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Hong Kong reporters slam bid to curb information
by Staff Writers
Hong Kong (AFP) Jan 10, 2013

Chinese state media mocks government officialese
Beijing (AFP) Jan 10, 2013 - Chinese state media turned on the government's own use of language Thursday, mocking a list of "repulsive" official cliches submitted by social media users.

The public shaming of bureaucrat-speak -- hosted on the microblog of the Communist Party mouthpiece, the People's Daily -- came after China's new leaders slammed the culture of long speeches and meetings and urged better governance.

"No speech is not 'important', no applause is not 'warm'," the People's Daily said on its Twitter-like Weibo account, as it poked fun at officialese and invited followers to share the phrases they found most irritating.

"No leader is not 'highly valued', no visit is not 'friendly', no accomplishment is not 'satisfactory', no achievements are not 'tremendous'," it continued.

Commenters ridiculed officials' tendency to give non-answers and criticised tiresome terms thrown around in meetings that dragged on.

"The most common one is 'relevant department'. When it's good news there's a specific department, when it's bad news it's a 'relevant department'," wrote a user named Suzhiqiang.

"The most annoying official-speak is, 'Next I would like to add a few words'... then half an hour later he is still talking'," said another called Arnold.

A user named Romeo provided a template for meetings: "Vigorously do this... Thoroughly do that... Don't do this... Raise high... Speed up... Push forward... Persevere... Guarantee..."

But in turn others derided the effort to put down the officialese.

A poster using the handle "One Who Probes" pointed out: "These official phrases, cliches, empty words, lies, didn't we learn them all from certain newspapers?"

There were around 4,300 submissions as of late Thursday, and a list of comments compiled by a local newspaper was reposted by several outlets, including the state news agency Xinhua.

The publicity around the forum complemented official warnings sounded by the ruling party's new leadership under Xi Jinping, installed in November.

His first remarks as party chief -- a plain-spoken 20-minute address -- contained little of the Communist terminology or references to socialist figures that filled the speeches of his predecessor Hu Jintao.

A few weeks later state media reported the new top brass as urging party officials to put an end to "pointless" meetings, speeches and other time-wasting events.

One user named Dalizhangxiaofan posted: "If officials aren't allowed to speak in cliches and officialese, what else will they have to say?"

Journalists in Hong Kong Thursday slammed a government bid to restrict access to information about company directors, after a series of investigative reports into the hidden wealth of Chinese officials.

Under the proposals put forward by the financial services and treasury bureau, corporate directors could apply to have their residential address and full identity card or passport numbers blocked from public view.

Such information can presently be accessed with a small fee, and has been used by reporters to help unravel a web of secret assets showing the true wealth of China's ruling elite and their families.

"We believe that the ability of foreign correspondents and journalists to legally access information about individuals and their companies is vital to our role of reporting on issues of public interest," the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Hong Kong said in a letter addressed to the city's leader Leung Chun-ying.

"We call on the government to withdraw this amendment and to maintain its support for the free flow of information in Hong Kong."

The former British colony, which reverted to Chinese rule in 1997, maintains a semi-autonomous status with guarantees of civil liberties -- including press freedom -- not seen on mainland China.

The proposal comes amid concern over meddling by Beijing in the city's affairs, and after a number of reports focusing on the wealth and assets of China's ruling elite grabbed worldwide headlines.

In June last year, financial newswire Bloomberg used publicly available records to compile a list of investments made by the extended family of Xi Jinping, just months before he became head of the ruling Communist Party.

The agency said the investments totalled US$376 million.

The New York Times said in October that financial records showed outgoing premier Wen Jiabao's relatives had control of assets worth at least $2.7 billion, a report Beijing branded as a smear.

Bloomberg said it used Hong Kong and Chinese identity card numbers from corporate filings to chart business ties among Chinese officials and their heirs, while the New York Times also used such information from Hong Kong.

Access to the websites of both Bloomberg and New York Times in China has since been blocked.

A large number of Chinese companies are listed in Hong Kong, a financial hub that acts as a gateway for international firms seeking to tap the booming Chinese market.

"It's a damage to the free flow of information, which is the bloodline of investigative reporting," Mak Yin-ting, the chairwoman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, told AFP.

Without the ability to access the ID numbers of company directors it would be difficult to confirm a person's identity, she added. Dozens of people might share the same name with the same Chinese characters.

But the financial services and treasury bureau said in a statement the amendment was needed "to strike a balance between the right of the public to information and the protection of privacy".

It added that under the proposal the public would still be able to access a director's correspondence address as well as three of the seven digits of their ID number.

"This should be enough for the public and the media to identify the persons concerned," the statement said.

The government aims for the new law to come into effect in the first quarter of 2014.


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