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<13>‘ Assessment Credit on Policy-Awareness’

Posted December. 18, 2007 09:15,   


“The More Correction Articles, the Higher Points” … Rampant Legal Reactions

On the 16th of last month at briefing room 1 of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, on the first floor of the Central Government Complex in Sejongno, Jongno-gu, Seoul, a director of the Ministry delivered a briefing. The content of the briefing claimed that the ministry’s negotiation director was planning to attend a foreign ministers’ conference, held abroad, in a few days’ time.

Usually news of overseas trips by high-ranking government officials is told through press releases at the Office of Public Information. Then why did the director choose to give a briefing?

The majority opinion in the government community is that the assessment credit on policy-awareness management was the reason. Originally six points (out of 100) were allotted to the category of ‘publicity activities through press by ministers and vice ministers’ in the ‘Assessment Guideline on Policy-Awareness Management’ (hereafter referred to as the Assessment Guideline), amended by the Government Performance Evaluation Committee in June this year. With the replacement of this category with ‘briefing to the press,’ the allotted points more than doubled to 15 points.

This is why the government ministries have yet to be concerned about the assessment of policy-awareness management. When evaluating the performance of each ministry every year, the policy-awareness management field takes up the second largest portion, following the ‘main policy tasks’ (25 points out of 100).

In and out of the government community, however, voices are raised that the assessment on policy-awareness management, which ought to function as a tool to apprise people of government policies, on the contrary, is precipitating antagonism between the government and the press.

○ ‘Weird Assessment System that Zips Lips of the Press’

In the ‘Assessment Principles and Classification Standard for Policy-Awareness Management 2006’ of the Government Information Agency, there is a category named ‘articles for response’ in the ‘propriety of acknowledgement of and response to policy reports’ field. That is, it assesses how well a ministry reacts to critical reports by the press.

The problem is the way the ‘swiftness of response’ is evaluated. A ministry has to respond to the so-called problematic press reports within 24 hours from release in order to receive five weight points in assessment. Three points were given on a reaction within 48 hours, one point for one within 72 hours, but non after that.

When Dong-A Ilbo’s report on this system in early June triggered controversy, the Government Performance Evaluation Committee changed the time limit and weight in assessing the swiftness of response in the amended version of detailed guideline released the same month. When a reaction is made within five days from the report, two weight points are granted.

In addition, a ministry can receive higher points in the ‘appropriateness of responding article’ category, the more it releases counter-argument document for correction through legal reactions such as filing mediation to Press Arbitration Commission or litigation. This hints to the steep rise, more than five-fold, in the number of mediations filed to the Press Arbitration Commission by ministries since the establishment of the current administration (702 cases as of July 2007) compared to the Kim Dae-jung administration (118 cases).

A government employee in charge of publicity in a ministry who requested to stay anonymous said, “Such a category of reaction articles is no more than zipping the lips of the press.”

There exists, of course, a ‘fulfillment of acknowledgeable reports’ category in this field. It assesses how far the ministry reflected the criticism by the press in policy making or law enactments and amendments. But since it is considerably more difficult to reflect the press reports in making policies or even further enacting or amending laws, they usually end up as simple reference. Therefore some point out that this category is merely a formal category aimed to dilute the offensiveness of the ‘responding article’ category to the press.

○ Extra Work Keeps Government Employees from Performing Main Tasks

The ‘publicity-raising through media’ field in policy-awareness management shows why publicity staffers of ministries complain that they “are made to spend a lot of time on the Internet.”

In the ‘management of articles of policies on Administration Briefings’ category (three points), higher points are granted to the ministry that posts more articles on policy on the “Administration Briefings” website, run by the Government Information Agency and raises the number of views. In addition to the government-run “Administration Briefings,” each ministry has to set up a news site to supply articles to “Administration Briefings” (three points) and manage it well.

This is not the end. Members of each ministry have to open and administer government-run “Administration Briefings” blogs personally or in groups (or divisions) to obtain three points. But many argue that this is a forcible assessment method that neglects the circulation system of government employees. When a government employee who produced and administered a blog in a team (or a division) transfers to another, he or she has to transfer the blog ID and content to his/her successor, and this causes unnecessary wastage of time and man power.

The widely agreed opinion is that that ‘briefing to the press’ category makes those in charge of policies, such as ministers and directors, hold rampant but vacant briefings in order to raise points even when there is no issue suitable for briefing. Many government employees in charge of publicity seem to agree that “without policy-awareness management many unnecessary briefings or releases will disappear.”

○ Publicity Activity for Policies Lack Echos

The ‘Policy customer service’ field (ten points) is intended to make ministries raise awareness by e-mailing policy-customers about policies and to collect feedback whenever possible so as to reflect them in next round of policy-making.

But the problem is that most of the e-mails sent to policy consumers are immediately deleted before being opened. Less than 20% of e-mails for policy-awareness are opened. Most of the e-mails for policy-awareness are sent straight to the trash or spam folders of recipients. Ministries are also made to watch how often such e-mails are opened by certain customers.

‘Achievements of publicity-raising in collaboration with public enterprises’ category in the ‘achievement of policy-awareness activity’ (eight points) field was newly established in 2006 and was intended to evaluate how well each ministry cooperates with subsidiary public enterprises in raising publicity. It is pointed out that because each ministry has to hand in model cases showing its collaboration with a subsidiary public enterprise for publicity-raising, it even holds publicity-raising events just for this end.

[KTV, Run by National Funds, Even Spends from Ministry Budgets when Producing Programs on Ministries]

There is a category named ‘Point Production Performance with KTV’ (three points /100 points)’ in the ‘publicity-raising through media’ section of policy-awareness management. Each government agency evaluates one of programs on policies joint-produced by ministries and KTV, a subsidiary broadcaster of the Government Information Agency. This category was newly established last year.

Here, the problem is that while KTV and government agencies produce the programs for policy-awareness in collaboration, the production cost is covered by the budget of the corresponding ministry. In this regard, some raise questions asking why each ministry and agency should spend its budget to produce programs with KTV which runs on national funds.

According to a document, lawmaker Jeong Byeong-guk of the Culture and Tourism Committee of the National Assembly, received from Government Information Agency, 37 government bodies jointly produced programs for policy-awareness with KTV, and the gross production cost, 1.614 billion won, was all taken from ministry budgets. Thirty out of 37 government bodies were assessed on policy-awareness management. Out of the KTV budget this year, the budget for broadcasting production is 8.264 billion won.

According to another document obtained by lawmaker Jeong, government bodies and KTV in many cases re-entrusted third-party production companies when producing the programs. KTV is pointing to the lack of human resource as the reason.

President Roh Moo-hyun has expressed his interest in KTV making such comments as: “KTV has rich content even in comparison to other broadcasters” and “Ministers are encouraged to pay special attention on raising policy-awareness through KTV.” But the audience rating of KTV is around 0.05%. Among about 90 cable channels, its audience rating is ranked in the 50s.

“Isn’t the role of KTV to find out facts about national affairs and broadcast them using national funds? Honestly, it is not easy to understand that each ministry should be spending budget money for the production of programs,” said a publicity staffer of a government ministry.

Lawmaker Jeong points out that, “The category on joint production with KTV should be omitted from policy-awareness management assessment because it can easily cause wastage of budget money.”