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State to speed up public info flow
By Raymond Zhou & Sun Shangwu (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-12-28 00:31

Government agencies in China will make information more accessible to the press and the public in the new year, said Minister of State Council Information Office (SCIO) Zhao Qizheng.

Zhao Qizheng [L] speaks at the year-end press. [newsphoto]
During a year-end press briefing, officials from the office vowed to increase press accessibility and train more official spokespersons.

For the first time the office yesterday publicized a list of 75 spokespersons for 62 departments under the State Council that have started the news release scheme.

The past year has seen dramatic improvement in the release of information regarding emergencies such as mine explosions and floodings, said Zhao.

"It used to be that all the data had to be complete before the tragedies were made public. Now whatever information is available will be released."

Zhao's office sponsored some 60 news briefings involving 50 ministries and 7 provinces in 2004, up from only a few a decade ago.

He said it is sometimes difficult to arrange regular news conferences due to scheduling conflicts of senior officials.

"Except for the Foreign Ministry and the Taiwan Affairs Office, ministerial departments did not have a system for regular press briefings," he said. "We're pushing in that direction, but it's necessary that they get the ball rolling in the first place."

After-hour accessibility, which will make government spokespersons available after working hours, is another area that he said is on the agenda.

Despite the progress, however, some government departments have not been as responsive to press needs as they should be, said Wang Guoqing, vice-minister of the State Council Information Office.

Moreover, some officials have not had as much media experience, and some know little of media operation or their needs. "But things will gradually change," said Minister Zhao.

In 2005, when arranging news briefings, the office will give priority to subjects that call for urgent media attention -- those that concern the nation's economy, social planning, key policies and public livelihood.

It will also promote the government spokesperson model to big State-owned enterprises and help set up similar systems at hospitals, schools and financial institutions.

For increased transparency of Party organizations, it will invite more senior officials from the Communist Party of China to its news conferences.

It will fine-tune the mechanism of releasing crisis-related information by organizing more timely briefings.

"We are the co-ordinator and organizer, not the one who makes the call," said Zhao, "but we encourage government spokespersons to talk more and improve their communication with media. That will increase the transparency and accountability of our governance."

A year in numbers

*The State Council Information Office held 60 news briefings that involved 50 ministerial-level departments and 7 provinces;

* 44 State Council departments held their own news briefings, which totalled 270;

* 28 provinces held a total of 460 news briefings;

* 62 State Council departments have developed spokesperson systems and have groomed 75 spokespersons;

*23 of 31 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities in the mainland have set up news release systems and 20 have official spokespersons;

* 2,000 spokespersons were trained in two SCIO-based seminars and 14 others held locally.

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