Shanxi scandal: coal mine "shut up" cash | China's Home for News, Opinion, and Analysis -
By Cam MacMurchy
Published on October 29, 2008

Dai has been in the news business for twenty years; still, what he saw shocked him:  All the offices were filled with "reporters" who were chatting with each other.  In the hallway, there were other "reporters" lining up.  Dai took pictures of the most humiliating scene in the news industry in China:  Real and fake "reporters" were lining up not to report the coal mine disaster, but to collect their "shut up" money.

BEIJING - The following two articles were published in the China Youth Daily outlining a scam in Shanxi where reporters, both real and "fake", showed up to collect thousands of Renminbi in cash to keep from reporting a deadly incident at a coal mine.

This first article was published by a China Youth Daily reporter on October 26:

In the evening of September 25, Dai Xiaojun, a reporter from the West Times, and his co-workers drove to the Huo Bao Gan coal mine in Shanxi province.

Dai has been in the news business for twenty years; still, what he saw shocked him:  There were more than ten offices in the building.  All the offices were filled with "reporters" who were chatting with each other.  In the hallway, there were other "reporters" lining up.

Dai took pictures of the most humiliating scene in the news industry in China:  this was happening after a coal mine disaster. Real and fake "reporters" were lining up not to report the disaster, but to collect their "shut up" money.

Dai received a message from a worker in this coal mine a couple of days ago, which said 41-year old worker Ji Xinhong suffocated to death in the mine.  Ji is from Zhenbei village, and was buried on September 22.  The coal mine company didn't report the incident to higher-level leaders.  Instead, they handed out "shut up" money to reporters who arrived.  The amount of money varied.  At most, it was tens of thousands, at the least, only a few thousand.

Dai discovered that all the "reporters" had to register first, then they received a piece of paper.  They took that piece of paper and went into another room where they received the money.  "People lined up and waited for the one person to count the money," according to Dai.

Dai decided to take pictures to record the whole process.  After secretly taking pictures inside the building, he went outside with his co-worker.  The "reporters'" cars were all parked in front of the coal mine company.  Dai took some pictures of the most noteworthy ones, then quickly left with his co-worker.  In order not to be chased, they drove to another village before returning to the highway.  That route took an extra three hours.

After returning to town, they went through all the photos they took.

Of all the "reporters" there, Dai didn't recognize a single one.  On the roster, there were 39 newspapers and weekly magazines.  All of them are economic, scientific information, legal, safety, and business related.  There were three reporters from a renewed daily newspaper of Shanxi province, two from a prestigious consumer-related newspaper and another two from a fortune magazine.  There were some other media names he'd never heard of.  There was also a videotape van from Beijing outside of the company building.

There were even three reporters registered from his own newspaper, the West Times.  Dai had never heard of them before.  In order to verify, he asked an elder reporter who had been working at the West Times for more than 10 years.  This reporter had never heard of them before, either.  However, the reporter said:  "Coal mine companies often give this kind of money to reporters in Shanxi province.  The owner of the coal mine companies can't tell the difference between real and fake reporters.  Whether it's a real reporter with a press card from the General Administration of Press and Publication or visitors who have a work pass from a media outlet, they all register to get the cash."

Due to years of working in the news industry, Dai knew that this kind of news could not be published in a traditional newspaper.  People have known about "shut up" money for years.  Sometimes there was a word or two in a newspaper, but never full articles with pictures.

On the night of September 27th, he uploaded pictures (seen below) on the Zhi Bo Ke website.  It drew more and more attention, with up to 150 comments.  The post became more popular, however Zhi Bo Ke deleted the post without any notice.  Dai said this website asked other websites which had cited teh story to delete it, too.  The website explained this was done due to "pressure".

This is a follow-up piece published in the China Youth Daily on October 28th:

On the morning of October 26 I went into the company building.  I tried to talk with security guards on the ground floor.  From the photos taken on September 25, I could see the real and fake "reporters" registered here to get into the building.  Many of them had written down one name:  Li Guoliang.  All of the staff here refused to talk to me.

I had to go back.  After a 20-kilometer drive, I received a call from a man who claimed to be Li Guoliang.

"I heard that your coal mine had an accident and lots of volunteers racketeered you?" I asked Li.  He explained:  "No.  It can't be called racketeering.  Just lots of reporters came."

"How many, in total?"

"Around forty, fifty," he said.

That was fewer than Dai had seen that night.  Dai had estimated more than a hundred.

The night wasn't the only time they sent out money.  There were some taxi drivers waiting outside the company for customers.  As those taxi drivers recall, four and five days after the incident, lots of reporters came to collect money.  One taxi driver emphasized again and again two TV station names.  They are based in Beijing and Hong Kong, respectively.  Both of them are well-known around the world.  Since I couldn't get the full roster from the coal mine company, I could not verify this.

Background:  Take a taxi to the coal mine, drive an Audi back

There are two famous tales about "shut up" money that have circulated in Shanxi province.  The first one is a "reporter" drove to a coal mine in the morning and took back almost a million RMB in the afternoon.  The other one is a "reporter" took a taxi to the coal mine and drove back in an Audi.

A local reporter said, "Fake reporters always drive off-road vehicles, because it is easier to drive to coal mine areas which are often located in the mountains."

A chef in a town called Jiaokou in Shanxi said, "The fee for reporters here (Hei Kouzi Coal Mine) is 50 yuan per ton."  If a fake reporter shows up and doesn't get paid, they'd call real reporters and the boss would have to pay both of them.

The first ones to get the coal mine accident information are villagers around the coal mines.  A newspaper in Shanxi always gets phone calls from them:  "We have an accident here!  Come and report it!  How much can I get?"

The bosses, however, rarely take concerns of the villagers seriously.  The villagers know it, so they use the fake reporters.

There is a chain of self-interest following coal mine accidents.  The villagers provide information to fake reporters.  After the fake reporters get money from the bosses, they will give the villagers a small portion.  Those fake reporters will send this information to their "co-workers" and take a commission from them as well.  So it expands fast.  Some villagers said the commission for them is anywhere from 10% to 30%.

An experienced reporter in the Shanxi news industry said the Shanxi coal mine bosses have given reporters two names:  "Beggars who hold a news bowl" and "Beggars fed by the news."

This comes out of the own interest of the coal mine bosses.  According to the "illegal coal mine punishment regulation", if there is a worker who dies during work in an illegal mine, companies have to give compensation of no less than RMB 200,000 and will be charged by the Safety Control and Supervisory Department for a million RMB.  That's to say, if five people die in a coal mine, the company has to pay the relatives no less than a million RMB and five million to the nation.

However, if they pay the relatives one million secretly, and even tens of thousands as fees to reporters, the savings are immense.  What's more important is the coal mines will not be shut down.  Daily profits are high.

The craziest thing happened during the Spring Festival in 2007.  There was a coal mine worker who died working in Linfen, Shanxi.  More than 30 reporters from a Shanxi newspaper went to the coal mine company on the morning of the second day.  Some of them were from the newspaper's local bureau, some were from the domestic news section, and some were from the propaganda department of the newspaper.  The coal mine company thought if they were from the same newspaper, they'd better get together and have lunch.  However, none of the thirty reporters knew each other.

Translated by:  XQ

Photos:  NetEasy

Reporters standing in the hallway to collect their fee.

The leger for doling out cash.