What is the role of the Government Information Service (GIS)? Is it functioning effectively? Do political organizations under-estimate the power and effectiveness of public relations and media relations?
These questions should stimulate your mind as we go deeper into this article, which will be written in the most basic terms so that even the most politically ignorant and arrogant can be educated.
I will start with the government because regardless of which party is in government, there must be a government.
In my opinion, the current GIS is not functioning effectively because 1. It has poor media relations 2. It is too political and preferential and 3. It is seemingly competing instead of partnering with local media.
Media relations involves working with various media for the purpose of informing the public of an organization’s missions, policies and practices in a POSITIVE, CONSISTENT and CREDIBLE manner. Typically, this means coordinating directly with the people responsible for producing the news and features in the mass media. The goal of media relations is to maximize positive coverage in the mass media without paying for it directly through advertising.
Many people use the terms public relations and media relations interchangeably, however, doing so is incorrect. Media relations refer to the relationship that a company or organization develops with journalists, while public relations extend that relationship beyond the media to the general public.
Now that I have provided the definition for media relations, let me ask:
1. How many times per day does GIS produce and disseminate information such as press releases and photos to ALL media houses?
2. How timely are GIS press releases?
3. How often does GIS organize press conferences with ministers, the prime minister, and other government officials about new government initiatives?
4. Why is it that some GIS officers, who are public servants, get involved in politics, showing their political biases publicly?
5. How often is the GIS website updated with timely information?
In several Caribbean countries I have visited and lived, the GIS DOES NOT COMPETE with the local media; they partner with the local media; the GIS functions like a true public service entity, and does not give the perception that it serves the ruling political party.
This is not the case in Dominica.
Two weeks ago I was listening to a radio programme hosted by GIS Senior Officer Mervin Paul. The guest was someone speaking about the millions of dollars the government has been pumping into local businesses so that they could expand, start new businesses and create employment. Some of the businesses mentioned received funding through the Investment Dominica Authority.
I heard about Whitchurch’s expansion in Portsmouth that will create over 100 new jobs when completed and the establishment of the recently opened Patty Shack, and many other investment programmes being done in partnership with the government and the private sector.
Now, everyone knows by now that Mr. Paul is biased towards the DLP government because he has openly supported the party. This has made his job more difficult, because as a public servant, he should not have been mixed up in this crap. Everyone has the right to choose their party of choice because it is a democratic right, but when it conflicts with your functions as a public servant for the people then a line has to be drawn.
Now, it is no secret that a lot of people do not like Mr. Paul’s programme or the individual, because of his public political leanings, therefore an opportunity to reach out to the entire populace about government’s partnership with the private sector will be sorely missed or lose the intended objectives of spreading “good news” about government activities.
But it was somewhat comforting to know about the many projects government has been instrumentally involved in as it regards to local investments.
Another example: There is this talk that government is borrowing funds – $27 million EC – to build a new State House. Yes this is a fact, but there is more to this – as I eventually learned. I was watching local historian Lennox Honeychurch on GIS TV, explaining that the $27M is not just for a State House, but for a world-class conference room, a building for the electoral commission and other offices, among other amenities, which has the potential to bring in government revenue, save the government money in the long-term, among other benefits.
The Old State House Project is basically divided into several phases and as I learned IT IS NOT just to build a palace for the president.
But no, the GIS and the government, like foolish people, sit back and hear the misleading information being disseminated in the media and public and do not JUMP ON IT immediately before it spirals out of control. Yes, one will say the media must do its job in seeking further information, but the government has an equally important role to ensure that they do the job that tax payers are paying for.
Competing with local media
The GIS ‘arrogantly’ currently sees itself as a competition to local media houses. In discussion with a few persons in government, they will tell you GIS has its own TV, radio programmes and its own website.
That’s fine, but how many persons make it a duty to watch media produced independently by GIS?
GIS is not popular, period! It cannot compete with DNO’s website, Q95, Chronicle news, and DBS news reports, etc. Why? Because people make it a daily duty to tune into local independent media reports.
Even the US government has its own GIS-type system, but if it was that popular as a stand-alone medium, why would it be necessary that the US Government host press briefings, press conferences, and release statements to the media?
This is why the GIS must partner with local media to disseminate information, or use local media as a channel of distributing information about government’s plans and activities.
I personally do not make it a habit to watch GIS TV. Most people will search for Marpin news in the evenings – NOT GIS TV. Sometimes you will stop at GIS when flicking through the channels.
In countries like Grenada, Jamaica, Virgin Islands, Trinidad & Tobago, GIS entities ensure that:
1. ALL media houses – TV, broadcast, radio, online and print – are invited to cover all major government activities.
2. After these events, the GIS sends out informative press releases, audio, and photos to the media, in some cases, several hours, after these functions to ALL media houses.
3. Ministers’ speeches are not only published on GIS websites but sent out to all media immediately or prior to a function.
4. When ministers and other public officials are not available, GIS officers can be contacted by the local media to get information.
Not in Dominica. GIS is like a spoiled child playing alone. To put it simply, GIS is serving themselves, and not the public. No one makes it a HABIT to tune into GIS TV, their radio programmes or their website.
Now that there is an emergence in ONLINE MEDIA, GIS must ensure it trends with the times and seriously include the online media in its media campaigns.
At the end of the day, GIS cannot prevent persons from developing their own biases but it will help in providing and circulate factual information and make the public aware that government is in fact working.
Government is doing so much and past governments have done so much, but when GIS functions too much as a political tool, the intended messages are drowned in “bias” and it appears governments are doing nothing.
Currently, the GIS system in Dominica is not effectively organized. In the eyes of the media, GIS and public relations officers merely sends out media invitations, organize press briefings now and then and do their “own programmes” which are seldom disseminated into the main stream media on a frequent and CONSISTENT basis.
In other countries, GIS sends out press releases, photos, video and audio clippings SEVERAL times a day, DAILY to the main stream media.
A video project like the one Mr. Honeychurch did for GIS should be disseminated on Marpin, SAT TV, DNO, and other electronic media, and the GIS officer should ensure that press releases and artistes impressions (properly written and produced) be released to all media.
Despite the backwardness of the government’s public relations and media relations systems, the Ministry of Health must be lauded for releasing press statements to the media, as well as the education department. But this needs to be done more on a wider scale with trained reporters who can write proper press release that will be used by the media or at least be worth time to be read thoroughly by an editor. Despite what is being released by these departments, more can be done because I am sure the Ministry of Health, caters to a lot more.
For e.g. the Princess Margaret Hospital is undergoing some works on its fences. For the past week, I have noticed a lot of rehabilitation work on the hospital but the GIS have not released anything to the media. The GIS gives no frequent reports on the progress of the road projects.
If GIS is relying on the media to report on every single activity that government does then GIS serves no purpose and should be closed.
The Prime Minister is yet to hire a press secretary after Sean Douglas left. And if there is a new press secretary or PM spokesman, who is it? Parry Bellot? I hope not.
PM Skerrit must understand, that as a civil servant, employed by the people, he must inform us about all his travels. Whenever US Presidents go on official business, the GIS or press secretary informs the media in a simple press release stating where the president is heading, why he is heading to that location, the objective of his visit, the planned date of return, and who will be acting in the position.
If the president goes on vacation, the government informs the media and informs them as to who is acting.
This is “freaking” protocol. The public NEEDS TO KNOW THIS. If the PM cannot handle this by himself, for God’s sake where are the GIS officers, where is your press secretary? Each time the PM hops off island without informing the public, he makes it worst for himself.
The PM also talks too much. And his sidekick Tony Astaphan also needs to shut up sometimes. These guys need to talk when it is necessary, talk facts, and stop feeding rubbish to the populace; stop getting too political and be of service to the public.
Each time the PM talks out of turn, it comes back to haunt him. The entire Government needs an educated, well-trained and trusted press secretary or an effective public relations team to do a service and not a disservice to the people of Dominica.
There are many other things I can write about concerning GIS, media relations and public relations, and I am always ready to challenge the naysayers, because they will have things to say, but I cannot be too long. I may not use fancy words, but I know my thing.
The UWP is also suffering from not having proper public relations and media relations mechanisms in place. The DFP has more strategy and better public relations, but neither party is employing them effectively.
Before I leave, let me say this: it is difficult in almost any country, esp. Dominica, to be branded a neutral media, because almost nothing you do pleases everyone. You give detailed coverage of a government event and you’re branded red, you give detailed coverage of a UWP event and you’re branded blue.
Local journalists and media owners should be careful that they cover news and not lean to any political party publicly. Serve everyone, not just a few.
It is impossible for media houses to be everywhere, to cover every event, but the public does not understand this, unless they have had media experience. It is easy for anyone to say what they want looking from the outside.
With that said, political parties must learn that it cannot buy any media house forever and media houses must learn that political parties change like the weather. Today, you accommodate them and take sides and tomorrow when they’re in power they come back and bite you in the butt. This is why, it is important to not seemingly take sides and stay out of the politics and stay in news.
See ya in the New Year.
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