China's information controls backfire

Salutary lesson for Beijing in flaws of propaganda
President Hu Jintao's visit to a single mother in Beijing on December 29 was meant to be timely propaganda demonstrating the leadership's concern for the poor and needy. However, it backfired spectacularly, generating widespread resentment.
The news item, broadcast nationally on December 30, showed Hu visiting Guo Chunping and her daughter, who recently moved into a government-subsidised low-cost flat in Beijing.

With many ordinary people complaining about high property prices, and similar flats in Beijing costing at least 2,000 yuan (HK$2,350) a month to rent, it sparked outrage online.

Many internet users expressed disbelief that a flat of 45 square metres could cost just 77 yuan a month, the figure 49-year-old Guo told Hu she was paying. Speculation was rife that the whole scenario was faked.

But it turned out to be true, which has led one media academic to describe the awkward episode as a warning signal for the government.
And the human search engines went to work. Some people claimed the woman was a government worker brought in for a charade, some had photos of her supposedly travelling to expensive destinations.
The deputy dean of Renmin University's school of journalism and communications, Professor Yu Guoming , said the fact people jumped to question the credibility of the news on state media was the result of serious flaws in government administration.

"For years the government has depended on giving misinformation or hiding the truth, for example the GDP figures of local governments don't match the central government's calculations. People are used to distrusting them," Yu said.

"Most people have never heard of the 77-yuan rental or are unaware of such policies, which contradict our daily experience. Of course, people would think it's a favour to a few special people or a total sham. The lesson for the government is to administer with more transparency. Hiding or partially releasing information will not work in this society with more [new] forms of media such as microblogs."

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