EDITORIAL: Information sharing and the Press
From time to time we may fall below expected standards, but it never changes the fact that media organisations and their representatives, when they interact with public officials, stand in proxy for John Citizen.
We do not send reporters to talk to ministers and Government technocrats because we seek information for ourselves, but because we endeavour to fulfill a duty to keep our society informed on matters that are important.
When we ask legitimate questions and people who should be accountable to the public respond with statements that they do not speak to the Press, what they ought to recognise is that they are refusing to speak to the people who pay them. We are not naïve, we recognise there are times when, and on subjects which, our public officials will not be able to speak, but our concern relates to when they just simply refuse to do so for no other reason than that they don’t care to.
Take the issue of the erratic closures of Grazettes Primary School since the term started for some apparently hitherto unmentionable “environmental” issue. For weeks members of the media have been trying to find out what was the problem at the school, but each attempt has been met by a stonewall.
There are few things that inflame the passions of a community, or evoke panic in a parent, as the welfare of children. When the Ministry of Education opens the school after the official start of the term, then closes it for days, reopens it again and closes yet again and only offers a vague explanation of the cause, it can only serve to erode public trust in the system.
And the irony of the matter is that most people would hardly rush to blame the ministry for any “smell” that was pervading the area of the school, as parents and staff reported. To the contrary, acting to safeguard the children scores points, and that’s why we don’t understand why in the face of all the questioning and speculating it has taken authorities so long to offer an explanation.
Let’s be clear: We support the decision of the Ministry of Education to close Grazettes Primary once it recognised there was a problem with the potential to negatively impact the health and safety of the students and staff. What we do not support is the failure to engage the parents, and by extension the public.
Yesterday, we had the disclosure from the ministry that the challenges arose from the alleged failure of personnel from the Vector Control Unit to follow protocols as they related to the fogging of the school early last month. This, in essence, clears the Ministry of Education of any blame in this fiasco, in the process emphasising that it could have been more forthcoming with the public.
Our society in general and our public officials in particular need to be far more mature in their approach to information dissemination and interaction with the Press. We may not see eye to eye on everything but we certainly don’t believe we are enemies.
History ought to have told those public officials that refusing to answer questions, declining to take phone calls, releasing information only to favoured media houses because they will push your fluff to new horizons for the sole purpose of making you look good while never asking a probing question, may offer you some comfort, but only for a while.