This time around we’ll spare readers a lengthy preliminary and get right into this editorial by Shen Bin (沈彬), which appeared in yesterday’s edition of Southern Metropolis Daily. The commentary is another interesting piece of the complicated puzzle of issues we’ve seen play out in China’s media and on the internet lately — about rumors, lies, facts, the truth, press controls and access to information. The issues at the heart: credibility and public trust.
We encourage readers who haven’t done so to read our previous postings over the past two weeks, notably Hu Yong’s essay on rumor, “Control, the Soil that Nurtures Rumor,” yesterday’s “Big Oops Leaves State Media Red-Faced,” and our quick review of a recent judicial interpretation on open government information,
“Government Release of Information Should Have Won the Race with Fake Notice 47“
Shen Bin (沈彬)
Southern Metropolis Daily
August 16, 2011
Notice 47 is fake!
The day before yesterday, China Central Television reported that the State Administration of Taxation was adjusting the rules for annual income tax in order to avoid “more work for less benefit.” Yesterday, the State Administration of Taxation issued an urgent refutation of this rumor on its official website: someone has abused the name of the State Administration of Taxation, [they said], issuing “State Council State Administration of Taxation, Notice 47, 2011” (国家税务总局公告2011年第47号公告). Prior to this, this reputedly fake document “ran crazily” (疯跑) [through the media] for at least two days.
In fact, after revisions to the “Personal Income Tax Law” (个人所得税法), the State Administration of Taxation on July 29 issued its “Notice Concerning Issues with the Implementation of the Personal Income Tax Law After Revisions” (2011, Notice 46). Notice 46 was “authentic” while Notice 47 is [said to be] “fake.” The date given on the fake document is July 31. This document cannot be found on the State Administration of Taxation website, but it can be found on a number of legal websites.
According to reviews by reporters it seems that the first news report on this “Notice 47” came from a certain Guangdong media [NOTE: the writer is referring to Guangzhou Daily, but why they choose not to name the paper is unclear], which on August 13 released an article . . . [referring to the State Administration of Taxation notice]. After this, many media, including China Central Television and Xinhua News Agency, all issued the same report in various ways.
. . .
This is a case in which the media have mud in their eye such as we have rarely seen. It’s still not clear who concocted Notice 47, and whoever fabricated this government document must be held legally responsible. But who else should be held accountable for this mess (乌龙事件)?
First of all is the issue of lax practices by the news media (把关不严), which causes one to ask: How could reporters put their trust in a document that hadn’t yet appeared on an official government website? This naturally has to do with a deficiency of critical mindset and discernment among journalists. And if we want to avoid this sort of thing happening, we have to talk about the old problem of government procrastination in the release of information. The use of web technologies has substantially enhanced the efficiency of dissemination, and has at the same time substantially lowered the costs for the public of acquiring information. Nevertheless, a number of government departments remain stingy about the timely and comprehensive release of information.
Take the example of “Opinions Concerning the Deepening of Openness of Government Affairs and Strengthening Service in Government Affairs” (关于深化政务公开加强政务服务的意见), [a document announced two weeks ago]. This judicial interpretation was passed on December 13 last year, and the date on the release was July 29 this year, but only on August 13 was the full text released in People’s Court News, and only on August 15 was the content posted to the official website of the Supreme People’s Court. And this judicial interpretation was to be formally implemented on the 13th. The paradox is that this judicial interpretation directly concerns “open government information,” [and yet it wasn’t itself released openly or quickly].