and wires reported by thousands of homeowners in the United States. Further findings have shown that volatile sulfur compounds, including H2S, have been detected as emissions from the imported drywall and may be linked to health problems. Yet Chinese media fail to acknowledge such findings, nor report them.

The issue surrounding drywall is unlikely to end soon given thousands of homes across 32 states may have been affected. Lawsuits may be pending. But it is difficult to even identify the country of origin let alone the actual manufacturer. A home may have been built with drywall from several sources, American and imported. Drywall usually has a source printed on the back, however Chinese drywall may be marked "Made in China", "China", "Knauf Tianjin", or have no marking at all.

If Chinese media won't acknowledge there are issues with product safety, it is increasingly unlikely companies will take any responsibility for substandard manufacturing. CNN Asia has recently been showing television commercials commissioned by the Ministry of Commerce which attempt to promote the "Made in China " brand. Under the slogan "Made in China. Made with the world" the advertisement depicts a series of products that have been made in China, but have been conceived and designed with global input. A fashion item bears the label "Made in China with French designers." while a refrigerator displays a label "Made in China with European Styling" and an electronic device sports the phrase "Made in China with with software from Silicon Valley". [Telegraph / video]

As slick as the advertisement is, western consumers may need a great deal more convincing that Chinese products are safe and well constructed. Some may also view the message somewhat cynically given the widespread copyright infringement that takes place within China. But you won't find that reported on Xinhua. As for the deleted article, it may still be read on Sina, one of a few sites that took the feed before it was deleted. 

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China 

1 comment:

wo ai zhongguo said...

Another self-inflicted wound from Xinhua. Goes to show that Xinhua is as capable as anyone else of employin, witless cretins. It also shows the general pants-wetting nature of Chinese "management" , and I use that in the loosest of terms as most Chinese managers would be escorted from the building with a black plastic bag full of their belongings if they worked for their Western competitors.