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Rachel Lu

Baby in Stolen Car Killed; Government Puts Strict Limits on Media Coverage

China’s social media is mourning the death of Baby Haobo, a two-month old boy, after a day of heart-wrenching search in the snow-covered city of Changchun for him ended in tragedy.

On the morning of March 4, Haobo’s father left him in a SUV, with the engine running, while he went to turn on the heat in his shop. The SUV was stolen along with the baby. Changchun mobilized more than 3,500 police in search of the baby and the car. Unfortunately, the Changchun police announced late on March 5 that the man who stole the car turned himself in and confessed to killing the baby.

The terrible news saddened tens of thousands of Internet users, who had posted messages on China’s social media platforms praying for the child’s safe return. Many outraged Internet users called for death penalty for Zhou Xijun, the alleged murderer.

In the midst of widespread outcry and heightened public interest in the case, some Chinese journalists posted a screenshot on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter, of the order from the local propaganda department on how to cover the event on traditional media in Changchun. While the authenticity of the order cannot be verified, tweets with the screenshot were quickly censored. The alleged order is translated in part below,

1. Control the total amount of coverage. No front page coverage allowed. Reports must be kept within half a page, with no big fonts. No special reports allowed on radio and television.

2. Refer to press releases from the government for facts of the case. Guide the public to realize that the child’s ordeal was horrible and the crime was heinous, but in the process of investigating the case the police showed their deep care for the people’s life and property, and thus spread love around our society and generated positive energy. Radio and TV hosts or editorial writers can discuss the case in this vein, provided that total coverage of this event is still strictly limited.

3. All media outlets must keep the message positive. There shall be no questioning of the police’s work or the Skynet Project or any accusations of shortcomings. There shall be no further interviews of the victim’s family or other related parties. [Ed: The Skynet Project is a comprehensive surveillance program deployed in many Chinese cities.]

4. Without further orders from the top to coordinate coverage, there shall be no more reporting of this case after tomorrow’s newspaper had been printed and the morning news on television and radio had been aired.

The Communist Party’s paper of record, Peole’s Daily (@人民日报), tweeted a sentimental message after Baby Haobo’s death that may serve as a model to China’s other media outlets struggling to cover the event while toeing the Party line:
After 36 hours, we got word, but it was the bad news that we did not want to hear. You did not have a chance to grow up, not even to see your first spring. Many cared for you, but they were not strong enough to protect you. Little Haobo, go to sleep, don’t be scared anymore. The bad people who hurt you will be punished. We will also try our best to make this world, the world that you had no chance to know, a little better.

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Rachel Lu

Rachel Lu is a co-founder of Tea Leaf Nation. Rachel traces her ancestry to Southern China. She spent much of her childhood memorizing Chinese poetry. After long stints in New York, New Haven and Cambridge, she has returned to China to bear witness to its great transformation. She is currently based in China.
  • lichao7190

    so sad for the baby

  • http://twitter.com/DigitGreatWall Digital Great Wall

    To be honest, I felt this government publicity guide is understandable.
    Item 2 stresses on social stability and Item 3 shows some care toward
    the baby’s family. This incident somewhat reminds me of the Sandy Hook mass shooting…so nothing too crazy about this guide.

  • matthew25

    Why control the amount of coverage? If people want to know more, an official should not try to restrict coverage. Some people will want to know more details about why this happened and the follow up actions, and some people will not. How media respond to these preferences is part of the marketplace of ideas.

    • http://twitter.com/DigitGreatWall Digital Great Wall

      The flow of information about this case is not really that strictly controlled. If you go to the Chinese social media site, or just do some random search, you will see numerous news articles about it. Also the state media continues to post updates.

  • Charles Liu

    Um, if there’s coverage restriction (Anybody can type up #$%^ on screen), the Chinese media certainly isn’t following it. Goto Baidu News and search baby Haobu “皓博” (or regular Baidu), there’re plenty of coverage.

  • Charles Liu

    Um, no front page coverage really? Baidu News has Baby Haobu on it’s news homepage, Sohu has coverage in homepage, focus, and opinions.