China's telecommunications boss Wu Jichuan may be taking a page out of President Jiang Zemin's version of the Little Red Book on dealing with the media. While he stopped short of declaring reporters 'simple' and 'naive', he suggested the media was to blame for all that nasty volatility in certain mainland stocks and advised reporters to pay more attention to what is official and what is not. 'China has a population of 1.25 billion and everyone has the freedom to express his opinion,' said Mr Wu, with a healthy dose of exaggeration, except for that bit about the population. 'But the press should be able to distinguish between official and unofficial comments,' he said. Alas, that can be a tricky business in China, where there is so little transparency there is usually a very fine and shadowy line between the two. Official comments also seem to have a very short shelf-life. Take Mr Wu's own remarks about the government not planning to implement one-way billing - or a 'caller pays' system - for mobile phones over the next one to two years. Under the present formula, mobile-phone users are charged for incoming and outgoing calls. That means more revenue for network operators like China Mobile and China Unicom, but many of the nation's 65 million mobile-phone users are not thrilled with the higher costs from this system. Mr Wu made his now infamous remarks in November after other officials said unofficially that there was serious consideration of the adoption of one-way billing. No matter that the press office of the Ministry of Information Industry - where Mr Wu officially hangs his hat - had confirmed the fact that such a plan had been submitted to the State Council for review. Then there are Mr Wu's more recent remarks about those plans which, one would assume, are also official: 'Final details of the adjustment of mobile telecommunications fees are unlikely to be hammered out by the end of next year. However, we are researching ways to speed up the process.' Mr Wu's ministry has also had a problem conveying the correct official response on a number of other issues. There is still considerable murkiness over cable television operators providing Internet services, and whether foreigners will at some time have access to this market. You can seek official guidance on this issue but the answer will depend on whether you are asking the Ministry of Information Industry, which governs the Internet, or the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, which supposedly rules over the cable sector. To add to the confusion, foreign investors now have to contend with new Internet rules which require re-registration of Internet service companies. Documents issued through official channels include those with the imprimatur of Mr Wu's ministry, but foreign-invested companies are still in the dark as to whether they will be allowed to re-register as the deadline approaches. It is possible that there is an explanation for all this apparent confusion. Perhaps Mr Wu just enjoys a good joke and likes to test those highly paid brokers and research analysts who make their living from the increasingly exciting stock market. John Bailey, Standard & Poor's corporate ratings director, however, apparently was not amused when he said: 'The conflicting signals have alerted investors to the regulatory risk of investing in companies whose fortunes are closely linked to state-set pricing and the opaque decision-making process of regulators.' Well, that is fine for those fat-cat investors who can't take a joke and would prefer to throw good money away on something else. But what about us hapless scribes? When is an official really speaking officially? It is enough to make one yearn for the good old days of simple and naive reporting.