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12.JAN.07

Last week the police force celebrated the 8th anniversary of the establishment of its public relations department.

Searchlight congratulates the force on this milestone and the

foresight to establish such a department. We recognise that policing requires the cooperation of the public and to this end it is a welcomed development and we wish the members of the force well in the future.{{more}}

There were many speakers at the social event at the office of the fledging department at police headquarters and we were attracted particularly to the wise words of retired Inspector Blugh who, according to other speakers, was a mentor and trainer of the present top brass of the force.

One comment by Inspector Blugh succinctly explained the past, present, and undoubtedly what will continue to characterise the relationship between the force and the media. He said that “the media will want to get information, and there is some information that the force will want to keep”.

Well said Inspector!

While it is the desire of the force and the political directorate for the media to cooperate with the force, and while we all work for the public good, there has to be a clear understanding that though the media will cooperate fully we both have a job to do. The media will want information which the force will wish to keep and reporters in any country will do their level best to seek it out provided they believe that such information is within the public’s interest.

The force announced guidelines for interaction of its members with the public and we look forward to receiving a copy. That notwithstanding, as is the journalism practice the world over, the force must temper its expectation of the behaviour of the media.

That is, it is untenable for any media to operate solely within the confines of any guidelines provided by any force; for to do so would be tantamount to working for the force instead of fulfilling their role as watchdogs of democracy.

The development of democracy after the decline of the court and the rise in the merchant class has always run parallel to the development of a free media. Both have developed hand in hand since the 17th century. It will be no different today.

What was disappointing on the occasion of the celebrations last week was that the dialogue was one-way. The officers used the opportunity of the media’s presence to speak to the public rather than have a two-way conversation with the media. Partnerships and cooperation cannot be a one-way affair.

A best practice which has helped in development of media partnership and cooperation is an informal sit-down chat, what some journalists call “a rap session”. We get to know each other. We get to understand, appreciate, and respect each other’s expectations. We get to talk about the things that bug us and how to resolve them. This is something that ought to be encouraged with all news makers.

Congratulations again to the force on the 8th anniversary of the public relations department. We look forward to a more expeditious and proactive information flow and a two-way conversational partnership.

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