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China tells courts to be more transparent with social media

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China’s top judge has urged members of the country’s judiciary to be more open in their use of social media.

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According to China Daily, Supreme People’s Court top judge Zhou Qiang told courts that they should pay more attention to what people are saying on social media and should release trial information on platforms such as WeChat as well as more traditional media such as TV, radio and newspapers.

He also said that courts should make their legal work more transparent in order to improve their credibility.

The missive from Zhou comes after the State Council issued a statement saying that all government departments should publish authorised information and make an effort to interact more with people online. It also asked them to organise platforms where experts can explain the issues at hand to people.

The courts have however been thrown most into the spotlight after Jinan Intermediate People’s Court broadcast the trial of a former party chief on Sina Weibo. China Daily reports that 30 posts and three photos of Bo’s sentencing were forwarded almost 200 000 times on 22 September.

Sina Weibo itself reports that around 790 courts around the country now use it and says that number is constantly increasing.

“Weibo is good for judicial transparency, but it spreads information so fast that it also places high demands on us,” said Zhao. “There are no clear rules on how to do the job.”

He did say though that while some of the judiciary’s social accounts were operated by people with knowledge of the medium, many of them battled during times of crisis.

Renmin University of China associate law professor meanwhile told the paper that the country desperately needed to establish guidelines for how its public bodies use social media. These guidelines, he said, needed to explain exactly what information to post online and what kind of posts could hurt the interests of those involved in the cases.

He also said that the people running the accounts should be trained “because their operation represents how professional the court is”.

Both Sina Weibo and WeChat have hundreds of millions of users and making proper use of them represents an opportunity for Chinese state organs to communicate effectively with the populace. That would be far more proactive than the crackdowns and arrests that have characterised China’s relationship with social media until now.

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