Today’s Editorial for October 14: Press briefings a farce

The old saying ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions’ rings true in relation to the People’s Progressive Movement government’s attempts to keep the public informed through weekly press briefings.

Those press briefings, in our view, have become a farce.

It is not the fault of government ministers, who we truly believe have a desire to inform the public about their plans and to respond to questions from the press. We congratulate them for being the first administration in these islands to ever hold routine press briefings.

However, ever since the government began airing the briefings live on television and radio, they have degenerated into either: 1) a political platform for ruling government members to bash the opposition party, or; 2) a platform for aspiring political candidates in the media to hammer elected ministers with questions designed to make those ministers look bad.

We do not mind aspiring politicians asking questions of their duly elected ministers. We also cannot argue with aspiring politicians attempting to do what all aspiring politicians always attempt to do – get their face on TV. It’s just how the game of politics works these days.

Nor do we take offence to the ministers taking shots at the opposition party. That’s part of politics since time immemorial.

But there are inherent problems with televising the briefings, especially since the taxpayers ultimately foot the bill for them.

Since the government is paying for these broadcasts, it doesn’t seem fair for them to use taxpayers’ money for their own political gain, particularly when the opposition isn’t receiving equal opportunities.

Other problems have arisen since the live-televised briefings began as well. Before that, the length of the press briefings was generally loose, allowing journalists to ask whatever questions they had. The one-hour length now set to the briefings prevents many questions simply because of time constraints. Now, too, if the government wants to discuss a particular issue, it often won’t accept questions off the topic.

As the 2009 elections near, we fear televised briefings will become more about political grandstanding and less about imparting useful information to the media.

To address this problem, all the government needs to do is stop televising the press briefings. It could still carry them on the radio if it is concerned about inaccuracies reported in the press.

If the briefings are taken off television, we believe there will be less political grandstanding by both the ministers and the aspiring politicians in the media, allowing more time for legitimate questions from journalists.