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BLOG: State Council Rules on Government Response to Public Opinion

This blog post is a summary of the State Council's recent release of a State Council Notice On Responses To Public Opinion On Government Affairs translated on this site.

Why is this being released?

The State Council recognizes that public now has access to a wide variety of traditional and new media information sources, varying in their degree of influence and accuracy. While controlling information flow is possible to some degree, the government also needs to be able to provide timely, credible, and authoritative responses to issues of public concern. The ability to effectively address problematic issues and breaking situations in government affairs is a critical component of the governments’ open information work.

The new notice is offers more guidance than strict rules, but it does shines a spotlight on communication with the public to satisfy citizens’ right to know. It also provides some degree of clarification on who should respond, what responses should look like, and how to get there.

Who should respond?

The document breaks responses down by first clarifying what organization should have lead responsibility for responding to public opinion.

  • Major State Council Policies and Decision-Making : State Council Ministries have lead responsibility
  • Local Matters:
    • The agency with authority over the incident is responsible for the response.
    • The local government at the same level’s general administration offices and publicity offices are to coordinate the response.
  • Where Multiple Areas are Involved:
    • The higher level agency with authority over the incident in the affected areas is responsible for the response.
    • Localities may also conduct responses
  • Where Multiple Agencies are involved:
    • Individual agencies may make responses within the scope of their authority,
    • The general administration offices and publicity offices are to coordinate the response and may designate an agency to take the lead in responding.
    • In especially serious cases, the person in charge for that level of government is to take control and guide responses.

What issues should be responded to?

A key response is needed where:

  • There are public misunderstandings or misreadings of policy measures
  • The public’s vital interests are involved
  • There is an affront to social morality
  • Breaking situations or natural disasters are being addressed
  • Where higher-ups request

Where rumors are discovered that endanger public order or national security, they should be reported to police and internet authorities as well.

How should responses be handled?

Improving the speed of official responses is heavily emphasized:

  • Especially significant issues or important breaking situations should be addressed within 24 hours.
  • Other situations should be addressed within 48 hours
  • Sustained information release should continue thereafter, based on the specific situation.

Methods for responding to public opinion include press conferences, briefings, and taking interviews.

The person in charge or press spokesman should be present at press conferences and briefings, and should be given room for autonomy. The rules expressly allow that error should be tolerated, seemingly in recognition that this is a new role for many officials.

Officials are advised that responses should be practical, well-supported by facts, and on-point. Officials should not speak off the cuff or as individuals, but should be accurate, personable and natural.

Multifaceted dissemination is encouraged, using new and more engaging communication methods, and also remaining in closer contact with media organizations and other affected departments.

When does all this start?

While much of this can become practice immediately, the notice provides that there will be a two year training period, meant to raise capacity and awareness of the need for better responses to public opinion.

The first round of training will be led by the State Council Information Office and target provincial level government leaders, spokespersons, and State Council Ministries. The second round is to be led by provincial governments’ new offices and target cities and counties.

Carrots and Sticks:

Responding to public opinion on government affairs is to be included in performance evaluations as part of the government transparency work.

Model organizations and individuals are to be given commendations, with their exceptional tactics and experiences used as teaching tools for others. Those who are less successful, may be criticized in bulletins on the state of public opinion response efforts, or summoned in for a yuetana talking-to about the problems and how they can fix them.

Where the situation is more serious and information is not being disclosed as it should be in accordance with rules, the procuratorate may become involved to seek legal liability.

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Jeremy Daum is a Senior Fellow of the Yale Law School Paul Tsai China Center, based in Beijing, with over a decade of experience working in China on collaborative legal reform projects. His principal research focus is criminal procedure law, with a particular emphasis on protections of vulnerable populations such as juveniles and the mentally ill in the criminal justice system, and is also an authority on China’s ‘Social Credit System’. Jeremy has spoken about these issues at universities throughout China and in the U.S.; and has co-authored a book on U.S. Capital Punishment Jurisprudence for Chinese readers. He is also the founder and contributing editor of the collaborative translation and commentary site, dedicated to improving mutual understanding between legal professionals in China and abroad.
He translates, writes, edits, does web-design, graphic design, billing, tech support, and social media outreach for China Law Translate.

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