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Why this new attitude to the media?

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Tue, Sept 21, 2010

Of late, the Ministry of Education has adopted an attitude to the media that is inadvisable.

There seems to be the feeling in the top echelons of that Ministry that any enquiry from the media should be met with resistance and suspicion, even when the question relates to simple, non-controversial information.{{more}}

Last week, at a press conference held by the Prime Minister, Searchlight asked a question about staffing problems being experienced at some of our schools. We only raised the question at the level of the Prime Minister as efforts to reach Ministry officials authorized to speak, proved futile. It seems as if by raising the matter with the Prime Minister, we angered certain Ministry officials.

And now, Ministry officials have gone one step further and seem to want to choose not only which media houses they invite to their press conferences, but also to dictate which reporters from particular media houses should be invited.

This behavior is a disservice to the progress made under the ULP administration’s flagship project “The Education Revolution” and the good rapport built up over the years between the media and the administrators and technocrats at the Ministry, who preceded those presently in charge.

What some public officials seem not to realize is that there are certain things that the public has a right to know and that it is their duty to provide the information. When public servants adopt a culture of openness and disclosure, the governments they serve are ultimately strengthened, as the governments are made more accountable.

When a government or organization is perceived as being less than forthcoming with information, the public loses trust. The Prime Minister is only too aware of this. So much so, some say he is too accessible. He can usually be reached by the media at any time of the day or night, no matter where he is in the world.

Any approach by the media can be turned into an opportunity to promote the work of the organization, government or Ministry. Recently, one of our reporters, after much persistence, managed to get hold of one of the Ministry’s top officials seeking information pertaining to the numbers of students graduating from the newer secondary schools in relation to the numbers which entered five years ago. We were told we should write a letter and say why we wanted the information.

The opportunity could have been taken to speak about the remedial work being done with those students who will take more than five years to move through the system, given the disadvantage these students started with; or something else to put focus on the work the Ministry is doing. An opportunity lost by the Ministry of Education.

This also brings to mind the mealy bug fiasco of 1996. Ministry of Agriculture officials were hostile to enquires by the media and repeatedly denied the presence of the pest in this country, even while evidence to the contrary was before our very eyes. The public servants responsible perhaps felt that they were helping the government and the country by denying the presence of the mealy bug, but in the long run, it was the credibility of the government and their own reputations which were tarnished.

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