By Fareeza Haniff
[www.inewsguyana.com] – Three months as a new government and the APNU+AFC is still struggling to deal with its growing internal communication challenges and shortcomings to disseminate information to the public via the media.
As a matter of fact, Director of Public Information, Imran Khan, has admitted this much during his appearance on ‘Hard Talk’ aired on 90.1 Love FM on Sunday, August 09 after he was heavily criticized by veteran journalist and Executive Member of the Guyana Press Association (GPA), Denis Chabrol.
According to Chabrol, the government has been “fragmented and slow” in getting its information to the wider public.
“It allows its opponents, particularly the People’s Progressive Party now to dictate the news agenda and does not respond in a timely and efficient manner,” Chabrol noted.
He made reference to the fury surrounding the increase in salaries for government ministers and other officials; an issue in which the government took days to provide an appropriate response.
“We had the Opposition speaking for days on end about proposed hikes and salaries for government officials, government ministers and it really took them a while for the government to come with a concerted, definitive position. In the meantime, we had various responses from different Ministers at different times, telling us different things and in some cases, even confirming what the PPP had originally said and for us as media personnel, we had no clear indication, much less the public.
“I think this is where the government fell down; it failed to respond in a timely and efficient manner to say exactly what the position was,” a passionate Chabrol said.
Additionally, host of the programme, Chris Chapwanya was armed with his information, pointing out to Khan that on August 03, Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo in the Guyana Chronicle Newspaper stated that Ministers need to be paid a respectable salary and a few days later President David Granger told iNews that the salary increases are meant to “differentiate” between officials.
But according to Chapwanya, on August 05, Minister of Governance, Raphael Trotman told a post cabinet media briefing that there would be no salary increases for government officials, which confirmed reports that there is indeed a breakdown of the communication structure in the APNU+AFC government.
Khan in response accepted the criticisms and agreed with Chabrol and Chapwanya, noting that the government is not doing as good a job as it should when it comes to the issue of communication.
“I agree, I accept the criticisms of Denis and his colleagues… I believe that they are valid and I believe that we have listened. I will be the first to say, put my hand up and take responsibility that we have been behind…there’s no question or doubt about that. We have not done as good a job as we ought to have been doing,” Khan said.
While he claims not to be offering an excuse, Khan said upon reflection, the public got accustomed to getting efficient information from the APNU+AFC coalition during the time of the campaign and therefore it was a reasonable explanation on the media and the public’s part that the information will be forthcoming in a similar way “but unfortunately the campaign communication structure and the government communication structure is vastly different as you know.”
“We are taking baby steps in trying to improve that situation but we also have to deal with the reality of what we’ve inherited in terms of the structure and the systems of communication in government,” Khan said.
In this regard, Chabrol made it known that statements and bulletins from the Government Information Agency (GINA) are not as forthcoming as they used to be and that access to government Ministers is at its all-time low.
But Khan did not take this criticism too lightly.
“I think Denis is being a bit harsh… and a bit unreasonable. I understand his frustration; they are real that advisories have not been coming out as proficiently as they ought to have been…it has affected his work and the work of other media persons…The structure that was in place was designed for propagandizing and that’s not the structure we are intent on continuing with.”
At this point, the discussion got heated and Charol reiterated that there is indeed limited access to ministers and most times, they do not answer their phones, while others are selective with whom they speak to.
“I believe that the government has to put in place a system where they monitor what’s going on both locally and internationally so they themselves can react, can respond in a timely manner and not wait for us to get off in a fury on a Whatsapp group and express our frustration at the Manager of that group, Mr Imran Khan.”
Meanwhile, Khan also took some flak for the poor dissemination of information as it relates to the feud between Guyana and Venezuela, which he agreed with.
“We should have been far ahead of where we were in terms of being aggressive on the public communication front,” the Director of Public Information said.
The APNU+AFC government has several State media entities at its disposal to gets information across to the public directly, which includes the Guyana Chronicle Newspaper, NCN TV, NCN Radio and GINA.