By John E. Carey
Peace and Freedom
August 5, 2007
With a public relations scandal looming if not already roiling for China on June 12, 2007, Li Dongsheng, the Vice Minister for the State Administration for Industry and Commerce in China, told reporters in China that China had developed “very good, very complete methods” to regulate product safety.
“We can guarantee food safety,” Vice Minister Li Dongsheng concluded.China demonstrated, by that statement and many similar denials and public announcements, that it “didn’t get it.” China doesn’t know what almost every experienced American movie star, politician and prominent sports figure know or will soon hear about as soon as a scandal break: come clean.
Noted Public Relations and Crisis Management professional Jonathan Bernstein wrote in an article written for Bernstein Communications, “the role of public relations … is to help stabilize that environment by developing messages and public relations strategy which results in prompt, honest, informative and concerned communication with all important audiences – internal and external.”
Today, after months of further developments in the scandal, the official China news agency Xinhua quoted the deputy head of the State Food and Drug Administration, Hui Lusheng, as saying “At present, the food safety situation has improved, yet is still serious.”
“Since last year reports of ‘red-yolk duck eggs’ and so on have often caused wide concern in society about food safety, and warned us that our country is in a period of high risk,” Hui said, referring to a contaminated egg scare.
“Dealing with and preventing food safety risks is a long-term, arduous and complicated project, which needs society to work together and comprehensive prevention,” she added.
Why does China “not get it”? Why, when a crisis or scandal breaks, does China at first issue a denial and only reverse course once the mess is a firestorm?
First, China does not have a fully free and open media. During many scandals, China gets away without telling the truth or suffering consequences. But once the international media digs in its teeth, China generally suffers public and world wide embarrassment.
The second reason many believe that China generally denies the truth to escape responsibility and public scorn is more complicated, cultural and deeply rooted in the communist system.
Because China and other communist countries have no free and open elections, the communist party and its officials stay in power using a system of coercion, force and putting down public unhappiness.
In other words, public confidence in the government is not widespread. Many times public confidence in communist governments is based upon lies, loyalty to the government in exchange for jobs and other rewards, or other questionable bases of loyalty.
China has another problem: with 1.3 billion people and an immense land mass, seemingly small problems are often found to be huge.
In last spring’s tainted pet food scandal, China at first denied any wrongdoing.
But reporters from the New York Times, David Barboza and Alexei Barrionuevo, found that the pet food was largely poisoned by a chemical reaction which included a product called melamine, which is used in fertilizer and plastics, mixed with wheat glutin. Using this formula, China could raise the protein level in food products, and eliminate more expensive meat. In fact, for many years melamine was available to Chinese farmers without cost.
Chinese manufacturers thus reduced production costs while still charging cutomers top dollar: as if beef or other high quality products had been used in the pet food.
Melamine is a prohibited substance in American pet food according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. However, melamine is a widely accepted fertilizer in China. And farmers mix it into livestock feed, pet food and other products because it is plentiful, inexpensive and usually undetected.
When the New York Times reporters in China followed up on this story, they asked some farmers why China couldn’t just stomp out those few using melamine. Farmers told them everyone used melamine this way since the 1950s. The use of melamine is not restricted to a few isolate production houses: it is everywhere in Chinese agriculture, according to sources inside China.
Finally, many believe that there is a “culture of corruption” within China that has a tendency to bend public pronouncements toward what the public wants to hear and not toward the truth.
We’ve written about this previously and invite readers to read some and decide for themselves.
Distrustful of China’s Government at Almost Every Turn
Recall of China-made toys unnerves parents
Rights groups shine Olympic spotlight on China
China: Trying to Fight ‘Culture of Corruption’ with Confucius
China: Culture of Corruption a Problem
China showcases transformed army
What Does Beijing’s Communist Central Government Consider a “Threat”?
Filler in Animal Feed Is Open Secret in China:
A Western Success Story in Scandal Management
By Reyna Susi
In October of 1982, Tylenol, the leading pain-killer medicine in the United States at the time, faced a tremendous crisis when seven people in Chicago were reported dead after taking extra-strength Tylenol capsules. It was reported that an unknown suspect/s put 65 milligrams of deadly cyanide into Tylenol capsules, 10,000 more than what is necessary to kill a human.
The tampering occurred once the product reached the shelves. They were removed from the shelves, infected with cyanide and returned to the shelves.
In 1982, Tylenol controlled 37 percent of its market with revenue of about $1.2 million. Immediately after the cyanide poisonings, its market share was reduced to seven percent.
Once the connection was made between the Tylenol capsules and the reported deaths, public announcements were made warning people about the consumption of the product.
Johnson & Johnson was faced with the dilemma of the best way to deal with the problem without destroying the reputation of the company and its most profitable product.
Following one of our guidelines of protecting people first and property second, McNeil Consumer Products, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, conducted an immediate product recall from the entire country which amounted to about 31 million bottles and a loss of more than $100 million dollars.
Additionally, they halted all advertisement for the product.
Although Johnson & Johnson knew they were not responsible for the tampering of the product, they assumed responsibility by ensuring public safety first and recalled all of their capsules from the market. In fact, in February of 1986, when a woman was reported dead from cyanide poisoning in Tylenol capsules, Johnson & Johnson permanently removed all of the capsules from the market.