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Report: China's crisis responses are lacking

Updated: 2011-01-28 07:44

By Wang Hongyi (China Daily)

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SHANGHAI - Events that constituted a "public crisis" occurred every five days on average in China in 2010, and the country needs to become better at dealing with them, according to a report from Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

The annual report, compiled by the university's public-opinion-research laboratory, examined the country's 72 "relatively influential" public crises in 2010 and analyzed the country's responses to those events.

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"Compared with the previous year, crises events in 2010 decreased in severity, but the number is still large," said Xie Yungeng, deputy director of the university's Institute of Arts and Humanities, who supervised the compilation of the report.

An inadequate management of crises contributes to increases in the frequency of crises, Xie added.

According to the report, 18 percent of the 72 cases included in the study were related to the judicial system and law enforcement, while about 15.3 percent had to do with disasters and accidents. Official corruption was another important cause.

The cases studied occurred in the country's 29 administrative areas at the provincial level. Henan, Hubei and Jiangsu provinces and Beijing were the areas with the highest incidence of public crisis events.

The response to crisis events differed between developed and less-developed areas. In developed areas, where people tend to be relatively more aware of their rights and have more means of obtaining news, the public was often better informed of crisis events. In less-developed areas, poor management by local governments brought about difficulties and confrontations, Xie said.

The report also noted that new media, such as online bulletin boards and micro blogs, are now playing an important role in the response to public crisis events. In 2010, about 67 percent of the study's 72 cases initially gained public exposure through new media, an increase of 14 percent over the previous year. And of those, 15.3 percent were put before the public by micro blogs.

In August 2010, Xie Chaoping, the author of a book criticizing a relocation project in Weinan city in Northwest China's Shaanxi province, was detained by the police for alleged "illegal business activities" regarding the publication of his book. The arrest drew a national outcry after being exposed by a micro blog.

In September, Xie Chaoping was released on bail because "police had not found sufficient evidence to support the charge", local authorities said.

Meanwhile, the news of crisis events spread so fast in 2010 that 33 percent of the events were initially reported on the same day that they occurred, compared with the only 15 percent in 2009.

On the other hand, the amount of time such events occupied in the public's attention decreased. Nearly half of the cases, according to the report, ceased to weigh on people's minds after half a month to one month.

"The shortening is not because of improvements in crisis management, but because the public's attention is shifting," Xie Yungeng explained. "When many crises occur at the same time, some won't seem to be important for long."

He pointed out that the ability to cope with crises is still very low in China, although many institutions responsible for dealing with such events know to act immediately and to inform the media.

The report further concluded that such institutions often are bad at judging the severity of emergencies and at taking steps to resolve dangerous situations. They have also been slow to take advantage of new media.

"About 80 percent of them still tend to rely on traditional outlets for spreading their messages," Xie Yungeng said. "This is a much slower way to reach the public. They haven't caught up with this time of new media. These are weak points that should be given attention in the future."


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