The missing ‘user perspective’

Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Issue 952, Page 2
Word count: 583
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

The government spokesperson system has been in operation for nearly a week, and I guess a majority of the local reporters, including myself, are waiting for a chance to “test” the system and check how effective and efficient it is in practice.

While Chui Sai On has been emphasizing from the very first day how valuable public opinions are for him and what his government will do to enhance the policy-making process, why journalists and media organisations were not invited to give suggestions and opinions when details of the spokesperson system were being outlined?

The Executive Council spokesman Leong Heng Teng said last month that one of the main aims of the system was to ensure communications between the government, mass media and the public. Obviously journalists are who the system is set up for and also the main – or probably the only – users of this system. If the government really wants to make use of the system to facilitate dialogues with the media and the release of information, it should have fully understood in what ways we think we could truly benefit from it and it could function at its best in order to give both the government and the journalists the maximum advantages – or in other words, “the user perspective”.

But unfortunately the government failed to acknowledge that or did not yet have the motivation to change the ways it has been doing things.

And that’s why this left many journalists puzzled or even worried when they first heard of the spokesperson system, despite I’m still not very sure if all of them really understand how it works or believe it is going to bring them any convenience at work.

Before the system was implemented last week, the media had little chance to get to know more about the system. On February 12 when the Executive Council announced the administration regulation and on February 24 when the spokesperson Alexis Tam Chon Weng officially met the press, many reporters from different Chinese, Portuguese and English media companies raised a lot of questions and concerns, which to me indicated how this group of “users” had been left behind during the whole making process of the system.

So far the only thing we’ve got is a long list containing the contact details of the hundreds of “Information and Public Relations Coordinators” designated by each government department, office, committee as well as the Commission Against Corruption and the Audit Commission.

Looking at the names of those coordinators, quite a large number of them are already the ones dealing with the media before the spokesperson system was introduced. Their job titles might not be called public relations officers, but journalists who have been in the industry long enough usually know who to call when they need some general information from a specific department. I say “general” because most of the time they weren’t allowed to disclose much to reporters or perhaps they really didn’t know what’s been discussed among their bosses.

So, the question here is, is the change in their job title really going to enhance the quality or the content of the coordinators’ responses to the media? If yes, weren’t they supposed to provide reporters the highest quality answers with all information required before, even when the spokesperson system wasn’t in place? This is their job at the first place, isn’t it? But if the answer is no, what’s the point of having this system? No one knows but the government.

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