As media attention level goes, you do not get higher than this: state broadcaster CCTV on Monday gave a paraxylene (PX) protest related story an almost four minute slot on its News Network programme, also known as Xinwen Lianbo. It reported the conflict between Tsinghua University students and netizens over the entry for PX on Baidu Baike, a Wikipedia-like service in China.
“Some netizens had taken advantage of the Baidu Baike, which allows all users editing access, and changed the toxicity of paraxylene from ‘low’ to ‘high’. To counter the acts, some Tsinghua students participated in an online paraxylene entry defence,” the report said, adding that one of the netizens who repeatedly changed the toxicity to ‘high’ was from Maoming, where the latest anti-PX protest broke out.
State media, such as CCTV and the People’s Daily, hailed the Tsinghua students for “defending and clarifying the truth in an objective and fair position”, and said opposition to the Maoming PX project was “unfounded” and “ill-intended”.
On Monday, CCTV’s flagship news and current affair programme, Topics in Focus, said that “some people with ill-intent had misused the openness of internet platform” to falsify the toxicity of PX. According to the programme, “although this falsification would not change the facts, it could mislead the public. Therefore, it deserves strong vigilance.”
China Daily’s report later quoted Xia Zhaolin, a Professor of Toxicology at Fudan University, who dismissed the public’s anxiety towards PX as “unfounded” Xia also said, "My research area is the impact of chemicals on workers’ health, and PX is not even a subject that interests me … The country is producing large amounts of other chemicals that are far more toxic than PX, such as benzene and chloroethylene.”
The state media’s coverage of the PX protests has repeatedly stressed the protesters’ lack of basic scientific literacy, and claimed that some people with ill-intent have exaggerated the toxicity of PX.
However, some observers disagree with the state media’s coverage. Greenpeace’s toxicity campaigner Wu Yixiu told chinadialogue: “the state media’s take on PX’s toxicity is muddling the focus of the PX debate.”
“The state media’s plan of dissolving public opposition towards PX projects by merely highlighting popularisation of science is not practical,” Wu said. According to her, most people oppose the PX project not because of the toxicity of PX production but the role local government has played in the project as well as the closed decision making process.
Wu’s point was echoed by Chen Li, a senior officer at the Central Politics and Law Commission of the Communist Party of China. Writing on his Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like microblog service, Chen Li said: “the series of events relating to PX production is not simply a matter of science. Rather, it is a matter of democratic and scientific decision making.”
Chen suggested that the government should improve its public communication mechanism. “More often than not, when the opposition is emerging, governments thinking they themselves righteous fail to pay attention and recognise the need to communicate. This kind of disregard and one-way decision making mechanism worsens the conflicts,” Chen’s Weibo post read.