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Communication tasks for public authorities with the aim of rebutting wrong and hostile opinions

(PTOJ) - Recently, there have been many developments in the communication work of the public authority system, which have made important contributions to improving public awareness of the position, role and duties of public authorities, and the connection between the public authority system and the people. However, the follow are limitations that remain in the realm of  communication work in public service activities: reaction is not immediate, the action is not drastic, and there is still moments of confusion. This is an opportune chance for reactionary forces to distort and propagate false information, affecting the image and reputation of public authorities, and above all, eroding people's trust in the Party and State. The article discusses the current situation and possible solutions to enhance the effectiveness of communication in public service activities, especially in unexpected situations, contributing to preventing and combating wrong and hostile viewpoints. At the second scientific essay competition, "Protecting the ideological base of the Party, fighting against wrong and hostile opinions in the changing circumstances", the article was awarded the Prospect Prize in 2022.

1. Problems to be raised

Public service means an activity of state power that is carried out by cadres and civil servants in accordance with law. This aims to enhance the interests of the State, the people, and society. Public-service activities are the implementation of tasks and powers by civil service cadres in accordance with regulations of this saw and other relevant regulations”(1), stipulated in Article 2 of the Law on Cadres and Civil Servants 2008.

Activities demonstrating the state power and those of organizations created and authorized by the State to serve the needs of the people are both considered to be public service activities. State authorities and civil service cadres implementing public service are representatives of the State and authority. Therefore, it’s required for civil service cadres to have behaviour, of highest standards and accurate in their actions and statements. 

For that reason, reactionary and hostile forces often use the guise of forging and smearing in order to lower the prestige of the Party and State leaders. Especially, when there are problems or mistakes related to one or several individuals working within the public administration, they take advantage of the favourable chance to fabricate, distort, and exaggerate information. It is supposed that these wrong actions aim at inciting and confusing public opinion, causing people to lose trust in the cadres, the Party and the state. The reactionary and hostile forces will take unfair advantage of individual mistakes or particular events to distort and smear an entire authority, industry, or field. More dangerously, they will smear and lower the prestige of the whole government. The guise of “democracy”, “human rights’’ are regularly exploited to attribute the problem to the leadership of the Party...

It is necessary to inform promptly, accurately and effectively to solve the problems related to communication in the event of an incident. This is not only to solve the immediate case, but also to contribute to the protection of the Party and the state against false and misleading claims. Therefore, it’s important for state authorities as well as cadres and civil servants to be very alert, extremely vigilant, aware of their roles and responsibilities in implementing civil services. Further, they need to strengthen the quality of communication, which should be seen as a crucial task in administering public services.

2. The current status of communication in public-service activities

In recent years, the administrative system has paid special attention to reform by the Party and State. Particularly, there are measures to strengthen the communication by the public authority system to the people, the press and media authorities. This tends to provide quick, timely and accurate information to a large number of people about regular activities as well as unexpected situations.

Today, the legal system on public service activities and regulations on information and statements of public authorities, cadres and civil servants are relatively complete. They include the Law on Cadres and Civil Servants 2008, the Law on Public Employees 2010, which amended and supplemented a number of articles of the Law on Cadres and Civil servants, and the Law on Public Employees 2019. The policy on statements and provision of information to the press by state administrative authorities have been delineated in detail in Decree No. 09/2017/ND-CP of the government, in which there are rules for spokespersons, personnel authorized to speak, regulations for regular speech and when speaking during extraordinary and unexpected situations.

The Government issued Directive No. 12/CT-TTg dated May 12, 2021 on strengthening propaganda and orientation of media and press activities that serve the mission of protecting the Fatherland. Also, this Directive points out that it’s required to promptly rectify and handle violations in press and communication activities. In particular, it emphasizes strengthening information and propaganda on social networking platforms, grassroots information systems and new social media. This is an important basis for public authorities to implement the task of informing and propagandizing.

It is supposed that many positive changes result from the application of  promoting information technology, actively renewing information forms and their content, and enhancing interaction between public authorities and people through digital platforms. Applying information technology towards digital transformation has been widely deployed in activities of the Party, state authorities, enterprises and the whole society. It has become an effective support tool for managing, directing as well as running public communication systems, and contributes to raising the  capacity, efficiency of public service, reducing costs, and increasing work productivity. Moreover, the application of information technology also enhances the efficiency in the activities of state authorities, especially in the field of tax, finance, customs, business registration, land, civil status, passports and so on.

Most public authorities use electronic portals, websites, and news sites that provide information about public service activities, legal documents, and public service processes. Information technology is applied in processing many administrative procedures, which helps the State and the people save resources. According to statistics from the Ministry of Information and Communications, the proportion of online public services at level 4 has more than doubled. In particular, it increased from 4.55% in 2018 to 10.76% in 2019. There have been many positive changes in cybersecurity, in which the information security, checking and sharing system for e-government monitoring 20/30 ministries, sectors, and 51/63 locations nationwide by the end of 2019(2). From 2017 to 2020, the percentage of people satisfied with the administrative services of public authorities continuously reaches over 80%(3).

The above results serve as evidence of the improvements and significant contributions made by government organizations to serving the people.

However, recently, the accomplishments that public authorities achieved have been deliberately denied and distorted by reactionary and hostile forces. They also look for every opportunity to distort the situation, especially in the context of the complicated development of the Covid-19 epidemic. This is of great concern for the people and the government system. Reactionary and dissident forces at home and abroad often take advantage of the situation and employ a variety of tricks to spread fake and malicious news to confuse the public and undermine Vietnam’s anti-epidemic successes. 

Some of their tricks include: Spreading false and misleading information about the state of the epidemic, the use of medications and medical apparatus for disease prevention and control; misrepresenting the vaccination policy, boycotting Vietnam’s diplomatic relations with a number of nations; attacking, smearing, and toppling the prestige of the Party, state, and authorities at all levels. They also insult the dignity and honor of medical personnel, the ill, and those who are at risk of infection, causing confusion among the people. More dangerously, they took advantage of the time when the entire nation was concentrating on battling the pandemic to increase propaganda and training. Also, they seduced people to join conservative groups that aims to develop the internal resistance forces, such as terrorist groups like “Viet Tan”, “Provisional National Government of Vietnam”, and “Vietnamese Dynasty”, etc(4).

To address this issue, the whole political system has convincingly joined forces and worked closely together to filter information, and identify the source of hostile information in order to take appropriate legal actions. In the year 2020-2021, the Department of Cyber Security and High-Tech Crime Prevention and the Ministry of Public Security coordinated with the local police to summon more than 1,800 subjects, prosecute and handle 21 criminals, and punish 466 subjects for spreading misleading information(5).

Social networking sites have been effectively used by many authorities and units to enhance communication and increase interaction with the people, especially the youth. In the past, we were previously “weaker” on social media platforms, allowing fake information to proliferate and be hard to manage, as opposed to today when we have affirmed our voice in cyberspace. Many official information websites, including the Government Information page on Facebook, which has more than 2.1 million fans, the VTV24 channel on YouTube, which has more than 3.6 million subscribers, and many other information units have been active and effective in the past and continue to be so. Official sites on the Zalo platform have been set up in several areas at the district, ward, and commune levels, giving residents regular updates on the situation there.

Notwithstanding these successes, there are still certain limitations to communication work in public service activities: The mechanism for organization of the communication department in each public authority is not consistent because there is no general regulation on public service; The work of coordination and information provision to the press in some authorities is still confused and lacks initiative.

In addition, despite the existence of various technological platform, the media content is not varied, and the presentation format has not been consistently improved to keep up with the developmental trends of technology, which contributes to the low number of users. Not surprisingly, people only become aware of the necessity to look for certain information after the fact. The volume of communicated information hasn’t actually been extensively explored, optimized, or become dominant on the information front.

According to a nationwide survey conducted over several years by the Ministry of Home Affairs, only a small portion of people (4.92% in 2018 and 8.22% in 2020) use the internet to access information from administrative authorities and about administrative procedures. The majority of people (62% in 2020) continue to seek out information directly from administrative officials and civil servants. When they seek information on administrative procedures, very few individuals regularly visit official news websites. Just 5.2% of people visit the website for the National Public Service Portal, and 5.0% of people visit the website for their province.

Even for organizations, only 14.5% of the studied organizations have used the internet(6) to access administrative operations, despite having the capability and suitable conditions to do so. As a result, despite government investment and expectations, the effectiveness of information technology applications in solving problems and public services, especially in communication and reaching the people, is still low. 

Moreover, because we are still sluggish to adapt and have not kept up with the pace of technological advancement, certain newly emerging social networking sites have become “fertile ground” for organizations and reactionaries to take advantage of, exploit, and influence the psychology and perception of young people. Because of this, it’s important for press organizations, the media, as well as the public authority system’s communication efforts to advance, function more swiftly, and be more effective. 

3. Some solutions to strengthen communication in public-service activities, contributing to the fight against wrong and hostile viewpoints

Firstly, each agency or unit in the official duty performance apparatus needs to set up a department in charge of communication. In order to create a distinct, robust, and widespread communication system, public authorities’ communication departments need to perform an excellent job of advising leaders on renovating communication activities.

Concurrently, it’s important to develop and prepare scenarios to respond to communication crises at different levels, to periodically practice, alter, and update reaction scenarios to match real-life circumstances. When something goes wrong, the prepared scenarios needs to be quickly activated in order to avoid being passive or embarrassed, to cut down on time to the lowest possible level, avoid gaps, “gray areas” in information, and prevent hostile and reactionary forces from taking advantage of the situation to spread false or distorted information.

Secondly, specifying the mechanism of speech in public agencies. Each agency needs to base itself on the Government’s Decree No. 09/2017/ND-CP detailing the statements and providing information to the press by state administrative agencies and based on the actual situation. to build a mechanism for speaking and answering press interviews.

It is essential to clearly state who will be the spokesperson, which issues are directly spoken about by the leaders of the authorities or units, and which topics the leaders grant the authority to the head of each specialized department to cover, etc., which depends on the severity of the issue. To prevent having too many spokespersons, emotive remarks, providing erroneous information and harming the authority’s reputation, information supplied to the press shall first be approved internally.

Thirdly, it’s crucial to strengthen coordination with domestic and international press and media authorities. In order to proactively give information on the public service activities, authorities need to keep in regular touch with local press and media units and scale up the construction of communication channels to foreign press authorities. 

Specifically, public authorities should swiftly and proactively contact the press and media authorities when there is a problem that calls for their involvement and supply them with information on the basis of explicitness and objectiveness. The cardres that are responsible for this field need to promptly evaluate the problem and give the authority’s executives advice on options for action. In addition, depending on the severity and scale of the incident, they should organize to provide initial and detailed information, issue press releases or host press conferences and respond to the press if necessary.

Also, it’s essential to ensure the accuracy of information in accordance with the incident and the actual situation. Giving the information as accurately as possible. Additionally, the cadres need to show their responsibility, prudence, seriousness, and demand of public authorities by avoiding providing information in a “dripping,” “hidden” manner, opening the door for unfounded speculations and inference.

Fourth is to reinforce the investment in human resources by arranging part-time and full-time cadres in line with the scale, traits, situation of the authorities and units as well as practical requirements. Further, it is essential to set up the right conditions for the staff who are in charge of communication to take refresher courses and update their knowledge. In particular, this is necessary for the areas of communication, news reporting, press release writing, news production, information technology, foreign languages, etc. There is a need for a mechanism to recruit and attract personnel with communication experience to be in charge of the authority’s communication department.

Fifth is to encourage the application of information technology for communication and fighting misinformation in cyberspace. Moreover, it’s important to accelerate the digital transformation, which will improve accessibility for the public by increasing both the number and quality of online public services. Also, it’s required to build a feedback system and gather public opinions to proactively solve the problem when the people share their viewpoint.

In addition, investigating digital channels and making use of them to improve communication regarding authority and the unit’s public service initiatives are seen as an priority tasks. Furthermore, there is a necessity to innovate and diversify new communication content and formats.  Based on the situation, in the public service sector, on the target audience to research, develop communication campaigns, and create an appropriate image of the agency.

Sixth is to build an interdepartmental coordination system between authorities and units for the realization of public service. The Ministry of Information and Communications shall improve state management of information by offering direction, instruction, and assistance to departments and organizations within the public service system as needed. Also, this ministry needs to manage the information on social networking sites more effectively.

The Ministry of Public Security shall continue to strengthen its handling of violations involving the posting of false news, slandering and defaming the honor of others on social networks. This tends to deter, limit malicious information. They will continue to investigate, prosecute reactionary individuals and organizations that  act against the Party, the State, and the people, and undermine the victories of the revolution. 

It’s crucial for the public authorities to understand that communication is a necessary and vital task. It plays a role of a filter or a protective shield when incidents occur. Communication should receive the attention it deserves based on the importance of its position and role in responding to and managing incidents and emergencies. As part of the communication efforts, there is a close-knit relationship that is impossible to separate between the media reporting on routine operations and the media responding to crises and occurrences. This provides support to public authorities in completing their duties.

__________________

Received: November 25, 2022; Revised: December 16, 2022; Approved for publication: December 19, 2022.

 

Endnotes:

(1) The National Assembly: Law on Cadres and Civil Servants 2008.

(2) The Ministry of Information and Communication: Vietnam Information Technology and Communication White Paper 2020, Information and Communication Publishing House, Hanoi, 2020, p.15-16.

(3), (6) The Ministry of Home Affairs: Report on the Satisfaction Index of people and organizations with the service of state administrative authorities in 2020 (SIPAS 2020).

(4), (5) Cao Hong - Xuan Mai: Prevent false news from destroying epidemic prevention efforts, People’s Public Security Online Newspaper, August 8, 2021, https://cand.com.vn/van-de-hom-nay-thoi-su/khong-de-tin-gia-pha-hoai-no-luc-phong-chong-dich-benh-i623408/.

MA. LE MINH NGOC

Journal of Political Theory,

Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics

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