China is desperately trying to control what information the public can get about pollution

Keep your mouth shut.
Keep your mouth shut.
Image: AP/Ng Han Guan
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After a toxic start to the year, China is taking measures that will make it harder for people to get information about pollution.

Notice on halting smog forecast, issued by China Meteorological Administration on Jan. 17, 2017.
Notice on halting smog forecast, issued by China Meteorological Administration on Jan. 17, 2017.
Image: Weibo/Gehongbing

On Jan. 17, China’s Meteorological Administration issued a notice (link in Chinese) requiring all local weather bureaus to stop issuing smog warnings. Instead, it will implement a unified system for future smog warnings.

Under this new system, the agency said it will issue warnings after discussions with the environmental bureau, weather forecast bureau, and other related departments, a staff member told Shanghai-based news agency the Paper (link in Chinese).

Local weather bureaus, however, will still be able to issue ”fog” warnings. Fog has become a bit of a scapegoat for China when it comes to pollution. Earlier this month, Beijing blamed its poor visibility on fog, issuing its first-ever red “fog” alert while maintaining an orange smog alert—its second-highest pollution warning—even though independent pollution readings qualified it for a red smog alert.

Chinese citizens are livid about the changes. “As professional weather forecast departments, they should be well aware of the risks it bring if the smog isn’t alerted when it comes,” one user wrote on Weibo (link in Chinese).

The notice comes weeks after a Chinese app called Air Matters, which collects air quality information, was told by the government to stop releasing data exceeding official records. One of the app’s developers Wang Jun said a provincial environmental protection department ordered the app to cap its air quality index readings at 500, the current maximum (link in Chinese) recorded by officials.