Aware of the ever-increasing curiosity about China, the country's ruling party has created a news briefing service to improve transparency, China Daily has learned.
The State Council Information Office will invite heads of departments under the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) to press conferences. Before it was rare for senior Party members to be made available for media queries.
The CPC is currently launching a nationwide image building campaign to show as a ruling party, it is "open-minded, progressive, responsible and democratic and competent" to lead the nation.
"This is in response to requests for knowledge of how the Party works," said Zhao Qizheng, minister of the Information Office, during an exclusive interview with China Daily.
Those to be invited to news briefings will include the CPC Central Committee's Central Discipline Inspection Commission, United Front Work Department and International Department, Zhao said.
He added: "This will help the public learn the chemistry of the CPC Central Committee and how it works."
The Information Office, which serves news media from home and from overseas, will "do its best" to contribute to efforts for democracy and governance transparency, Zhao vowed.
The move towards transparency in Party affairs was decided by a session of the CPC Central Committee last year.
And it may see the news briefing system embrace many more CPC Central Committee departments in the future.
News conferences for CPC Central Committee departments' heads have been rare over the past half century, said Zhao.
But he said China's reform of government information access does not open all for public consumption.
Those wanting access to so-called "internal" or confidential information will continue to need to follow proper procedures.
The issue on internal or confidential information in its overall sense should be settled by legislative means, the minister said.
"In spite of difficulties, standards on State secrets will be modified and the bottom line for opening official information may be re-adjusted this year," he added.
Yardstick for new rules
"For that, related government departments and research institutes are exploring yardsticks for new rules," Zhao said.
Experts pointed out that the readjustment and new guidelines remain a "very complicated" matter and solutions may not be forthcoming.
The Information Office, like many other public agencies, is "looking forward to new rules," Yang Yang, a director-general of the Information Office, said yesterday in Beijing at a news briefing.
To improve the fledgling news briefing mechanism, some 3,000 spokespersons for ministries and commissions under the State Council, departments under the CPC Central Committee, provincial and municipal governments and governments of the autonomous regions will be trained this year and next.
Since the news briefing system was adopted in other parts of government, some 2,000 spokespersons have been trained over the past two years.
Zhao revealed a nationwide crisis and emergency handling network is under construction and can be expected to be in effect by the end of this year.
News briefings will be an integral part of the system.
Scores of departments under the State Council are involved in the making of the crises handling system. "Responsibilities to be shouldered by government officials for each type of crisis will be defined," Yang said.
"A database is already in place and is ready to be integrated into the expected system," he added. In caring more about how the outside world views the country, Zhao said he preferred to pin more importance on the opinion held by the international community about China. "In a modern society, disseminating messages of governments and public agencies via news media is preferable, also a must, as it costs little but spreads far," Zhao said.
"Chinese government departments have reached such a consensus, especially after they digested the experiences and lessons they learned during the breaking of the epidemic SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) in 2003," he said.
The Information Office put to the public names of 75 spokespersons for 62 ministries, commissions and administrations, all under the State Council, and their telephone numbers at the end of last year.
Zhao said he was delighted to know that assessments of the country's news briefing system and the Information Office's work had been appraised positively.
News media, both at home and from overseas, once complained about the lack of transparency of State policies and governance and lack of respect for the public's rights to know.
In response to such complaints as well as the internal needs for efficiency, transparency and respect for public interest, some 900 news conferences were held in the country last year, including 60 high-profiles events hosted by the Information Office in Beijing.
"Quality of the conferences is satisfying, some beyond expectation, as messages reached targeted receivers as designed," Zhao said.
"This year, the Information Office will give priority to news conferences on issues that greatly concern the nation," Zhao said.
Zhao pledged that the Information Office will make persistent efforts to perfect the news briefing and spokesperson system. However, he stressed, such an establishment takes time.
"All good things cannot be done in a day," he said.
Zhao said his staff at the Information Office would strive to ensure the world understands China in its role of a rapidly-developing power.
(China Daily March 22, 2005)