Sunday, November 10, 2013
One problem that dogs President Mahama’s administration is the unsatisfactory work of the so-called “Government’s Communication Team” at the Presidency. I am being bold to say that he doesn’t need such a unit; instead, he needs a Press Secretary and a Press Secretariat to coordinate efforts and meet all his communication needs.
A Press Secretary is needed to liaise with the press (especially if there is room for a Press Secretariat, where the media are represented) and to openly answer questions and give briefings on anything that the Presidency has to offer for public consumption. Sometimes, even, it is not everything that must be published. What is to be kept off-record may be disclosed to the press corps and labelled as such. It calls for trust, confidence, and respect for ethics and morality in journalism.
Apprising the public of happenings in government is an integral part of governance in a democracy. Only when the public become informed will they be willing to play their part to nurture the democracy that they all wish for. A well-informed public will definitely lead to good citizenship. That is why it is incumbent on the government to establish clear parameters for information to flow from its quarters into the public domain.
Democracy can grow only if those with information to give the public share that information through those they can trust to be prudent in their dissemination of the information for public consumption. If the government has nothing to hide, it should trust that its word will be reported as delivered; and if the press have nothing ill-motivating what they do, they will honestly disseminate only what is gathered.
The various Ghanaian governments have in one way or the other used information dissemination from the seat of government as an important avenue for public outreach. They devised several strategies for propagating their acts of commission or omission as a means of keeping themselves in public view. Communicating information about the government is a good way to link up with the public, even if such pieces of information end up being derided as mere “propaganda” or “rhetoric”.
The zeal with which the Kufuor and Mills-led governments focused on such public information ventures cannot be under-estimated. They passed on that zeal to John Mahama. But the impact and implications of that zeal in each era have to be assessed carefully.
Under Kufuor, the venture was streamlined to such an extent that only a Press Secretary shouldered the responsibility of communicating happenings at the Presidency to the public. Everything was well structured, even if there were disagreements of incredulity on the part of the public toward messages emanating from the Presidency.
Whether unsure of how to manage this press/information dissemination work or whether carried away by the craze for giving employment to all those whose public utterances earned him the Presidency, the late Mills created a Directorate of Information at the Presidency into which he packed all manner of noise-makers (And I have in mind the “babies with sharp teeth” and “evil dwarfs”, thanks to Rawlings’ categorization) to do his propaganda or communication work for him; and they did it with unprecedented alacrity to the point of verbally decimating anybody coming to their notice as a detractor.
What didn’t the Koku Anyidohos do to remain at post as the “attack dogs” of the late President? Of course, they did their jobs religiously, if even to a fault, in the pursuit of goodwill for the government. The chaos that characterized their work remains as the painful reminder of a government that didn’t know how to manage its communication business.
Flip everything over to what is happening under President Mahama and you should be itching for a drastic change in how information management is done. There are still hangers-on from the Mills era and new ones parading themselves as members of the “Government’s Communication Team” and acting in a weird manner to make us wonder whether indeed they are working with a President who is regarded as a “communication expert.”
Don’t let us go far. Their daily flipping and flopping, flimming and flammering is enough evidence to prove to us that the category called “Government’s Communication Team” is irrelevant at this stage when too much purposeless and unfocused information is coming from there to worsen the President’s credibility problems, not to add any value to his worth.
There is a lot wrong. First, the caliber of people in that unit is questionable on the basis of many factors: inexperienced youth, lack of political acumen, no track record of sterling media work, and many more. Then, the strategies and tools used. Sadly, they are using the very tools and strategies with which their predecessors in the Communication Team that (mal)functioned under Mills. As they continue to construct every problem as a nail, they have no option but to go for a hammer as the solution!!
In all honesty, let me say that the President isn’t benefiting in any way from the activities of that communication team. A lot more has to be done to rejig that unit or to get rid of it altogether. More on that soon.
In effect, the least said about those communicators, the better. They are not worth bothering one's head over because they lack the skills of communication (public relations—promoting the government's interests in the eyes of the public) and are not even well-informed about what to communicate to the public. Tell them and they impudently retort that if you are interested in their job, then, apply for it.
The government doesn’t really need any team of communicators for it. A good thing sells itself; and if the government is doing well, its deeds will speak volumes for it. It won't need any noise-maker to mount any rooftop to proclaim it!!
Which government anywhere has a Ministry of Information and Media Relations and then goes ahead to build a corps of noise-makers at the Presidency called “Government's Communication Team”? And the Ministry of Information and Media Relations has two Deputy Ministers, not to talk about the number of those constituting the Government's Communication Team.
A mere duplication of functions to fulfill the job-for-the-boys syndrome? Only to turn round to justify the 667 workers under the Presidency alone?
Nor is that all. The goofs and contradictory statements that these functionaries often make leaves me wondering whether they even know what they talk about. More often than not, as they go round contradicting each other or making statements that have no foundation in truth, they cast the President himself in a very bad light. That’s as if they don’t even have access to relevant information to defend the cause for which they deploy their youthful exuberance!!
The best President Mahama can do to salvage the situation (especially where those communicators end up annoying the public with their shoddy work and contradictory statements, among others) is to dissolve such a team and re-introduce the position of a Press Secretary and a Press Secretariat to be manned by seasoned communicators (journalists known for their diplomacy) or any competent hand in diplomacy to do the work for him. All he needs is a good press, depending on what he does or fails to do and explanations to persuade the public on his goings and comings!!
When nitty comes to gritty, the President has to work with only the good hands who know what they are in office to do to clear doubts, fears, and suspicions about the Presidency. Not with those recommended by nothing but their loud mouths and political connections.
Good governance calls for better information management at the Presidency than what we’ve had so far. Those who may be thinking that I am threatening their positions can help themselves by re-appraising issues and bowing out before they are bowled out. The tax-payer’s sweat and blood must serve a better cause than arid and acrid propaganda that even misfires or backfires!!