this week: Bricks and mortar - not a good investment
The ministries and the
right to know
The media is meant to be the fourth estate, that body
that represents the public and keeps an eye on those responsible for
running the country. The job is often made complicated because of a
lack of co-operation from ministries and departments. It is not an exaggeration
that often the journalist finds herself or himself faced with a brick
Outside our shores the right to know is taken seriously and, while Malta
is a signatory to the Aarhus Convention which guarantees the
publics right to know - our joining the EU should make us take
up our obligations in earnest.
Within a business up to date and accurate management information that
can make all the difference between an important closed deal and a bankruptcy.
Businesses also need to know what is happening in their own country.
Maltas finances are far from splendid and those that are meant
to manage Malta need to have up to date information and explanations.
When journalists put pertinent questions some of the replies received
from ministries beguile description: the answers bear no relation to
the questions put.
The quality of the replies of ministries will be in direct proportion
to the quality of the newspaper that rolls off the printing press.
Of course one cannot expect immediate replies to questions, but a ministers
communications officer should be well informed and normally should only
require the ministers approval. It is preposterous that a ministry
or a government related body should need a week, if not more to reply
to questions put by the press. A week may not be a long time, but in
the media it is a lifetime.
Not all ministries are guilty and the ministries of health and that
of Gozo, for example, have become notable exceptions.
A breaking story will never have the same impact without the comments
of those responsible or in some way interested. We are not the first
to suggest that the public relations function of the government needs
a good bolstering. The Malta government is providing a product to the
public and while we dont expect that product to always taste
good, it is a bitter pill to swallow when it is not properly communicated.
People the world over look forward to their Sunday read. Daily newspapers
are popular, but that popularity pales into insignificance when compared
to Sunday versions. The idea that the entire family has a whole day
to digest the news and features on a myriad of topics has become part
of Sunday culture.
Maltese Sundays are, however, hampered in bringing the latest news and
views as Saturday is often a day when officialdom comes to a standstill.
Ministers are sometime difficult, if not impossible, to trace and their
communications secretaries are usually unavailable. The absence is further
compounded because of the half days that most civil servants work. The
idea that ministers communication officers make themselves available
on Saturdays should not ring so strange.
Maltas progress is partially dependent on information, the availability
and accuracy of that information can play a significant difference in
the performance of a country. Not everybody is pulling the same ropes,
and those that are falling behind need to reconsider how they can best