What the mainland media say, October 28, 2012

Ministries and local administrations under fire for secrecy or selective disclosure

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 October, 2012, 3:10am

One mainland newspaper hopped on the Gangnam Style bandwagon last week and turned the global pop hit into a political dig calling for more civil rights. "On information disclosure, the government needs to follow the rhythm of 'Citizen Style'," The Southern Metropolis News said in an editorial on Monday, adding that citizens are eagerly pushing for open administration and the government needs to match their pace.

The comment was based on the story of a Beijing lawyer who asked the Ministry of Railways to make public information about its official website, including how much it had cost and details of the tendering process for its new online ticketing system. The ministry's reply, on October 20, did not answer any of the questions, but referred to the lawyer as "citizen", instead of the more commonly used "comrade", and suggested that he check stories online because it had already released the information to Xinhua.

"An open government is important to the citizen's right to know, and departments need to react correctly to each query and not play games … citizens are frequently having problems when trying to access public information, but the reaction from the Ministry of Railways is rare and irresponsible by suggesting that citizens 'check online'," the editorial said.

The Guangdong newspaper is not the only one advocating open government. In Zhejiang, Tuesday's edition of the Qianjiang Evening News also called on the public to "say no to private regulations".

The Shanghai-based Oriental Morning Post took a harsher line, saying any government organ that "refuses to disclose information should bear legal liability". The article closed by paying respects to those who challenged inappropriate government behaviour.

"They are earnestly bumping against the seemingly strong bulwark … they are not critics, but builders aiming for a more democratic and fair China. These people are well deserving of the respect of every Chinese who has a dream," it said.

In an article titled "What are the roadblocks to information disclosure", the Changjiang Daily in Wuhan singled out local governments.

"The local governments either do not disclose the information or only disclose selectively," it said. "The problem is the same everywhere because open government is not their priority. The more the public cares [about an issue], the harder it is for the information to be made public."

The Henan-based Dahe Daily highlighted another recent case in which a Henan resident was rejected by the Ministry of Health when he asked it to release the minutes of a conference in 2010 at which the current standard for milk was drawn up.

A Beijing court then ruled recently that the minutes were information the ministry had gathered in performing its duties and there was no justification for withholding them from the public. The ministry begged to differ, saying the information did not fall into the sphere of public information, adding that its disclosure would have a negative effect on social stability.

The Southern Metropolis News welcomed the Beijing court's stance, saying "nothing is more encouraging than judicial fairness". But it also expressed concerns. "The decision has been made but the fight is not ended," it said. "It is important to see if the court's decision will be enforced … the excuse from the ministry sounds ridiculous, but that is the reality."

The state-run China Daily was also not happy. It said the ministry, as the government department in charge of setting the standards and overseeing the food industry, had an obligation to explain to the public how and why such standards were determined.

"Rather than helping maintain social stability, withholding information that the public has the right to know will seriously undermine the ministry's credibility and estrange citizens from the government," it concluded.