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Well, my impression has been, although in the past, official estimates for death tolls in natural disasters have been much lower than actual, in this case the domestic media have been reporting more accurate figures.|
From one CNN article:
Wenran Jiang, acting director of the Chinese Institute at the University of Alberta, believes the nation has drawn lessons from its past experiences with disaster. "China made mistakes before. They seemed to have learned their lessons from the earlier episodes and this one -- they probably want to manage it as well as they can."
Why China's new approach? Jiang notes that "the media follow-up is quite transparent," in part because it "is politically less sensitive covering such a natural disaster." Besides, Chinese officials see tangible benefits in allowing media transparency. By showing the leaders helping people and coordinating search and rescue efforts, he explains, "the result is that the whole [of] China is being mobilized. The disaster has now become a rallying point of the country."
This, from an AP article:
I'm not sure I agree with some of the analysis here—I think the benefits are greater and the downside nonexistent, really—but there it is.
"The old traditions in reporting bad news were to cover up and to block, but it's very different now," said Shao Peiren, a mass media professor at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou. "It shows the Chinese government is more confident than ever. It has realized that by sharing the news candidly, it can win the support of the public and the understanding of its people."
Implicitly, of course, the response to this tragedy stands in stark contrast to the dismal response of the US government to the hurricane disaster of Katrina.