A day late, but this video from the Onion may shed some smog-filtered light on China's current attitude toward pollution.
Well, not quite. But given the lengths the Olympics-geared propaganda machine may sometimes go in order to dress up the truth, the tone of the "ambassador" here is spot-on. Consider this doublespeak-laden reply I heard at a recent Olympics press conference, after a reporter asked about Beijing's recent tweaking of pollution data:
The monitoring stations are being improved just like other cities. The stations have increased and also keep improving, so our monitoring stations are becoming larger, and now there are more stations. We've [placed stations] according to national regulations; indicated based on regulations and suggestions provided by the experts.
That's Du Shaozhong, deputy director of the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau, on how the city's monitoring stations are simply being "improved." But he wouldn't confirm or deny that they were moved. Here's the clincher:
And just now you said the monitoring stations have moved from high traffic to low traffic. This phenomenon does not exist, because this is a misunderstanding. Some reports have also provided some statistics. But the statistics are different from official announcements. Some reports also blamed us. This is not fair.
Coverage of Tibet by western media, who were prohibited from traveling to the region, has led to similar, even stronger, accusations of unfairness. Steve Andrews, who first questioned the city's "blue sky days" measurements and noted the movement of its pollution monitoring stations, told me in an email that fairness had nothing to do with it. Andrews' report drew its data directly from government records.
"It's good that official government documents and an analysis of data conclusively evidences the removal of the two monitoring stations in high-traffic areas that had been part of the city measurements from 1984-2005," he wrote. Interestingly, director Du also acknowledged where such "unfair" data might have come from: his bureau's website.
First I want to say that according to the requirement of the state; we monitor four pollutants. We don't only monitor them but release them on the website of the environmental protection bureau.
[We announce average pollution from all the stations], but we also publish the data of each station, so you can refer to the concrete data of each station."
Said Andrews, "It is good that he confirmed my methodology as well."
Of course, stretching or concealing the truth in public speeches is by no means the strict domain of the Chinese government. But as the heat turns up before the Olympics, and some in the government call for improved reporting on pollution at least, officials are having a harder time of putting lipstick on the environmental pig.
For more fact-twisting, see Beijing Newspeak, a blog devoted to the schizophrenia of officialese, written by a former copy editor for state-run news agency Xinhua. And see this Xinhua article about the monitoring station controversy, which simply quotes director Du. Note that he never actually denies that the stations were moved.