On May 1, a new regulation restricting the use of unofficial weather reports came into force in China. The regulation had been approved by China’s Meteorological Organization in March and states that aside from authorized entities, “any organization or individual cannot release in any form weather forecast to the public.”
The reasoning behind this tougher approach is that fake and inaccurate reports – which are common on the lively Chinese internet – can cause panic and possibly endanger citizens. Last month, Chinese media reported that in spite of official forecasts to the contrary, unfounded rumors according to which Typhoon Zhuhai would hit Shanghai during the Tomb Sweeping Day holiday caused local residents to make unnecessary changes to their plans.
The new regulation delves into details concerning what exactly constitutes a weather report, dividing forecasts into two categories. “Public weather forecasts” include “clouds, wind direction, wind speed, temperature, humidity, air pressure, precipitations etc,” whereas “disastrous weather warning and meteorological disaster warning” cover “typhoons, rainstorms, snow storms, heavy winds, sand storms, droughts, hail, fog, haze, solar flares, magnetic storms etc.”
Transgressors who are caught releasing weather forecasts or broadcasting weather reports to the public without relying on the latest information provided by the country’s meteorological authority can incur in a fine of up to o 50,000 yuan (about US$8,000.) If their actions cause loss of life, injuries or “significant damage”, they can be held criminally responsible.
The regulation is not the only one aimed at restricting the ability of common citizens to broadcast information about natural events. Another prohibits both individuals and danwei – work units – to spread opinions on earthquakes.
What remains to be seen is the extent to which these new rules will have an impact on China’s amateur forecasters. According to Global Times, a state-owned newspaper, the new regulation is unclear about how information can be broadcasted, as it “failed to define the boundaries for releasing meteorological information to the public, or how information published by commercial weather-related smartphone apps would be regulated.”
Some officials played down the new norm’s effects. Interviewed by Youth Daily, Zhang Tairen, deputy inspector of the policy and regulation division of China’s Meteorological Administration, said that weather forecasts can be distributed by citizens as long as their sources are official and duly stated. “There can be various ways of broadcasting weather forecast, all kinds of commercial weather apps and WeChat public pages are allowed and encouraged to broadcast weather forecast after they get the forecast from the weather stations,” the paper quoted him as saying. “But they should indicate the weather stations from which they got their information and when it was released.”
On social media, the public reacted – as often happens – by mocking authorities. “This means we will never have ‘heavy pollution’ anymore,” wrote one user worried about potential censorship. Another wondered whether the public will be allowed “to sue the official weather forecasters for fraud if forecasts are not correct.”