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Information transparency vital for image

Updated: 2013-10-16 00:41
By Cao Yin ( China Daily)

People's right to know must be guaranteed, says State Council

Government departments should strive to improve information transparency so as to better respond to people's concerns, the State Council said on Tuesday.

It asked government officials to release information actively, timely, comprehensively and accurately in the era of the Internet, according to a statement on the central government's website.

Many departments have taken measures such as appointing a spokesperson or opening a website to release information in light of a State Council regulation issued in 2008.

However, some local governments have not publicized information in a timely manner, or have even kept silent on issues of public concern, and this has tarnished the government's image, the statement said.

Information transparency is an important means of enhancing the government's credibility and safeguarding the people's right to know, and of supervising government, it added.

For that purpose, government department spokespersons should take the initiative to inform the public of the latest policies and waste no time to expose rumors.

The State Council Information Office should organize news conferences regularly to address public concerns over important policies and hot issues, the statement said.

Heads of the central government departments that oversee macroeconomic development and people's livelihoods are required to attend the office's news conference at least once a year, while spokespersons for such departments should attend the briefing once every three months.

Mao Qun'an, spokesman for the National Health and Family Planning Commission, said timely delivery of information guarantees a stable society.

"When the public knows the truth about issues such as bird flu, they'll not panic and will cooperate with the government," he said.

Wang Xuming, former spokesman for the Ministry of Education, said the spokesperson system has yet to be perfected.

"The most important thing is for the government to create an environment where a spokesperson would not be afraid to speak the truth," he added.

Also, the statement asks government departments to make full use of their websites to release information, and to use more graphics and videos to attract more viewers.

Government websites should also establish online databases so the public can have easy access to information on traffic, medical care and education, it added.

Wang Xixin, a law professor at Peking University, said the number of lawsuits related to government information disclosure has soared in the past five years.

In 2008, Beijing courts heard only 10 such cases. That increased to 503 last year, according to the Beijing High People's Court.

Cheng Hu, president judge of the administrative department at the high court, said some departments still refuse to disclose information even after they lose lawsuits.

"They often cite State secrets as an excuse to not release the information," he said.

Both Cheng and Wang suggest the State Council regulation should be made into law so that all its requirements are binding.

"In that case, all the requirements for government departments to release information will be enforced effectively," Cheng added.

Yang Weidong, a law professor at the Chinese Academy of Governance, said it is not clear for many departments what kind of information cannot be disclosed.

"In Western countries, they clarify what items cannot be open to the public."

Specifying government information that is not open to the public can reduce conflicts between the government and the people, he said.

Qi Ying, a judge from Beijing No 1 Intermediate People's Court, said her court has handled 213 cases this year in which government departments were asked to release information.

If no line is set on which information cannot be made public, there will be a lot of potential legal problems, she said.

Tang Yue contributed to this story.

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