Society

A rain check

Weather forecasts banned

People catch a fish on a flooded street after heavy rainfall in Dongguan

Predicting floods now penalised

The Chinese government is well known for its controlling tendencies. But earlier this month it even surprised its own media – the bulk of which it oversees – when it issued a regulation banning unofficial weather forecasts.

According to the document issued at the start of May only the Meteorological Administration (CMA) can inform the public about upcoming climatic conditions. Attempts by amateurs and unlicenced organisations to disseminate similar, unauthorised information will be punished by a fine of Rmb50,000, a notice on the CMA’s website said.

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“This regulation includes every-day weather forecasts, extreme weather warnings and climate disaster warnings. Forecasts that include the following items are banned: cloud cover, wind direction and speed, temperature, humidity, air pressure, precipitation, visibility, cosmic conditions, solar activity level, geomagnetic activity, ionospheric conditions, space particle radiation levels and upper and medium atmosphere conditions,” the 15-point document said.

The government decided to issue the new rule after several netizens posted warnings of extreme weather on their social media accounts – a move apparently engineered to get more followers. Examples of this included erroneous predictions of a super typhoon in Fujian in early April; as well as rumours of a typhoon in Guangdong last month that caused some people to change their travel plans during a key public holiday, the Zhuhai News said.

In recent years the Chinese government has cracked down on all types of online rumours, saying they “harm social stability”. Yet even for state-run media this regulation seemed a step too far. The Beijing Times called the rule “ridiculous” and said it is unenforceable in an era when people can also get information from international websites. The Kunming Daily suggested the government was motivated by economic gain by pointing out that CMA actually sells its information to websites. “The CMA is trying to maintain a monopoly,” it said.

Netizens too were annoyed, saying the new law would further hamper attempts to disseminate information about air pollution.

Others took the opportunity to complain about the CMA – which famously didn’t give advance warning of the heavy rains in Beijing three years ago in which 79 people died. “They ban us from making our own predictions but we can’t rely on them to get it right,” scowled one.

But others found humour in the ruling. “What if my mother tells me to take an umbrella, will she be arrested?” asked one.


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