July 31, 2009 / 2:14 PM / 10 years ago

China says Xinjiang riot media openness a success

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s central and regional propaganda offices have concluded that their strategy of media openness following ethnic riots in the far western city of Urumqi was a success, the Xinhua news agency said on Friday.

A militia takes an oath as they line up for a parade in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uigur Autonomous Region, July 28, 2009. REUTERS/China Daily

A central and local task force convened shortly after the July 5 riots, as foreign media flooded in to cover the aftermath of Uighur attacks on Han Chinese in Urumqi following a protest over the deaths of Uighur workers at a factory in south China.

The access for foreign media in Urumqi was in marked contrast to a blanket prohibition on travel to Tibetan areas after last March, when demonstrations across the plateau followed deadly riots in Lhasa on March 14.

“Openness stemmed from confidence, rumors were stopped by truth, by the rapid and wide dissemination of truth,” Wang Zhen, the vice chief of the Communist Party’s Propaganda Department and director of the State Council Information Office, was quoted by Xinhua as saying.

Foreign ministry officials have conveyed similar satisfaction about overall media coverage of Xinjiang this month, although individual reporters and media organizations have been scolded for what Chinese officials see as “biased coverage.”

Chinese media and Internet commentators have also accused Western media outlets of bias against China when covering Tibetan or Uighur issues.

The Chinese decision to work with foreign reporters was based in part on the negative coverage of Chinese handling of the Tibetan unrest, as well as on the overwhelmingly sympathetic coverage when nearly all controls on domestic and foreign reporting were lifted after the May 2008 Sichuan earthquake, sources have told Reuters.

In the week after the riots, foreign reporters were largely free to travel and interview in Urumqi, where 197 people died and over 1,000 were injured. Over 1,500 people have been detained, although none has been formally charged.

However, foreign reporters traveling to the historic Uighur city of Kashgar, in the south of Xinjiang, were prevented from leaving hotels and escorted to the airport in the week after the riots. Reporters returning to Xinjiang in July found locals were required to immediately report their presence to authorities.

Some foreign tourists with previously planned trips to Kashgar have also had their flights canceled.

Foreign travelers were barred from any Tibetan areas for most of the remainder of 2008, devastating the region’s tourism industry, and again during the one-year anniversary this March.

Most foreign NGOs working in Lhasa have been forced to leave Tibet since the demonstrations, NGO sources said.

Editing by Nick Macfie

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