By Meng Na (China Features)
Cao Jinsong's first task every workday is to scan the Internet to see what the public and media are talking about.
The 42-year-old spokesperson for Nanjing Municipal Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) must also attend the committee and government meetings to have a good command of policies.
The Party committee held its first press conference in December 2009. By June 2010, it had organized six press conferences on topics such as the spokesperson system, the city's economic and social objectives for 2010, and institutional reform.
"To be a spokesperson for the Party committee, I need to always pay attention to issues that the public and media are interested in, “ says Cao, who earned his doctor’s degree in philosophy from Nanjing University in 2003.
“And I should learn the opinions and views the public, the government and the Party committee respectively holds on the issues."
Cao believes the most vital principle for a Party committee spokesperson is to always treat the media and public with sincerity.
“There are many books showing spokespersons some technical skills on how to face media. In my view, the fundamental principle is sincerity,” Cao says. .
What spokespersons say at the press conference are not their personal views. “They speak on behalf of their Party Committees. Still, sincerity is the fundamental rule.”
In order to better express the Party committee’s views, Cao needs to internalize the Party’s policies first, and then “explain them in my own words to the media and public.”
Also, Party Committee spokespersons play a bridging role. “On one hand, they express the Party’s views and help interpret the Party’s decisions to the public, “Cao says. “On the other hand, they bring back the public and media’s opinions.”
As a spokesperson, Cao’s phone number has been made public. Occasionally, he gets calls from ordinary people.
“They mostly tell me some unsolved d issues related to their lives or works. And they want me to help bring those issues to relevant departments. From this process, I can feel public trust in a spokesperson,” Cao says.
Cao had been a spokesman for the Nanjing municipal government for more than three years before he became a spokesperson for the Party Committee.
"The establishment of spokesperson system is a crucial move by the ruling Party to safeguard people's rights to know, to participate, to express and to supervise," he says.
The Internet interaction between the Party cadres and the public is another important attempt to protect the “four rights.”
Cao often browses online forums and message boards on the official www.xinhuanet.com of the national Xinhua News Agency and www.people.com.cn of the People’s Daily. He would download postings he thinks inspiring, for further reading or for reference.
The Xinhua website has set up several channels for officials and netizens to interact, such as official’s blogs and message boards for netizens to leave messages.
Huang Tingman, person in charge of the Xinhua website’s “netizen’s forum” notices that the online forums offer opportunities for officials to solicit public opinions on policies and for netizens to participate in decision making in an orderly manner.
For four years, the website of the People's Daily has operated the “message board for local Party and government leaders" for the public and the Party and government officials to interact.
It receives 1,300 to 1,500 anonymous and real-name posts every day. Leading cadres or departments will try to resolve the issues in an open reply on the board.
An anonymous post in June complained it was unfair that students and their parents had to pay extra fees to check the scores of high school entrance exams in Chengdu, capital of southwest China's Sichuan Province.
A few days later, the city's education authorities replied on the message board saying the fees for checking exam scores had been scrapped and promised to open an on-line score-checking system.
In July 2010, the environmental protection authorities in Tongbai County, Henan Province in central China, posted an announcement that a small bitumen factory had been ordered to stop production and submit documents for environmental impact assessment, after an anonymous post complained the factory had severely polluted the environment of surrounding communities.
An official investigation found the factory had never had an assessment, despite its proximity to homes and a nature reserve.
Ten provinces, municipalities and an autonomous region -- Shanxi, Anhui, Henan, Guangdong, Tianjin, Yunnan, Jilin, Sichuan, Liaoning and Guangxi -- have established regular mechanisms to respond to problems and suggestions on the message board. 41 secretaries of the CPC provincial-level committees or governors have left messages on the board.
In a poll last year, the People's Daily website asked which channel was the best way to safeguard the public's rights to know, to participate, to express and to supervise. About 69 percent of the respondents selected the Internet as the most effective means, while only 2.5 percent chose China's traditional "letters and visits" system.
"The Internet provides a platform for leading cadres to learn public opinions with 'original flavor'," says Zhang Baoshun, secretary of Anhui Provincial Committee of the CPC in a posting.
"Cadres should not only get accustomed to seeing public opinions on the Internet, but try their best to handle the issues raised, so as to push forward scientific development and promote social harmony."
In fact, high-ranking Party officials like Wang Yang, secretary of Guangdong Provincial Committee of the CPC, and Yu Zhengsheng, secretary of Shanghai Municipal Committee of the CPC often chat with netizens online. Wang Yang also sent New Year’s greetings to netizens through Internet for three consecutive years.
Bo Xilai, secretary of Chongqing Municipal Committee of the CPC always pays attention to the online opinions. At this year’s annual session of the National People’s Congress, Bo expressed his appreciation to netizen’s support on the crackdown upon gangs and organized crime in Chongqing.
Professor Yuan Feng, of the East China University of Political Science and Law, says, "Cadres who do not use the Internet will be obsolete eventually, as the Internet has not only complemented traditional media and life, but is an important channel for public opinions in China."
Peng Peng, research fellow with Guangzhou Academy of Social Sciences, says “the online interaction between officials and netizens is a new platform for the democracy with Chinese characteristics. Such interactions may spur new round of reform.”
Since the Fourth Plenary Session of the 17th CPC Central Committee endorsed a spokesperson system in September last year, the CPC committees at different levels have started to establish their own spokesperson systems.
On June 30, 2010, a day ahead of the 89th anniversary of the founding of the CPC, which has about 80 million members, spokespersons from 11 departments of the CPC Central Committee made an unprecedented group debut in front of media from Chinese and foreign media in Beijing.
"The spokesperson system is key to making the Party affairs public, promoting intra-Party democracy, improving the Party's governance capability, and to cultivating a favorable environment for the development of the CPC and China," says Wang Chen, head of the International Communication Office of the CPC Central Committee.
Cao Jingsong believes that the spokespersons at the Central Committee level will play an exemplary role for the grassroots level spokespersons.
Wu Jiang, dean of the Chinese Academy of Personnel Science, says, "After more than three decades of reform and opening up, China has achieved significant economic growth, while its society has entered a transition period highlighted by some social contradictions. Only through being more transparent and interactive, better protecting the 'four rights' can the Party consolidate its ruling foundation and improve its governance."
On June 30, the Party School of the Communist Party of China Central Committee opened its doors to more than 60 correspondents of the domestic and foreign media.
It was the first time the country's highest institution for the training of high and middle-ranking Party officials had hosted a large media tour.
In recent years, the CPC Central Commission for Discipline Inspection and the CPC Central Committee's International Department opened their doors to journalists and the public too.
Chen Baosheng, the Party school's vice president, says, "The Party system should open to the outside world because the Party exists to serve the people and the Party has nothing to hide."