4. Internet press freedom and online crisis reporting: The role of news web sites in the SARS epidemic
This chapter examines the role played by news Web sites during the SARS crisis in two regions that have different degrees of Internet press freedom. Six online news sites in Hong Kong and mainland China were selected for investigation. The findings indicate that the news sites in Hong Kong, which enjoy a high degree of Internet press freedom, acted as “interactive crisis managers” and contributed in a number of ways to the management of the SARS crisis in the community. On the contrary, the news sites in mainland China, which are restricted by media censorship, served as the government’s “online agent of containment.” The findings also show that the news sites in both regions were able to offer efficient warnings, timely education, and a network of support during the crisis because of the unique characteristics of the Internet medium. However, due to the constraints on Internet press freedom, the Chinese sites were unable to take full advantage of the Internet medium to play a positive role in the management of the crisis.