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Spokespeople Bring More Info to the Public

Since being appointed by the district government as a spokeswoman, Liao Xuping, a local official with the Chongqing Shapingba district, has had to take a greater interest in local news and public opinions in west China's Chongqing Municipality.

" 'No comment' is a taboo to a spokesman. So I have to update myself with the local news and public sentiment to fulfill my duty," said the new spokeswoman.


As a municipality directly under the control of central government, Chongqing is one of the first local governments in China to establish the system this spring.


The spokesperson system first appeared in China in 1983, when the Foreign Ministry appointed spokespeople for the first time.     


During the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) epidemic this spring, the serious consequences of concealing or revealing the epidemic information resulted in a greater emphasis of publicity for government affairs.


"During our fight with the SARS epidemic this year, we were deeply impressed by the fact that the more accurately and more timely the government makes their information public, the more support it will get from the public," said Zhang Zonghai, a local official with the Chongqing municipality.


Responding to the demand of the public for the facts about the SARS epidemic, some state ministries, provincial and municipal governments of China began to appoint spokespeople this spring.


"What we should really worry about is not that people know the facts, but that they get the information from rumors rather than from the spokespeople," said Liao Xuping.


As a move to spread this system, the Information Office of the State Council held two training courses in September and November and 177 candidates from 66 central, provincial or municipal governments have graduated so far.


"To meet the demand for more publicity of China's government affairs by the international community after China's entry into the WTO is another impetus for the establishment of the system in China," said Zhou Bo, director of the information office of the Chongqing Municipal government.


According to Zhou, after Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, Chongqing is the fourth most popular municipality for foreign correspondents.


So far, the system has been established in the state ministries and commissions to local district governments, said Liu Jianming, professor with the School of Journalism and Communication of Qinghua (Tsinghua) University.


"Although talking about the effect of the system is still too early, the establishment of this system itself is a signal that the Chinese government has become more open to the publicity of their administration," Liu said.


"The system, which is still at its initial stage calls for regulations to guarantee that spokespeople will not exist in name only," Liu noted.


According to Zhou, such local rules and regulations are being drafted in Chongqing.


(Xinhua News Agency December 20, 2003)

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