By Zhou Xisheng
Vice President of Xinhua News Agency, President of Xinhuanet
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As we all know, the year 2008 is not an easy year for the Chinese people. On May 12, a most devastating earthquake since the founding of new China hit Wenchuan in the southwest Sichuan Province. Confronting such a destructive natural disaster, Chinese Internet media reacted promptly and reported on the event in an all-round way. Donations were soon initiated from the Internet, which played a unique role in earthquake relief. I would like to take this chance to introduce the role of Chinese Internet media in reporting major social events, especially the Wenchuan earthquake, and I would like to share my view with my Chinese and American colleagues.
Internet has developed into the fastest means to spread information for human kind. When a major or sudden event happens, no other traditional media could satisfy people’s requirement for instantly emerging large amounts of information as the Internet. The Web has become the most important platform for people to learn facts and exchange opinions in such situation. After the earthquake happened in the afternoon of May 12, Internet media was the first to report on it – Xinhuanet issued the first newsflash of the disaster to the world in less than 20 minutes, and immediately initiated rotating reports about it in Chinese, English, French, Russian, Arabic and many other languages, 24 hours a day. In the peak hours, there were newsflashes issued every second. Within an hour, all Chinese Web media switched their attention and focus on the earthquake, opening special columns and topics to follow the situation of the disaster-hit area. Internet turned out to be the first media for the Chinese public to obtain information. As the earthquake-hit area was disconnected with the outside world, large number of netizens waited in front of their computers, not wanting to miss a single clue or news about the region. According to available statistics, within four hours after the earthquake, there were over 30 million search pages of the Wenchuan earthquake in China’s main search engines. The quick response and large amount of information of the Chinese Internet media effectively satisfied the public’s demand to learn about the situation of disaster-hit areas, and helped stabilize public moods. Some Western scholars commented that Western media have never before reported on China so objectively and positively. It is a direct result of the transparency of the Chinese Government and the prompt report in the Chinese Internet media.
In the Wenchuan earthquake coverage, Chinese Web media made full use of their advantage to integrate their text, photo, audio and video resources, applying various means and forms to offer a dynamic report of disastrous areas and rescue efforts there. Large numbers of feature reports and photos were issued in the Web media; Web videos truthfully reflected the scene of the site, and various forums, blogs and instant communication tools became the channels to issue and exchange information. A few search engines quickly drew map of the earthquake surrounding area to inform the netizens of any coming news. An important platform worth mentioning is the blog, which played a unique role in disseminating information of the earthquake. The “Blogs from the Disaster Area” column was launched in many websites, and netizens, volunteers and relief workers living and working in the quake-hit area used their pens, mobiles and cameras to record on-site scenes and publicized them on the Internet. Some blog websites suggested netizens to offer more advices on helping the victims, and many psychologists wrote blog articles on how to have psychological intervention for the people affected and how to help them recover, many of them could not make their way personally to the disaster area, but offered their knowledge to the volunteers undertaking the relief work there. The multi-media and multi-dimensional report of the Wenchuan earthquake in the Chinese Internet helped intensify the width and depth of Chinese news spreading. According to statistics, after the earthquake, the average Web page browsing rate per capita of the 10 Chinese representative news websites increased by 151.5 percent, and short-time surfing volume of Chinese main websites increased like an explosion. From May 12 to 19, the number of independent visiting users of the main websites increased by 107 percent over the previous week, and the Web page browsing volume increased by 265 percent.
In time of the disaster, Internet media served as a bridge of communications among the netizens, as well as between the government and the netizens. The day the earthquake struck, countless Sichuan natives studying in other provinces telephoned their homes to ask about the situation of their families, nobody answered the landline and the mobile had no signals. At this time, the Internet took up its responsibility to establish communications, Internet forums and blogs, and instant communication tools such as QQ and MSN formed a net world to pass on information of the disaster and to look for family members and relatives in the disaster-hit area. An armed police soldier doing relief work in the frontline lost communication with his seven-month pregnant wife Wang Zhuo in Jiangyou, so he left a note on the Web looking for her. After reading the note, netizens around the country initiated an act to look for and rescue Wang Zhuo. On May 15, Wang was finally found by the Jiangyou police. Meanwhile, the Internet media also invited some senior government officials, scholars and experts to have on-line interviews to answer questions raised by the netizens and have interactive communications. For example, when the quake hit Wenchuan on May 12, it was also felt in capital Beijing, and rumors were spread that there would be an earthquake in Beijing that evening. Xinhuanet instantly interviewed the China Earthquake Administration and issued an authentic announcement that there would be no devastating earthquake in the Beijing area in the near future. The news was announced in TV channels, radio programs and other websites, which helped get rid of people’s panic and stabilized society.
The Chinese Internet media also made innovations by using the unique functions of the network to offer some special service platforms, including online donation, relative searching, volunteer recruiting, mourning, public memorial and psychological assistance, to offer some practical and spiritual help for people in the disaster area. Using their influences, some Chinese portal websites collaborated with welfare organizations after the earthquake to launch online donation platforms, offering a quick and convenient donation means. Within a month, they received nearly 70 million yuan of donation funds, which is known as an Internet welfare miracle. Some Web media initiated the online relative searching platform to help netizens in the disaster-hit area establish communications with their relatives in other places. Several Web media jointly built the Wenchuan Earthquake Online Memorial Hall and launched the online public memorial activity for compatriots died in the Wenchuan earthquake. With the Internet as the media, netizens could send flowers, write messages and use other means to express their condolences for the dead and comfort those still alive. Without the Internet, the requirements and demands of the disaster area would not have instantly reached other corners of the country and the world, and volunteers from around the world would not have been able to arrive there so quickly to participate in the rescue work, and donated funds and material worth over 30 billion yuan would not have reached there in two weeks. The reactions of Internet media during the Wenchuan earthquake proved that when a disaster or crisis occurs, when the government needs the participation and unity of the mass, when various social systems and mechanisms need to rely on and support each other, and when the public needs more information and communication, Internet is the media to rely on and it can play a most important role in information dissemination.
The power displayed by Chinese Internet and netizens in the Wenchuan earthquake is amazing, and it also gives us some inspirations. Firstly, the advanced, quick and convenient modern information spreading technique of the Internet enables it to play an irreplaceable role in the case of major and sudden event reporting. The online reports are prompt in time, rich in content and varied in form, satisfying the public demands to get transparent, quick and comprehensive information. Secondly, the Internet is an interactive media. It has developed into a platform for the netizens to express their views, propositions and emotions, a place and tool for interactive communications between individuals, as well as between the government and the public. As a result, Internet forums, blogs, online videos and instant communication tools will develop more rapidly. Thirdly, the Web media are now not merely recording social events, but also actively organizing and participating in various social activities. Internet has displayed its boundless feature. The Chinese Internet media are ready to give full play to the advantages of the network to do more meaningful work for the public, and to enable more netizens to do more valuable job for society by using the Internet.
Thank you very much for your attention.
(China.org.cn November 7, 2008)