How well the general public got informed of the disaster became a measure of how the regulations had their effect on governments at all levels.
To our great comfort, all the government departments involved have done an excellent job. The China Earthquake Administration (CEA) released the news 18 minutes after the quake shook Wenchuan county and the tremor was felt by people in many other parts of the country.
CEA released more news about the quake and followed it up with news about People's Liberation Army Headquarters of the General Staff sending people to get detailed information an hour later. And only two minutes later, there came the news about President Hu Jintao's instructions for all-out efforts to rescue the injured and about Premier Wen Jiabao being on his way to where the quake took place.
Less than an hour later, CEA convened a press conference and organized the first rescue team of 180 members.
Keeping the general public well- informed of the quake on actual time, of its development and of what the government is doing and has done has undoubtedly played an important role in preventing residents in many cities who felt the tremor from panicking and in mobilizing manpower and materials needed for rescue efforts.
We noticed that all television stations and websites constantly updated their news about the death toll, about how the rescue work was going on and about all actions either by governments at different levels or by other organizations to aid the quake victims.
Thanks to the timely information, people are talking about the quake all over the country. They also shared their concern for those who are still struggling under the rubble or about the hard job that PLA soldiers face in making their way into the epicenter, rather than depending on or spreading gossip.
Transparency about both the quake itself and rescue efforts through timely disclosures of information has obviously made it unnecessary for anyone to hear rumors from the grapevine.
We had enough lessons in the negative impact of news cover-up about natural disasters. Even if attempted out of good intentions, such cover-ups would result in widespread rumors, which would cause unnecessary panic or turn an otherwise not-too-bad situation into something worse.
What our government departments have done this time in terms of disclosure of information has convinced us that they are well aware of the importance of transparency for good governance.
(China Daily, May 15, 2008)