Avoid the bunker mentality, Mr Holness

Monday, May 14, 2018

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The Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) has chastised the Government for its failure to host post-Cabinet meetings with journalists since November last year.

“The Government seems to have effectively abandoned the post-Cabinet press briefings,” PAJ President Mrs Dionne Jackson Miller said in a statement circulated last week.

If indeed the Andrew Holness-led Jamaica Labour Party g overnment has abandoned this avenue which, down the years, has proven extremely valuable in keeping Jamaicans informed about g overnment's decisions and plans, then the PAJ president has hit the bulls' eye by calling it “unacceptable”.

But even if — as we are hoping — this is just a temporary break possibly to allow for 'reset', it is wholly unacceptable that there has been no explanation from Government. Indeed, the situation reeks of disrespect, not just for the news media but the Jamaican public.

To our recollection, weekly post-Cabinet press conferences date back to the 1990s and have been embraced by administrations of both political parties, until now.

As pointed out by Mrs Jackson Miller: “For years, the weekly meetings have been the forum in which reporters have been able to question Government ministers on matters arising from the weekly Cabinet meetings, as well as other issues of national interest as they arise.”

We are aware that the media landscape has drastically changed, largely as a result of mind-boggling evolution of communication technologies triggering the social media phenomenon.

But useful, though it is, social media, to which Prime Minister Holness and others in his a dministration robustly subscribe, is not equipped to explore issues in the thorough manner of traditional journalism.

Good journalists must sift through information, check and re-check for veracity, ask relevant questions — no matter how awkward they may prove to be — and professionally deliver news and feature products to 'John Public' in order to help people gain knowledge, appreciation and understanding of the issues at play.

That access to information which is almost always more credible, as provided by traditional media through a range of outlets, is a cornerstone of Jamaica's democracy and an essential aid to societal development.

We recall that in late 2016 the PAJ reprimanded Prime Minister Holness for having failed to hold a “comprehensive press briefing” since assuming office in March of that year. Back then this newspaper suggested that the prime minister should consider quarterly press conferences.

We note the PAJ's acknowledgement that Mr Holness has gone the way of hosting quarterly press briefings, in addition to meeting journalists on occasions to deal with specific issues as they arise.

None of that should be seen as replacement for the weekly post-Cabinet forums usually hosted by the information minister, with inputs from others, and at which wide-ranging issues — not only those arising at Cabinet — can be aired.

Apart from the obvious public good in providing easy access to relevant information, Mr Holness and his Government need to bear in mind that, in their own self-interest, a bunker mentality, or perceived inclination to circle the wagons for no good reason, should be scrupulously avoided.

It's for that self-same reason that the previous prime minister, Mrs Portia Simpson Miller took much flak, including from the then Opposition headed by Mr Holness.

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