Most Chinese pay attention to govt. spokesmen, want more transparency

2008-07-29 09:39:18 GMT       2008-07-29 17:39:18 (Beijing Time)       Xinhua English

BEIJING, July 29 (Xinhua) -- Wang Weitao, a PhD candidate at China's University of Science and Technology, said Premier Wen Jiabao's manner as a spokesman during press conference impressed him most.

The Premier showed his sincerity, prudence and amicability while elaborating important policies and answering reporters' questions, he noted, adding that Wen had set a good example for all spokesmen.

Like Wang, many Chinese has started to pay attention to spokesmen as a survey last week shows 85.9 percent Chinese have followed spokesman at various levels with interest.

"To watch a press conference given by a spokesman is much more interesting and informative than reading regulations and watching news broadcasts," said Ke Qiang, a college junior in Hubei University.

The week-long survey, conducted by the China Youth Daily, revealed that 84.9 percent of Chinese support the system of making news known through a spokesman.

By listening to a government spokesman, people may have a deeper understanding when a new policy takes effect, according to Wang Dongfeng, an accountant in central Henan Province.

He said any newly-issued regulation would certainly affect people's lives, listening to explanations by the spokesman would help them understand the new policy better.

Zhao Zhenyu, professor of journalism at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology, attributed the public's growing enthusiasm for spokesmen to the Chinese people's rising awareness of their rights to know.

The introduction of the government spokesman system was an important channel for the public to get to know what was happening in the government and a significant step to ensure citizen's right to know, he said.

China introduced the spokesman system in 1983, when the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee issued an order for the appointment of spokesmen at major government departments.

In the two decades that followed, spokesmen were used by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but rarely appeared in other government departments. It took a disaster to make the government change its mind and allow spokesmen a bigger voice.

It was not until 2003, when the spread of SARS called for more a transparent method of news release, that more spokesmen were put under the spotlight.

"After more than two decades of high-speed economic development and as the country becomes more stable, China was confident enough to embrace monitoring and supervision at various government levels," said Guo Ke, journalism professor at Shanghai International Studies University.

"The popular use of the Internet was another reason for the government to introduce more news spokesmen after the 20th century," he said, adding that the common people could get access to information on the web and any attempt to curb the spread of information could be in vain.

"The system of spokesmen in China came naturally as China deepens its reform and boosts economic pace," he noted.

As of the end of 2007, China had more than 160 spokesmen speaking for CPC central organs, central government departments and provincial governments.

The survey, which was completed by 9,244 netizens across the country, also showed that people paid the most attention to spokesmen in the Information Office of the State Council, which accounted for 60.1 percent of the total. The spokesman in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs ranked the second, hitting 58.8 percent.

But the situation of news spokesman in China is by no means hailed by all as scholars call for improvement and citizens urge transparency in news release.

Chen Lidan, professor of journalism at Renmin University, said spokesmen should be held responsible for failure to release news promptly, giving false information and refusal to disclose news using the excuse of secrecy classification.

New legislation is needed to guarantee people's rights to be informed and punish irresponsible spokesmen and their superiors, he said.

The general public, however, think efforts should be made on the transparency of the spokesman's work as the survey shows that 77.3 percent held that view, and 67.1 percent called for news release should be in time.

Nearly one third, or 29.2 percent of those people polled expect a news spokesman to have personality.

However, according to Zheng Genling, an official in the news channel of China Central Television, personality should not interfere with a spokesman's work as the priority for a qualified spokesman is to fulfill his responsibilities.

As a spokesman, the most important thing was to explain clearly what the policies and regulations are, said Li Guangzheng, a media worker in Shenzhen, adding occasional personal comment in press conferences was welcome but should never be too entertaining.

In the survey, 65.4 percent of the public expected spokesman to give a quick response and 58.2 percent wished to see a sense of responsibility on the spokesman.

The spokesman's knowledge of policies ranked the third while eloquence, which was said by 53.5 percent of those polled as important, took the fourth when commenting on the qualities that a good spokesman should have.

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