Government officials should catch up with the Internet since they have shown poor performance in handling breaking events in a world of new media, according to a recent report.
The report was compiled by Shanghai Jiao Tong University's public opinion research laboratory, which analyzed the responses of government officials, enterprises and individuals to big events.
The report said officials were weak in most areas, including judging public opinion, disseminating information, problem solving, issue management, communication and crisis management.
"Due to a lack of ability to judge sudden events, few officials can deal with developments at the early stages," said Xie Yungeng, deputy director of the university's Institute of Art and Humanities and leader of the research project.
The incident, which the report said most exposed officials' poor response, happened when three people set themselves on fire as a home demolition protest in East China's Jiangxi province, which left one dead and two others injured.
The researchers said that in this case local officials could not communicate adequately with the public and other parties involved in the incident, and they did not judge the incident well.
The report also pointed out that new media have begun to play a critical role in influencing public opinion.
Statistics from the laboratory showed about 55 percent of the public events were first disclosed through new media, where online websites make up about 30 percent, bulletin board systems (BBS), 15 percent, micro blogs, 5 percent and mobile phones, 5 percent.
"In the new media era, traditional media no longer play the main role in reporting public events, especially crisis events. New media, such as blogs, chat rooms and BBS sites have become an effective outlet for expression," Xie said.
He said that sudden news can be released over the Internet in the shortest possible time, but some officials, especially those in rural areas, are still not used to browsing through news online.
Some local governments have been encouraging officials to set up micro blogs to get their messages out and receive feedback from the public.
Earlier this month, 27 courts at various levels in Shanghai opened micro blogs and uploaded words, photos and videos online to better communicate with the public.
The High People's Court in Henan province also broadcast news throughout the Internet beginning in August. On Aug 19, the court established a QQ group, an online chatting tool similar to MSN, to collect public opinion. Officials were asked to respond to netizen requests within seven days.
"The intervention of new media lets the public get closer to the truth, and it accelerates the process of problem solving through pressure from the public," said Yan Zhi, a researcher engaged in the study of new media.
Yan said government officials should adapt to the rapid growth of new media. "They should understand information dissemination, as well as social and public sentiment to better respond to sudden events at the early stages."