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Chinese state media fall for tax hoax|
China's official state news agency has been left red-faced after falling for an unlikely hoax: an unremarkable government notice about tax is now said to be fake.
Xinhua and state broadcaster CCTV were among the outlets that ran reports spelling out changes to personal income tax. Xinhua even said it had interviewed an official from the State Administration of Taxation (SAT).
But tax authorities say the document that spawned the coverage was forged and have vowed to take legal action against those responsible.
"Some individuals forged the SAT's name and published a document on issues related to the implementation of the revised individual income tax law, which seriously misled taxpayers," the administration said in a notice.
"The SAT has never published such a document nor made any elaborations."
The motive for the fabrication is a mystery. There is no obvious financial benefit and, if it was intended as a spoof, there seems to be no punchline to the joke: the document appears authentically dull.
The alternative is that the notice was genuine but not intended for release, perhaps because it was only a draft. Yet its details appear too innocuous to require the official denial and a finance professor suggested that the text had some flaws.
"If the fabricator didn't have a good command of finance and taxation, misleading the media and the public like this would have been difficult," Yue Shumin of Renmin University told Beijing News.
But he added: "SAT would never provide two methods of calculation for one tax change [as the notice did]. That would confuse the public."
Asked whether Xinhua had interviewed an official, as it claimed - its paraphrased quotes closely resembled the text of the document - a member of the national news department told the Guardian: "This case is still under investigation. We will release the results to the public."
Whatever the truth, commercial media have seized on Xinhua's embarrassment. The Southern Metropolis Daily reported the story on its front page, with one of its commentators suggesting that people accepted the notice because they were used to new policies appearing without warning.
"In a normal society, for policies of major public interest, there is always discussion, debate, hearings and so on, after which it will be decided ...The reason the news about the tax rule was not suspected... [was that] it completely conformed to the characteristics of reporting on public information with which we are familiar in this society," wrote Liu Hongbo.
He added that its rapid spread also reflected Xinhua's unique position, pointing out that its reports were regarded as the final statement on news stories.
Shen Jie, a commentator for the Oriental Morning Post, wrote that the mistake indicated journalistic shortcomings, but also warned that "some government agencies are reluctant to disclose information punctually and fully".
David Bandurski, of Hong Kong University's China Media Project, pointed out that the slip-up came amid a growing debate about rumours and truth on the mainland.
Internet users have reacted angrily to the Anti-Rumour League - online volunteers who have pledged to monitor and unmask untruths on China's hugely popular microblogs. Critics complained that they were focusing on popular rumours and ignoring misinformation from officials.
"There's a lot of anger. People see it as an attack on social media," Bandurski said.
Microblogs have become a crucial source of news and information for many on the mainland, as they are not censored as strictly as mainstream media. In particular, users are often able to post news of protests or other sensitive material, even if it is swiftly taken down.
[ Last edited by 468259058 at 2011-8-17 09:31 AM ]