Caixin
Dec 16, 2016 06:19 PM
BUSINESS & TECH

China Railway Corp.'s Gag Order Targets Social Media Users

(Beijing) — China Railway Corp. (CRC) has responded to the recent cybersharing of a rail-accident video by barring employee use of social media to disseminate information about such disasters, according to a memo obtained by Caixin.

The worker gag order was issued Wednesday after the state-owned CRC, the nation's sole rail operator, said in the memo that it had identified employees who circulated information linked to two accidents that left eight people dead in Zhengzhou, the capital of central China's Henan province.

More than 1,000 railroad workers in China die on the job every year.

The social network WeChat and other platforms were used to circulate a video clip shot at the scene of a Dec. 10 incident in which six CRC construction workers were struck and killed by a freight train. The clips were later used by news media outlets.

Investigators blamed the accident on miscommunication between the victims and traffic controllers.

Five days later, social media was used to disseminate a written description of an accident in which a locomotive struck and killed two rail workers who had been on an early-morning track patrol. Investigators are still searching for a cause of the accident.

CRC did not release the names of any employees linked to the social media postings. Neither did the company say whether anyone will be punished.

According to the memo, the railroad operator traced the video footage from the first accident to workers employed by a Beijing-based subsidiary that is responsible for locomotive maintenance. And it said details of the second accident were posted by people working for a power and signaling system subsidiary in the southern city of Guangzhou.

CRC rarely publicizes so-called internal accidents, which only involve rail workers, according to a rail official who asked not to be named. It does, however, release an annual report with accident statistics. The 2015 report released in April, for example, cited 1,037 rail accidents fatalities that year, down 15% from 2014.

CRC officials are keen to suppress information about accidents because they fear possible consequences meted out by government authorities, according to Zhou Zhiren, a professor at Peking University's School of Management.

But CRC should not silence employees, Zhou said.

"It's wrong to go after people who help spread the word about accidents," he said. "Transparency can help a company look deeper into deadly accidents in order to prevent them from happening again."

In January, the Ministry of Transport, which regulates the rail industry, accused CRC and its subsidiaries of violating disclosure rules by suppressing information about several deadly accidents in 2015.

Contact reporter Li Rongde (rongdeli@caixin.com)

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