Thursday, 17 March 2011

Media Release to States Members

Just seen the Council of Ministers comment on this proposition which calls for government media releases to be given to States members before - and not after they have been given to the press:

In principle, the Council of Ministers agrees that news releases should be sent to States Members before they are sent to the media. However, communications within the States of Jersey are not centralised and only news releases and statements issued by the Chief Minister's Department and Treasury and Resources Department are released through the Communications Unit. The current policy is to send news releases to States Members before the media. The Chief Minister can only recommend that other departments follow the same policy, therefore implementing and enforcing this proposition would present problems.

In addition, issuing all news releases to States Members an hour before the media is also impractical. The media work to very tight deadlines and coverage would be hampered if we were no longer able to use embargoes for complex documents/policies. This would mean we would no longer be able to release information, like the budget, to the media in advance, in order to give them sufficient time to understand the key issues before broadcasting/publishing.

This is a complete nonsense. For a start, while communications are not centralised, there is no reason why each department should not have a written policy in place, so that the civil servants involved are aware of it. To say that only material coming via the Communications Unit can be subject to a policy is an abrogation of responsibility. Even if the other departments have their own policy, the Ministers are responsible, and one would expect a degree of co-ordination:

Ministers are the primary spokespersons for the Government of Canada both individually as heads of their departments and collectively as the Cabinet. It is their role to provide leadership in establishing the priorities and overall themes of government communications. It is a ministerial responsibility to define the communications duties of the staff and to establish procedures for liaison between their own office and public servants within their departments, so that communications are coordinated, particularly media relations and special events.

Moreoever, it is not best practice for departments to "do their own thing", in an unco-ordinated way, as the Council of Ministers suggests. The OECD paper ""Effective Communications Between the Public Service and the Media", notes that:

A key theme which participants and invited speakers returned to time and time again was the need for a co-ordinated governmental communications policy linked from the beginning to the process of formulating, adopting and implementing a policy. They noted that government communications strategies which are well co-ordinated across the public administration, timely, pro-active, and sensitive to the needs of journalists are more likely to be successful than those that are not.

Secondly, when it comes to embargoes, in order that the media have "sufficient time to understand the key issues before broadcasting/publishing", shouldn't this also apply to other States members. Can't they be given documents on an embargoed manner so that they too have sufficient time to understand the key issues? Or is it thought - as this seems to suggest implicitly - that journalists can be trusted to keep to an embargo, where States members cannot. That seems to me to take a very low opinion of States members.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Astute observations Tony!

Just to emphasise the points you make -

* the Chief Executive to the Council of Ministers has the authority to direct departmental chief officers on such matters. In some rare cases, a Minister might issue a media release directly but the vast majority of such releases are made by the departmental officers. There is no excuse for individual departmental policies on this as far as officers are concerned.

* the potential for "rogue" ministers misbehaving is more significant. But if the Chief Minister is to have any credibility at all he, along with other Ministers, should be sufficiently persuasive to prevent the "rogues" from misbehaving.

* you are almost, but not quite, correct about trusting the media more than elected representatives. The fact is that they do not trust the media - but they trust States members even less!