Tianjin officials fumble to communicate

Source:Global Times Published: 2015-8-17 0:33:02

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Sunday visited the scene of the deadly explosions in Tianjin's Binhai New Area. Li stood in silent tribute and bowed three times in a temporary mourning hall to the firefighters who had sacrificed their lives. He expressed that all firefighters, be they on active service or not, deserve the same treatment and pensions. Also on Sunday, the Supreme People's Procuratorate also opened an investigation into the incident. The overall situation of public opinion has changed, citizens in Tianjin are feeling less nervous, and people nationwide have increased confidence in the cleanup efforts after the disaster.

We believe that over the past few days, the Tianjin leadership must have had quite a few meetings near the site and had a series of discussions over the rescue measures. Fighting against this calamity must have been the main task of the city that has exceeded all else since the explosions. Unfortunately, public opinion has not felt this.

During the first dozens of hours after the blasts, there was scant information offered by Tianjin authorities. In the two or three days after the first post-blast press conference, the efficiency of information release was not sufficient either. Until Sunday, no officials above deputy mayor-level showed up once at news conferences.

Senior officials in Tianjin have probably been busy with rescue efforts, without realizing attendance at press briefings is also part of disaster-response work. Or they might be somehow intimidated to face the press, leaving the work of communication to the publicity department.

Tianjin is not an exceptional case in terms of the inadequate disaster-response work. After the tragedy, officials will be at the scene for rescue efforts but few would show up at press briefings to answer the public's inquiries.

Officials heading to the scene or directing rescue operations are always in the very first media releases whenever there is a major disaster. It shows how much importance officials attach to rescue command on site. However, taking the initiative to face reporters has not yet been deemed as an obligation or duty. On the contrary, many officials are probably not familiar with how to face the press, and they worry about saying the wrong thing and causing more trouble.

But in the Internet era, successfully handling major events depends not only on the facts, but also on the satisfaction from public opinion. In China, it can affect local governments' credibility and the image of authorities as well.

Therefore, making some efforts to respond to reporters should become routine if local governments encounter a major event in the future. Answering every question that society cares about should become a duty for every level of officials and it should be implemented as far as possible.

A single slow reaction can lead to rumors running riot. And in turn, public confidence in the government will continue to fall.

Officials in central ministries are nowadays more active in responding to concern from the public. Yet officials at grass-roots levels are not willing or not good at facing the public voice. Perhaps, it is time for the country to make great efforts to resolve the issue once and for all.

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