Friday, January 05, 2007

Freedom of the Press In China: Managers Urged to 'Serve the media, not manage them'

'Serve the media, not manage them'
The People's Daily, Beijing
January 5, 2007

Government officials are being urged to fully cooperate with foreign journalists, who are flooding in to quench the thirst for information on China with the Beijing Olympics round the corner.

Compared to the longstanding practice of "managing the media", governments at various levels are preparing to serve, instead of shying away from, journalists, following a new regulation which took effect on Monday.

The message was delivered by Wang Guoqing, vice-minister of the State Council Information Office, the chief information office of the Chinese Cabinet.

"In the relationship between government and the media, we are promoting a shift from managing the press to serving it, treating reporters as 'clients'," Wang told China Daily.

From this year, government information offices throughout the country are implementing a reporters' assistance project, designed to help international media by compiling information about the people and places they may want to cover, and providing logistics services, he said.
The idea is to have each region come up with a general handbook for overseas reporters and produce special pamphlets for any projects that are of interest to journalists, he said.

The project also requires foreign affairs departments at the provincial or local level to ease the way for the anticipated influx of overseas reporters by producing info DVDs, interpreters, travel tips and other logistical support, Wang said.

The official said his office requires government spokespersons as well as other officials to release "timely, accurate and newsworthy" information to reporters, try their best to be accessible and not deny interview requests.

The number of overseas journalists is expected to rise sharply this year now that the new media regulation which gives unprecedented access to overseas media is in effect.

The rule prescribes that foreign journalists need only the consent of people or organizations for interviews in the run-up to, and during, the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

Estimates about the number of overseas journalists visiting the mainland this year are not immediately available, but Wang said at least 30,000 are expected during the Games next year.
However, Wang cautioned that while overseas reporters may not have any difficulty reporting in Beijing, he was "not quite optimistic" about the implementation of the rule outside major cities, where the news release and spokesperson system is just beginning to take shape.

The officials there are used to the management scheme set up 16 years ago, he said, referring to the Regulations on the Supervision of Foreign Journalists and Resident Foreign News Organs, enacted in 1990.

They are encouraged to discard the previous mentality, and face the media in an open and honest way, he said.

"I will not be surprised if foreign reporters encounter some difficulties in obtaining news," Wang said. "Their Chinese counterparts, too, have similar experiences in some regions.

"But changes will take place because we are pushing for them."

In fact, better serving the media has improved government accountability and governance, Wang said, adding his office had been pushing for the establishment of a government news release and spokesperson system for local government for the past three years.

"We want spokespersons to be true 'insiders' of government decision-making and other affairs so that they can better fulfil their duties," he said.

Wang, who was a reporter himself for 25 years, said he has instructed spokespersons mostly government officials never to treat reporters as subordinates or adversaries, but as partners who will often challenge with pointed questions.

There are perhaps "100 advantages and not a single disadvantage" in dealing with the press in a friendly and frank manner, meeting their demands by providing authoritative information, he said.

"Besides informing the public, the media act as a watchdog of government activities," he said.

"We sometimes complain that some Western reports about China lack objectivity, but at times I'm afraid our nonfeasance could be one of the factors," Vice-Minister Wang said.

"If in the course or wake of emergencies, relevant authorities refuse to give, or can't give, timely information, how can you expect objective and reliable reporting?"

Source: China Daily

Also From The People's Daily and China Daily

Chinese Misconceptions

About other countries

Chinese people frequently complain that the world has misunderstood their country, but Chinese media pointed out in Beijing Thursday that Chinese themselves have a lot of misconceptions about the big wide world.

"Many of the misconceptions stem from historical experiences, but others can be laid at the door of the media," the latest International Herald Leader said.

Apart from superpowers like the United States and Russia, Chinese have sought to know more about other countries that have historical connections with China or who play an important role on the world diplomatic stage, like India, Japan, Israel and Iran.

It used two full pages to list a series of major misconceptions, ranging from Iranian people's attitude toward the United States to dieting habits in Singapore.

The newspaper blamed domestic media for exaggerating the 'anti-America' sentiment in Iran, saying that such reports failed to reflect the real situation.

"U.S. brands like Nike and Coca Cola are popular among Iranian youth... Many of the young people hope to study in the United States," the newspaper said.

It also tried to correct Chinese people's ideas about India, saying that India is not the "aggressive", disaster-prone, underdeveloped neighbor depicted in many Chinese reports.

"Chinese people tend to judge others by their appearance," said the newspaper. "India's disorder and poverty are only on the surface...Under the surface is a young country full of vitality."

The newspaper said that most Chinese believe that India lags behind China in many areas apart from software. But the fact is that, besides the software industry, India also has a leading position in many other sectors including biology and pharmacy.

In addition, the newspaper said India has the world's youngest demographic structure, which means it will have abundant human resources for its economic development in the next 20 years.

It said many Chinese make unwarranted assumptions about foreign countries and their people's lives. For example, many Chinese believe that westerners are more sexually promiscuous.
"But the fact is that westerners tend to be open about sex education but are often conservative about sex," the newspaper said.

The newspaper said the world is changing quickly and it urged Chinese to beware of cliches when trying to understand other countries.

"A country which is striving to achieve a positive image in the world, should first learn to get along with the world in a positive way," the newspaper said.


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