03 September 2003

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Toon 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 wall.
Outside our shores the right to know is taken seriously and, while Malta is a signatory to the Aarhus Convention – which guarantees the public’s 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. Malta’s 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 minister’s communications officer should be well informed and normally should only require the minister’s 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 don’t 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 minister’s communication officers make themselves available on Saturday’s should not ring so strange.
Malta’s 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 deliver.

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
The Malta Financial & Business Times, Newsworks Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann
Tel: (356) 21382741-3, 21382745-6 | Fax: (356) 21385075 | E-mail