Spokesmen reflect on a year in the spotlight

By Wang Shanshan, Xie Chuanjiao and Liu Li (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-12-29 07:00

Call it a love-hate relationship. For Wang Xuming, spokesman of the Ministry of Education, and the reporters who cover his ministry, every day is fraught with tension.

Over the past two years, reporters have made Wang look by turns arrogant and stupid. But they swarm to his press conferences and regularly devote valuable column inches to his frank, humorous remarks.

Reporters have even introduced Wang's wry catchphrase "You reporters cannot be offended so I can only endure." to people across the country. Wang tells China Daily how he feels about being a frequent source of controversy.

Q: How do you prepare for a press conference?

A: I have been a spokesman for nearly four years, but I still have to spend much time getting psychologically prepared before each press conference. To me, any press conference could turn out like a chapter from the millennium-old Legend of Three Kingdoms - the "battle of tongues against a group of scholars." It demands great energy.

Besides, I read a lot about the regulations and happenings in the educational sector. It will never happen that a reporter raises an issue and I am not familiar with it.

Q: Is a tough mind also one of the qualities needed, particularly when your name appears in some of the most-read stories on the Internet, or when netizens level bad words at you?

A: It depends on how you think of yourself. If you believe yourself to be the sage, you will definitely feel hurt. But if you think that you are nobody, or even worse, a "dead pig," you will fear no attacks.

Q: Have you met any spokesmen at foreign organizations? How do you compare yourself with them?

A: I have been abroad many times and talked with a lot of spokesmen. But there is one that I have never met and have always respected. He is Saeed al-Sahaf, former spokesman for Saddam's government. I love the scene of his staying and talking with reporters after the United States Army had captured Baghdad.

Of all the spokesmen that I have met, I loved the one who worked for Kofi Annan at the United Nations. He gave me some really good advice.

I still need to improve a lot if I want to become as good as the best of them in the future. As for my performance, I give myself a "Pass."

Wu Heping wears many hats. His official title may be spokesman for the Ministry of Public Security (MPS), but he moonlights as a writer.

Wu who became the spokesman for the ministry last July, published his first detective novel early in July this year, and it was a huge success. His second novel is due out any day.

Wu rose to prominence after he blew the lid off of a major relics-smuggling ring in 1992, when he was the director general of the Public Security Bureau in Kaifeng in Central China's Henan Province. The case involved goods worth an estimated 600 million yuan (US$75 million).

Q: How has the MPS fared in upgrading its publicity?

A: The MPS has established a three-tiered spokesman system: at the ministerial-, provincial- and municipal levels. The ministry holds a regular press conference every second Tuesday of each month, as the Central Government requires.

In addition, the MPS actually holds a press conference every 10 days on average to report on about 80 per cent of the ministry's work to the public.

The result is that the government's work is more transparent, which is a great contribution to the building of a "sunshine government."

Q: How do you strike the balance between your writing and police lives?

A: The two things are complementary. I apply my rich police experiences to my novels, and sometimes use a brisk literary style during my spokesman career.

Q: How do you deal with tough reporters?

A: Reporters and spokesmen are good partners, and together produce the best news.

There is no such thing as a tough question, it just takes intelligence to give the right answer.

Reporters enrich spokesmen. The sharpest questions are the best questions. If I can answer then I improve myself.

Mao Qun'an, spokesman of the Ministry of Health, has spent his fair share of time in the spotlight during the last year.

High medical spending, healthcare reform, bird flu, misleading medical advertisements and organ transplants are just some of the issues to come up during his watch.

As a result, Mao Qun'an, the ministry's spokesman, spent his fair share of time in the spotlight.

Born in Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, Mao graduated from the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine in 1985. He has been working for the Ministry of Health since 1987.

Q: How do you feel about your past year as spokesman for the Ministry of Health? Did your work bring you more happiness or more challenges?

A: The spokesperson system works well for the government. But it is indeed tiring and challenging work for my colleagues and me.

This year was the first year that the Ministry of Health held regular press conferences. It was also an important year for healthcare reform and development. My colleagues and I found ourselves dealing with more pressure than we had expected. But we also felt gratified. We worked hard and received a lot of feedback from the public and media. We are willing to meet the challenges of our duties and co-operate closely with the media to promote the reform and development of China's healthcare sector.

Q: What was the toughest question you have faced during the past year? How did you respond?

A: At the regular briefing in October, a reporter asked my opinion about an online appeal to abolish traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). In fact, that was the first time I had heard about it, like most people.

I felt at that time that I had to play my role to give the media proper guidance on the issue. So I replied by saying that TCM is one of China's national treasures, but developing it would be difficult. I stressed that the government attached great importance to and supported the development of TCM. The topic resulted in some pretty hot discussion afterwards.

(China Daily 12/29/2006 page3)

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