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[Opinion] State Affairs Briefing

Posted July. 01, 2008 03:13,   


The government held a briefing yesterday for some 3,500 heads of eup (towns), myeon (townships) and dongs (neighborhoods), the country’s smallest administrative units. At the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in Seoul, the briefing dealt with the results of additional talks on the beef import deal with the United States and the country-of-origin labeling rules for restaurants. Public Administration Minister Won Se-hoon, Agriculture Minister Chung Woon-chun and Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon participated in the briefing to explain in person safeguards for American beef imports and the labeling rules. They also urged the administrators to actively communicate with their constituents.

Very rare was the gathering of the large number of provincial administration heads in one place for a state affairs briefing. Perhaps it shows how much the government has grown keenly aware of the importance of communication. This type of meeting was also common in the past. In the 1970s, representatives from the National Congress for Reunification gathered for an indirect presidential election, or the “gymnasium election.” Under President Chun Doo-hwan, the National Unification Advisory Council, which was launched in 1981 and remains active, used to convene a similar meeting from time to time. Those meetings were rather enforced and mandatory to attend. Some say yesterday’s briefing was also a mandatory meeting called by the central government.

The state affairs briefing date back to the 1960s, when the prime minister convened it with influential figures from each field whenever a national event occurred or the need arose to heighten the people’s sense of unity. In the 1970s and 1980s, the prime minister would also tour provincial capitals to hold conventions with hundreds of influential figures under the name “security situation briefing.” This was also a chance for the prime minister to show off his influence. The meeting, however, eventually morphed into the state affairs briefing and the national tour was abolished during the Roh Tae-woo administration.

This is the fourth time for the incumbent Lee administration to hold a state affairs briefing with the heads of provincial administrations, governors, mayors, county heads and council members. Though it shows the Lee administration’s attempts to seek cooperation from provincial governments and communicate with the people, the briefing raises doubt over how effective it can be in this era of digitalization. This sounds like an outdated and analog idea as Internet video conferencing has become a common practice. Critics say such a gathering is too authoritative and a mere formality. For the government to communicate effectively with the people, dialogue should be more sincere and become a two-way communication. How about the president talking heart-to-heart with the people on TV rather than holding such briefings?

Editorial Writer Yook Jeong-su, sooya@donga.com