A new system is growing in a country where there has not been a tradition of officials briefing journalists about what they are doing.
For the last couple of years, with the help of the State Council Information Office (SCIO), central official institutions and provincial governments too have, one after another, set up their spokesperson's system and begun holding press conferences.
In 2006, in particular, there have been some 1,300 meetings of this sort, and certainly a record number in history. And there is more to come, as promised by Cai Wu, SCIO minister, at his press conference yesterday. More official institutions, including the Chinese military, will soon appoint press officers.
More will be done, Cai pledged, to facilitate overseas journalists during the national congress of the Communist Party of China, to be held in late 2007, and the Olympic Games, the world's largest sports event, in August 2008. And still more is likely beyond those events, he said.
This is a good change. More information clarifies the myths about China in the old days, such as those from the Cold War time. It is needed now more than ever for China to act as a responsible member of the international community and to contribute to a harmonious world.
It is also hoped that with the growth of interaction between officials and the press, more attention could be paid to the balancing of some key factors:
A balance of economic and social issues: Some government agencies seem to think the overseas press wants more business news. While feeding information to overseas investors is admittedly important, it is also in the interests of both the Chinese public and journalists to have more briefings about social issues, especially about how policies are being made, to guide the reform of medical care, or that of the education system.
A balance of knowledge about China's realities and how it is being talked about overseas. And in this respect, knowing how Westerners perceive the dragon (a point of debate in China after an academic called for the symbol to be dropped because it is "negative" in the West) is far less important than knowing why they value things like intellectual property rights and environmental quality.
A balance of regular press conferences and briefings about emergency situations, whenever they occur. Journalists would be particularly thankful for any information when proper meetings are hard to arrange at short notice even just a telephone call to clarify what can and cannot be confirmed at a given time.
A balance of official press conferences and other forms of contact with journalists. They would love to have opportunities to attend legislative debates, talk with managers of new rural cooperations, survey pilot reform programs and investment projects, and even chat with officials in their homes.
(China Daily December 29, 2006)