By Anjali Nambissan:
But this time the documentary in question has nothing to do with India.
Chinese journalist, Chai Jing, retired from the TV news business a while ago. But Under The Dome is one documentary she just had to make. Mostly because her infant daughter, who was diagnosed with a tumour as a foetus, reportedly due to the high levels of particulate matter in the air, had to stay indoors for almost six months because it was too polluted to go out in Linfen, Shanxi Province in Northern China.
It is a powerful film. Styled as an investigative monologue, Chai mixes personal experiences, research, interviews and scientific evidence to–
• Decisively establish the link between PM 2.5 and other toxins in the air and deteriorating human health, with children being the most vulnerable. At one point, she is allowed to film a lung cancer patient’s surgery. This is an overall healthy woman in her 50s who’s never smoked, but still has giant black chunks removed from her lungs.
• Expose the alarming levels of pollution growing in China in the last 10 years. There are NASA photos and everything! At one point, Chai interviews a little girl in Xiaoyi, in Shanxi province in 2004, who says she’s never seen stars at night because of all the smoke in the air!
• Reveal giant loopholes in China’s environmental laws. Regulations on diesel engine manufacturers are regularly flouted, energy standards are lax so coal and petroleum are in widespread, unregulated use, while technology to reduce or filter emissions is not.
Down, but not out
The film first came out on the Internet on February 28th to an uproarious response. In less than a week of release, it had 42.9 million views on China’s version of YouTube, Youku, and 530,460 posts on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter. The larger world wide web also saw the smoke rising from the documentary and the international media began running story after story on it, while discussion forums were getting heated up with talk of the ‘revolutionary documentary on pollution in China’.
The interweb activists thought that maybe the Communist Party government would severely crackdown on polluters, and literally and figuratively, clear the air. But that wasn’t to be. On Friday, ahead of the annual session of the National People’s Congress, the documentary was removed. The director was ordered to remove it from all websites by the government. WeChat and Weibo were ordered to severely crackdown on the film being circulated through their network.
That’s not surprising though. China has a history of being a somewhat tight-handed censor of all things on the Interweb. What is jokingly known as The Great Firewall is a government-run intricate network of jammers that do not allow Facebook, Twitter and other international websites into the country. Ever since current President Xi Jinping took office in 2013, the clampdown on the media and suppression of dissent has only gotten worse. They even have an ad jingle that is all gung-ho about internet censorship.
Any one notices any similarities to a certain non-Communist country in the neighbourhood that is going the same censorship way?
China’s environmental problems are huge
Their first day of the annual NPC meeting, which is like China’s Parliamentary session, was ruled by the state of China’s environment and the government effort required to fix it. President Jinping has been quoted as saying that he would “punish, with an iron hand, any violators who destroy the ecology or the environment, without exception”. While Premier Li Keqiang said, China’s ‘environmental deterioration is blight on people’s quality of life and a trouble that weighs on their hearts’.
Then why ban a journalist’s exploration into the reasons and consequences of this environmental deterioration?
China is also a highly populated, developing country that relies heavily on coal and other fossil fuels for meeting the energy and economic demands of its people. So far, it has been clearly unsuccessful in balancing economic development with environmental health, and consequently, the health of its citizens.