Reporters Without Borders said Wednesday it is concerned about the fate of Zhao Pu, an evening news presenter on state-owned CCTV, who has not been seen on screen since 9 April, after posting a warning message on his Weibo microblog about the dangers of the gelatine being added to certain kinds of yoghurt and other food products.
“CCTV’s management must quickly explain why Zhao Pu was suspended and what his current status is,” Reporters Without Borders said. “If he violated an internal regulation, CCTV should clearly say so, in which case, the legitimacy of the station’s internal regulations must be questioned. Zhao just warned his compatriots about a proven public health issue, in connection with which many arrests have already been made.
“The censorship of Zhao’s message on the Internet and CCTV’s initial silence followed by incoherent statements just reinforce the hypothesis that Zhao has been sidelined at the behest of the government, which – as in earlier food scandals – presumably wanted to suppress any comments on a subject it regarded as very sensitive.”
Zhao, 40, posted the following message on his microblog on 9 April. It was forwarded 130,000 times before it was removed later the same day:
“Text message from an investigative reporter: Do not eat yoghurt (the thick kind) or jelly, especially children. Their contents are truly frightening. I won’t speak about it in detail.” (“转发来自调查记者短信：不要吃老酸奶（固体形态）和果冻，尤其是孩子，内幕很可怕，不细说。”)
When another Internet user requested more information, Zhao replied: “It is like one day you throw away your leather shoes and then they are in your stomach.”
After Zhao ceased to be seen hosting CCTV’s evening news programme from 10 April onwards, speculation began to circulate that he had been temporarily suspended for violating the state TV broadcaster’s internal regulations.
On 22 April, Zhao posted an entry on Weibo that was a verse from the poet Wang Changling 王昌龄 . It indicated that he had no regrets: “If friends and relatives in Luoyang enquire after my feelings, I would say my heart is like a piece of pure ice in a jade pot.” (“洛阳亲友如相问，一片冰心在玉壶。”)
Zhao’s 9 April post referred to the discovery that toxic industrial gelatine has been used in a wide range of foodstuffs. Investigators have arrested a total of 53 people and closed ten factories that were allegedly using toxic products such as old leather to make gelatine for food products.
Contradictory statements by CCTV have fuelled concerns about Zhao’s situation after he posted the original warning. Initially the station said he was on a “normal” 10-day vacation. Other statements indicated that he had been punished but not dismissed.
On 15 April, the CCTV programme “Weekly Quality Reports” (每周质量报告) contained a report entitled “The secret in the capsules” (胶囊里的秘密) that said industrial gelatine made in part from pieces of old shoes had been used to manufacture the capsules for many common drugs as well as emulsifier used in a wide range of foodstuffs.
There have been several major outcries about tainted food products in recent years. Although the Internet and social networks have provided netizens and journalists with new ways of circulating information and expressing their concerns, government censorship continues to be felt whenever such a scandal emerges.
In what was a very unusual occurrence in China, a journalist who had been investigating tainted cooking oil was murdered by unidentified individuals in September 2011. Those responsible were never arrested.