Society ‘learning’ from public relations nightmare

BEIJING – Despite being in the middle of a crisis that has affected their collective reputation in China, the Red Cross Society of China, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are proud of their work in the country.

Martin Faller, head of the East Asia Regional Delegation of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, praised the humanitarian organization’s work in China and said it was a well-known, prominent and important part of the Red Cross’ international family.

He said stories that first circulated online about the possible misuse of donated money were “pure fantasy”.

The organization suffered a PR nightmare when accounts appeared online about Guo Meimei, a 20-year-old woman who boasted on her blog about her wealth, luxury homes and cars and who claimed a close connection to the Chinese Red Cross.

“They are just pure fantasy, these stories about Guo Meimei, who has no connection to the Red Cross Society of China,” Faller said.

But he pointed out that the incident needs to be separated from ongoing dialogue and discussion in the press and online about the role of the Red Cross in China, which he said is healthy and helpful and will ensure the Red Cross becomes stronger.

“Other humanitarian organizations in China and other countries are also facing such dialogues, if not criticism,” he said. “It shows that the Red Cross Society of China is evolving.

“It’s good that the criticism is aired and the questions are asked and it’s good for Chinese society to reflect on itself and ask itself – are we transparent enough? Are we giving the public the right messages? Are we explaining ourselves well to the people?”

Francis Markus, regional communications delegate for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said humanitarian organizations in China are still developing and changing.

“The Red Cross in China is dealing with similar challenges to other organizations and is taking them very seriously,” he said. “And, without doubt, China will emerge as a model of how to deal with these issues.”

Faller said it is important for the Red Cross to “learn from and use the current situation to become even better”.

He said the organization is working on becoming more transparent and on improving communications with the public.

According to Faller, the Chinese Red Cross also needs to strengthen its disaster response system, focus more on psychological social support and carry out more community-based work.

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