China should appoint more full-time spokespersons and promote the professionalization of the sector, as the current system has impaired the country's news release and information transparency efforts, a senior political adviser said.
Wang Guoqing, vice-chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Committee of the CPPCC, made the remark amid an increasing demand from the public for timely news releases.
Premier Li Keqiang made a pledge on Wednesday, in his first Government Work Report delivered to the country's top legislative session, to "improve the spokesperson system and make government operations more open" in a bid to "address the social concerns".
According to Wang, who is also a former deputy minister of the State Council Information Office, the country's top information body, the current spokespersons are mostly not professionals, and most of them only take the post as a part-time job alongside their other major duties.
"Being a spokesman is not an important part of their career, and they can choose to perform the role or not," Wang said, adding that some prefer not to speak much, either because they lack the ability or fear they will make a mistake that will ruin their career.
In addition, some spokespersons are not key members of their workplace, so they lack access to crucial information and the decision-making process, which hampers their ability to deliver sufficient messages to the public and media in a timely way, according to Wang.
Observers also said that unlike their Western counterparts, most of whom have been trained in journalism, the majority of Chinese spokespersons started their careers as officials.
They usually deliver government policies in a stiff way and tend to defend government actions instead of thinking from a media perspective.
China should add more full-time spokespersons: senior official
"Meanwhile, the Chinese culture of worshipping the philosophy of the 'unsung hero' and 'speak less and work more' has made active voices rare here," Wang added.
The veteran information official proposed making the spokesperson post a new type of professional technical talent, to be incorporated into the current 29 categories of technical professions authorized by the country's human resources authorities.
By doing so, there will be a threshold for the profession, along with an entry and exit system with detailed regulations. Candidates should be tested regularly, and various government agencies and relevant corporations should have the post, Wang said.
It is also a kind of protection for the spokespersons, Wang said, referring to cases in which spokespersons are sometimes ordered by their leaders to deliver inaccurate messages.
China's spokesperson and news release system has flourished since 2003, when the government was criticized for not releasing information in a timely manner on the deadly SARS outbreak. A national uproar then made the top leadership aware of the necessity of timely news release.
According to official statistics, over the past 10 years, more than 540 officials have been appointed as spokespersons by the central and provincial-level governments.
As a senior official devoted to promoting the country's information transparency, Wang said China's information releasing system has been instrumental in keeping the public well informed and pushing for more government transparency.
"It has played a key role in China's politics and deepening the reform and opening up," Wang said.
However, as China opens up even more and public expectations for timely information increase, the current system won't be able to meet demand, especially in a digital era, Wang said.
"If the government cannot use the information at hand to guide the public, it simply cannot work. Therefore, it's time to push the system forward," Wang said.
Wang also stressed that the Party and government leaders at various levels should improve their media awareness, and enhance their ability to deal with the media and the public.
Unlike their Western counterparts, most Chinese are not cultivated in a media-sensitive way. As a result, some Chinese officials occasionally make improper comments on hot social issues.
"It is time for change, and officials should face the public more often," Wang said.查看译文