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December 28, 2009

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Officials learn to deal with media

WHEN Zhang Zhikui was appointed spokesman for Chongqing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau three years ago, he tried to avoid the media.

But after undertaking training and working for three years, Zhang says: "I am now willing to work with the media."

Chongqing, the city he works in, tops the ranking of provincial governments' capacity in dealing with Netizens' opinions for the third quarter of 2009, a survey conducted by People's Daily Online showed.

Zhang attended an 18-day spokesmen training program at the University of Westminster in London, together with 18 other spokesmen from China, in July.

"The program covers how to act in case of emergencies and present a better government image," Zhang said.

Besides overseas training, Chongqing Municipality also conducted two local training programs in March and October, altogether training over 600 spokesmen.

"We hope through this training, spokesmen can understand that avoiding the media won't work. And timely information sharing is the wise thing to do," said Pu Zhihua, deputy director of the News Center of Chongqing Bureau of Civil Affairs.

Provincial governments began to assign spokesmen in 2004, and their phone numbers were also put online. Since then, government information is more transparent.

"The establishment and development of the spokesmen system signals that the government is shifting from governing the media to serving the media," said Li Xiguang, vice dean of the School of Journalism and Communication of Tsinghua University.

Communicating with the public online is becoming the new norm, both at the central and local level, given the 300 million Internet users in China.

In February, Premier Wen Jiabao said: "I always believe that our people are entitled to know what the government is thinking and doing, and give their opinions, while the government should also solicit public opinions."

Nanjing government set up the Forum on Network Spokesperson on November 23, after Yunnan Province and Guiyang City, promising to respond to online threads within 24 hours.


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