A television show in east China's Shandong Province is forcing officials to respond to public complaints under the glare of studio lighting and the unblinking eye of the camera.
Following the lead of several cities including Wuhan and Nanning, Shandong's capital, Jinan, is inviting the public to hold the government accountable via live TV.
The program was started by the Communist Party of China's (CPC) Jinan Municipal Commission for Discipline Inspection to improve the work of local officials and create a new way for the public to supervise the government.
Cheng Xinmin, an official with the commission, told Xinhua that the program was launched as a pre-recorded show about a year ago.
The live version of the show, which debuted Sunday, is a new attempt to urge the government to solve problems for citizens, Cheng added.
During the Sunday show, officials from five major departments of the Jinan municipal government appeared as guests and answered questions. They represented the city's environment protection bureau, commission of housing and urban-rural development, development and reform commission, the public utilities administration bureau and bureau of city administration and law enforcement.
Video clips were unveiled during the live broadcast showing a site contaminated with chromium residue, smoke billowing up from an iron foundry, and a dusty construction site.
The live show host asked the environmental officials about the clips, stumping one with a question.
"Do you know the chemical plant? Is it licensed?" the host asked.
"Sorry, I do not know it. I will send personnel to investigate it soon," the environmental official from Jiyang County said.
"You said you have made regular inspections in your county. Why didn't you find it?" the host continued.
The official was embarrassed to admit he had failed to detect the site.
Unlike prerecorded programs, live shows don't offer officials the chance to avoid responsibility, Cheng said. They have to face problems directly and promise to deal with them immediately.
Cheng said rather than embarrassing officials, the discipline inspection commission hopes the live show will act as a platform for common people to oversee the government.
In addition to complaints raised by the studio audience, officials from the five bureaus also answered citizens' questions via a hotline and online during the show.
At the end of the show, the audience gave each bureau a score. Of the five departments, the environment protection bureau received the lowest score of 85.2, putting Gao Liwen, head of the environment protection bureau, in an uncomfortable position.
Gao vowed on the live show that the bureau will take effective and immediate measures to solve the problems and improve air quality and water in the city.
After the program, Gao said he felt a bit nervous during the show, but added that this new style of public supervision could help officials learn about new problems and roll out targeted policies.
More than 80 questions about environmental protection were submitted by the audience during the show, said Wei Zhizhong, director of the program at the Jinan TV station.
Bao Xinjian, a professor at the school of political and public administration at Jinan University, said environmental issues drew a lot of attention during the show because the city has been plagued by heavy pollution for years.
Pollution could hamper the development of the city in the future, so the problem demands prompt solutions, Bao said.
Pang Tao, deputy director of the environment protection bureau, told Xinhua Wednesday that the live show serves as a test for government officials. The bureau held a meeting on Monday to discuss problems raised during the show and came up with solutions.
The bureau also asked its subordinate departments to issue a response report for implementation of the measures before 10 a.m. on Thursday, Pang said.
An audience member who complained that she and her neighbors were bothered by the cooking fumes from a barbecue restaurant in her community said that she was satisfied with Gao Liwen's response during the program.
"But we will wait and see if the promises are carried out," said the audience member, Ms. Huo.
Television and the Internet have brought government officials and the general public closer through new forms of communication, said Wang Zhongwu, a sociology professor at Shandong University.
The live show's first broadcast drew a wide audience, and about 400 people called the hotline to ask questions, Cheng said.
Unlike live government-themed shows in other cities, in which officials simply report on their work and rarely answer people's questions, the Jinan program emphasizes citizens' right to raise concerns, Cheng said.
Programs in the next month will discuss issues such as traffic jams, food and drug safety, and urban governance, according to Cheng.