New Cabinet: Courage and Communications Will See You Through
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
February 13, 2012
Summary: The Ma administration's second term.has begun. The new administrative team has assumed office. it inclues veterans and novices. This is the cabinet's second term. Therefore no one is going to accept the excuse that the cabinet is new and therefore lacks experience. The cabinet does not need "star players." Nor does it need designated fall guys to take the heat for their colleagues. Self confidence and a responsible attitude are the only qualities essential for the cabinet. As long as cabinet members understand their areas of responsibility, as long as they have confidence, as long as they assume responsibility, communications will be no problem.
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Just before the Legislative Yuan officially convened, the newly formed cabinet underwent a marathon, nine hour, weekend long "intensive training" session. They focused on a single idea: communications. This included communication with the public, communication with the legislature, communication with the media, and even internal communications witin the Executive Yuan itself. President Ma Ying-jeou may want cabinet members to take the lead in reaching out to the grassroots. Talking heads may demand that Ma keep up with current events and keep his his finger on the public pulse. But these are all technical details. A head of state must have confidence in the ability of government heads to handle those matters under their purvue. The key is a willingness to assume responsibility.
The Ma administration was hurt by criticisms directed against the cabinet during Typhoon Morakot. Since then, it has significantly increased the number of ministries and departments charged with visual communications and public relations. So much that its efforts eventually attracted the attention of the Control Yuan, which investigated and scaled back some of its excesses. Some ministry heads have established private channels of communication with talking heads, under the table. Theoretically this should enable them to convince the talking heads to say a few kind words about them before the TV cameras. At the very least this should convince the talking heads to criticize them less harshly. The results however, have been mixed. Attempts to secure support for administration policies have had limited success.
Just how should government heads communicate with the public? Current CEPD chairman Yin Chi-ming provides an excellent object lesson. The Ma administration made him Minister of Economic Affairs during its first term. The cabinet was reshuffled following Typhoon Morakot. Yin was made Minister without Portfolio. No one however, has ever explained why. One reason offered was that Yin was "ineffective in promoting a cross-Strait agreement on ECFA." But why weren't other cabinet members replaced? No one has ever explained why. Once Yin was made Minister without Portfolio, he no longer had to deal with the media. Nor did the media have time to seek him out. Six months before the presidential election. Yin Chi-ming buried his nose in his keyboard, blogging every day. He refuted DPP attacks on the Ma administration's cross-Strait policies. His firepower was so intense, the media could no longer ignore his existence. They had no choice but to visit his blog and leave their own comments.
Yin took substantive action, He showed that he was a political appointee fully capable of championing the administration's policies. But why was he so outspoken during the first two years of Ma's first term, only to later fall silent. Eventually some reporters criticized the administration for its "Silence of the Words." Actually Yin Chi-min reflected the twofold plight endured by many Ma administration political appointees. One. Many reporters in the front ranks lack professional experience. They simply could not understand his policy. Two. Many reporters pandered to popular sentiment. Policy debates garner low ratings. Naturally no one wants to calmy report them, let alone analyze them.
Some political appointees have the courage to assume responsibility. Take former Department of Health Director Yaung Chi-liang. He stood in the line of fire defending administration policy. But in the end he was still forced to resign. Sadly, no one remembers how staunchly he defended "second generation health care." All they remember is that he had the guts to stand up to the Taiwan independence "san min zhi" media, i.e., SET TV, Formosa TV, and the Liberty Times, Take Yin Chi-ming, who quietly blogged away. He blogged so much the media was forced to come back and seek him out. He penned thousands of words defending administration policy. Even if reporters didn't understand his meaning. at least they couldn't say they copied what he wrote down wrong. Finally, take the numerous former government heads who panic before the media. They hide from the media while in office. They run from the media when stepping down. Their guilty demeanor is utterly inappropriate for high-ranking officials. No wonder they have become the butt of media jokes.
In fact, political appointees and the media can communicate and interact in a more constructive fashion. Reporters are not academics or experts. They will inevitably ask stupid questions that leave the political appointee wondering whether to laugh or cry. But when asked senseless questions, political appointees must stand their ground and say "Thank you." They need not cover their faces and flee. They need not be so deficient in courage. When government heads avoid the media, it invariably means they will be both unpopular and unsuited for their jobs.
Recently Taiwan "celebrity" Makiyo and some friends got drunk and precipitated an incident. Recently Harvard graduate pro ball player Jeremy Lin became a star in the NBA. Political appointees must know what the public is talking about. But knowing what the public is talking about, does not t mean becoming the object of media attention. Last week a KMT Central Standing Committee Member wanted Party Chairman Ma Ying-jeou to express his views on Makiyo. President Ma surprised everyone. He said that when he he heard the term "Ma bang" he thought it meant the Ma family. Ma's humor was unfunny and pointless. Must the President respond even to celebrities who get drunk and make trouble? If so, then why not make the President clean every gutter in front of every house in the country?
Jeremy Lin is famous throughout the United States. The entire country is gripped by "Linsanity." But a president is responsible for a nation's affairs of state. To cast oneself as just another Jeremy Lin fan is trying too hard to share Jeremy Lin's spotlight. Jeremy Lin won several games in a row. The U.S. beef imports issue still awaits resolution. The 12 year compulsory education programe still needs promotion, Tax reform still needs to be added to the policy agenda. Foreseeable policy storms will not go away as a result of such distractions, One cannot fail to make preparations.
The Ma administration's second term.has begun. The new administrative team has assumed office. it inclues veterans and novices. This is the cabinet's second term. Therefore no one is going to accept the excuse that the cabinet is new and therefore lacks experience. The cabinet does not need "star players." Nor does it need designated fall guys to take the heat for their colleagues. Self confidence and a responsible attitude are the only qualities essential for the cabinet. As long as cabinet members understand their areas of responsibility, as long as they have confidence, as long as they assume responsibility, communications will be no problem.