Posted by Alice Xin Liu on Wednesday, July 29, 2009 at 4:00 PM
Zhu Huaxin (祝华新) is the Secretary of the "sentiments monitoring office" of State owned People's Net Online (人民网). Zhu is also an editor and journalist on the site.
On July 24 he wrote for China Youth Daily ten guidelines for local governments on the topic of how to handle Internet public opinion, the outbreak of mass incidents and how to utilize the media (admonishing them for "telling lies"), assessing local government's reactions and response to breaking social incidents.
Zhu has also written for the Southern News Group on the topic of dialogue with netizens, which has been transmitted largely around the Internet.
Ten suggestions on how to deal with Internet opinion for local governmentsby Zhu Huaxin / CYD
1. We have entered into the era of the media spotlight and people with microphones. Today, not only does the Party have its Party newspapers and Party publications, and State-owned radio and TV stations, but there are metropolitan newspapers as well as Internet media, and the foreign media. Especially since the Internet has become "a distribution center for cultural information and a magnifying glass for social opinion". In the Internet age, everyone can be the information outlet, and a main source for opinion expression. There is an image for this, which is that in front of everyone there now stands a microphone. Local governments are absent on sudden events and sensitive issues, lacking in expression about it, telling lies and even wanting to keep a check on the "mass voices" on the Internet. This doesn't help the situations, doesn't solve the conflict, and is not in line with the gist of the 17th CPC National Congress, which asked for the protection of the people's rights to gain information, rights to participate, rights for expression, and the rights to monitor. An official at the Propaganda department of the Hunan Party Committee was right in saying that when news happens it is number one, whoever publishes the news becomes number two; you can stop a journalist from speaking, but you can't stop the mouths of all netizens on the Internet.
2. Objectively speaking, China has produced a "pressure group", which are the 338 million Internet users. Within this figure, 226 million netizens read online news, and follow-on posts are the most grassroots, mass-orientated Internet opinion; 100 million people visit BBSs and these are the main pushers for the formation and fermentation of public opinion; 108.2 million netizens have blogs and 64.25 million update them within half a year, the so-called blogs of the "opinion leader" has the most "weight" in Internet opinion; 15.5 million netizens use their mobile phones to get on the Internet, 24 million netizens use instantaneous tools for dispatching information, and the "citizen reporters" in this crowd has helped to give prominence to two new carriers of Internet opinion － micro-blogging and QQ groups, and each day it is possible to use their mobile phones and the Internet to timely publish public incidents.
3. In the case of breaking incidents, the government has to try to publish the news at the first opportunity, to win the rights for speech, and be the first there in order to have a leading position. The "management of crisis" is in reality the "management of communication in a crisis". As the expert for crisis management Norman Augustine said: tell the truth, tell it immediately. Some local governments have summarized their experiences as, "Quickly report the facts, but not the cause". But the Policy for Government Openness has demanded that "Openness is the principle, lack of openness is the exception".
4. Depoliticize social issues. Research has shown that in recent years many sudden public incidents have occurred in local areas, including mass incidents. The responsible parties and the onlookers have all said it was a problem of local and commercial interests. Clever local leaders are likely to put social issues involved with politics as the problems of a local region; if the opposite is done, and politicize theses specific economic and civil questions, it will make the conflict worse and gather all the social forces and reach breaking point.
5. In relation to negative news about local governments and the local image, once the truth has been found, I suggest that the government quickly "cut off" with the central government, and with bad officials, in order to avoid superior governments giving local governments, and lower governments giving the bad officials a "recitation" about their wrong deeds.
6. In Internet opinion, the government, and especially Propaganda departments, must bravely "capture the flag". Historically speaking, the Party, against the party in power at the time, the KMT, especially Zhou Enlai, were advocates of taking the flags of democracy, peace and winning the support of the the workers, farmers and democratic groups. Today, we have to support the fairness in society, the fairness of the constitution.
7. Mass incidents are usually dealt with in three ways: publication of the reality of the situation, punishing people and restoring social order, and punishing officials. The experience gained from the Weng'an incident as well as mass incidents from other places have shown that these the order of these three are very important, achieving different effects. The State Council has stated that leading cadres have not dealt successfully with sudden mass incidents, worsening the situation, and creating a bad impression. If local governments do not rethink their news breaking and dialogue with the masses, and anger at innocent people, then your even-handedness will be lost.
8. How can the government get the "primary advantage" in opinion? Because the information handled by the government is more comprehensive and professional than an individual netizen, the Chinese government has an important influence on news media (whether newspapers, television or websites). And most importantly, the government should have authority. Propaganda departments should use the media's potential to the full, instead of lying, and learn to systematically give out information, to a rhythm, taking use of the difference between them and the people's information, and influence opinion. But beware that this "home advantage" could turn into a "home weakness", and the lost of public trust in the government. There is a need to seriously take heed of the reality, some public policies and officials' behavior have caused netizens to distrust public power, and having little trust in social justice. In some areas, the need to repair this is urgent.
9. The Propaganda department of the local government should develop "friends" in the Internet community (BBS, micro-blogging, QQ groups) as well as with citizen reporters and with the leaders of Internet opinion. The "alliances" are not below them, and are not potential enemies either. They need to allow and encourage them to criticize the local government and open up Internet monitoring, at the same time through eager communication and dialogue, help them to understand the difficult nature of the public management of today's society, and lead them to help in the roots of the problem, with the government, and relax the dissatisfaction for the people.
10. The ability to research, judge and deal with Internet sentiment is an important part of the art and ability of administration. The people's sentiments have long felt isolated, therefore becoming the middle stages of "people's opinions" and later on "people's complaints". The isolation of the people's sentiments will cause the accumulation of power of sentiments. On one hand, the statement of the position of the government has to changed, and the news dissemination of the mainstream media, and increase the power to change opinions. On the other hand, need to get to pulse of the social issues and people's thoughts, to listen carefully to netizens and the interests of the people, and some irrational emotions, increasing the communication between officials and the people. Increase the leveled participation of the different groups in society, dissolve the gaps in society and opposing emotions, unify the politics of the people, and stablize the similar ideological foundations of the nation.
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