Rumors more credible than officials for many netizens

By Chen Chenchen Source:Global Times Published: 2012-8-31 0:45:10

An Air China flight heading toward New York Wednesday night was forced to return to Beijing after seven hours in the air for a security check, due to a "threatening message" it received. The flight took off again after a police investigation was launched, and nothing suspicious was found.

On the same day, Dutch security forces searched a flight at Amsterdam due to a potential security incident, and released the plane after they concluded there was no threat.

The two events stirred up completely different responses on the Internet.

Among Chinese netizens, there was heated speculation that there was a senior runaway official on the Air China flight, heading for a life of luxury in the US on stolen money. Rumors continued even after Chinese police authorities responded Thursday that there was no corrupt official on the plane.

In contrast, the response in Europe to the Dutch news was blasé, with the public treating it as nothing more than a routine security incident.

In the two separate incidents, both airlines released an official message to explain basic facts. As public questions arose as to why the Air China flight had turned around, rather than landing nearby, Chinese police responded that not all airports suit the landing of the Boeing 747 jumbo jet, and that returning best facilitated the police investigation of the threats.

This official response was quicker and more specific than the average handling of previous cases. However, it still failed to squeeze out wild speculation from the public arena, and many netizens would rather buy the "runaway official" speculation. Whenever similar incidents occur, public opinion tends to harshly question any information that the authorities release.

The fragility of official credibility is a severe challenge for the Chinese authorities. Many government bodies don't expect their handling of emergencies to stir up such huge controversy. No matter what explanation they give, they are no longer capable of putting an end to public doubts.

It takes systematic efforts to resume the authority of official information.

The deficit in public credibility evidently cannot be offset by just one or two well handled cases. In order to build up trust, the authorities have to be more patient and put much more effort into everyday communication, rather than just handling emergency responses. This calls for change in the long-standing mechanisms of information release, in which the authorities pay little attention to interaction with the public.

We hope to hear rational voices on the Internet, but rumors will continue to have their market unless the authorities think seriously about their lack of credibility and retake the authority that official information should enjoy.

Posted in: Observer

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