China courts urged to be transparent with social media

China's top judge calls on the country's judiciary officials to tap new media and messaging tools including WeChat to provide updates on trials and improve transparency. However, proper guidelines are needed to support this.

China's top judge has called on the country's judiciary officials to make full use of new media tools, including microblogging service, to provide updates on trials and improve transparency.

Guidelines should be provided to advise Chinese courts on what information to make public via microblogs.

President and head judge of the Supreme People's Court, Zhou Qiang, said courts should heed public opinions and deliver information via newspapers and television as well as new media and messaging apps such as WeChat . Market observers and court microbloggers, though, noted that proper guidelines were necessary to better facilitate such platforms, reported China Daily

Zhou said courts should strive to improve the nation's judicial credibility and respond to public queries, making legal processes more transparent. China's State Council on Tuesday said in a statement that all government departments should make information authorized for public viewing available on new media and interact with the public online. They also were tasked to put in place systems to gather public feedback and dedicate officials to provide further information on issues that have high public interest. 

According to China Daily, Chinese courts had tapped microblogs in recent high-profile cases to publish photos and information on the developments of these cases. Beijing High People's Court, for instance, used its Weibo account to provide updates on  several controversial cases last month, including a man who killed a child in her stroller as well as a gang rape that involved the son of a Chinese military singer. In August, the Jinan Intermediate People's Court uploaded photos and 153 posts on the trial of former Chongqing Party chief, Bo Xilai. The photos and 30 posts detailing Bo's sentencing were forwarded some 200,000 times on September 22. 

To date, 790 Chinese courts have Weibo accounts, with the Beijing High Court clocking some 530,000 followers. However, the court's designated microblogger, Zhao Yan, said such social media roles were still new and called for training as well guidance to be provided. 

Zhao said in the report: "Weibo is good for judicial transparency, but it spreads information so fast that it also places high demands on us. There are no clear rules on how to do the job." He noted that some court-assigned microbloggers had some knowledge on managing new media tools, but most found it challenging to handle online emergencies. 

Cheng Lei, associate law professor at Renmin University of China, urged the supreme court to implement guidelines to better advise Chinese courts, including stating the types of information permitted to be made publicly available.

In recent weeks, the Chinese government made several arrests of high-profile microbloggers for spreading "online rumors". Last month, it implemented a new directive which states anyone who shared false information deemed defamatory or to affect national interest could face up to three years in jail if their posts were viewed 5,000 times or forwarded 500 times.

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