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Jamaicans have a right to know

Monday, July 09, 2018

It is our hope that the Government will heed the advice of the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) and senior editors regarding post-Cabinet press briefings which, we are told, will resume on Wednesday (July 11) following a protracted break.

A joint statement issued by the PAJ and some newsroom editors on July 6 underlines the seriousness with which journalists view suggestions by Education Minister, Senator Ruel Reid that the format of the post-Cabinet briefings are to be overhauled.

To summarise, journalists want post-Cabinet press briefings to be held regularly, at a properly scheduled date and time, preferably as soon as possible after Cabinet meetings.

We think it crucial that there be Cabinet representation at every post-Cabinet briefing.

We refer here to ministers able to speak with knowledge and authority about relevant topics and also able to answer questions as required — a role which ministers of information have handled with aplomb in the past.

We recall that often — dating back to the 1990s when post-Cabinet briefings began — ministers other than the information minister would come to outline policies and programmes and respond to concerns involving their individual portfolio responsibility.

In other words, the post-Cabinet briefing presented an opportunity for Government to get its message out through all available traditional media outlets, comprehensively, quickly, and at no cost.

Quite frankly, so well had the post-Cabinet press briefings worked, and for so long, that we are at a loss as to why this Government found them inconvenient, or less than useful, to such an extent that they have been put on hold since November last year.

We note that even as the Government announced the resumption of the press briefings starting Wednesday, it confirmed that “adjustments” are being “fine-tuned”.

We are left to assume that those “adjustments” may be related to troubling views expressed by Information Minister Mr Ruel Reid in a radio interview that the prime minister's press secretary, rather than a Cabinet minister, could be asked to answer to the media, at such briefings. He seemed to suggest that ministry papers as well as information which could be had from individual ministries negated the need for ministerial representation at post-Cabinet briefings.

There seemed to be a suggestion that the growth of social media, reduces the role and relevance of such news briefings. That view ignores the need for comprehensive, accountable, all-sides communication; and for Government's policies, positions and directions to be probed and questioned rigorously, expertly and immediately.

We think it appropriate to remind the Government that the people's right to know is a cornerstone of the Jamaican democracy. Whether they were aware of it or not, when our political leaders put themselves forward to be elected and appointed to high office as servants of the people they committed themselves to uphold the people's right to know.

What's needed is more well-grounded information about the governance of this country, not less.