Thursday 24 May 2012
Last Update 25 May 2012 4:56 am
The world over, journalists play an important role in society, reporting the news and offering informed comment on the affairs of the day.
This has long been recognized in the Kingdom. This week two significant developments have taken place in relation to journalists and the way they work. First, at the Cabinet meeting this week, chaired by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, public organizations were urged to respond to media inquiries, as well as to negative reports.
To this end, the Cabinet agreed that these bodies will need to improve their media relations, not only to answer questions but also to better publicize their work and achievements. As any newspaper in the country knows, the need is evident.
There is, of course, another side to the coin, which the Cabinet also addressed clearly. State bodies should take action to rectify inaccurate reporting and if corrections were not forthcoming, should sue the publication or broadcaster responsible.
Both of these must be seen for the positive developments that they are. It is absolutely right that those who rely on the media in the Kingdom should expect to be given accurate information that has been properly checked before being published or broadcast. We are sure that we do not speak purely for this newspaper when we say that producing reliable news is the ambition of every media outlet in this country. Unfortunately, accurate reporting is not always the case.
As ministries and other public bodies comply with the Cabinet’s wishes and improve their own ability to handle press and media inquiries, readers can expect deeper and more informed coverage. Obtaining official statements and reactions from top people in public organizations has not always been easy. Journalists need always to produce a balanced report, with for instance both sides of the story where the facts are in dispute. Getting information from an official can sometime be a near impossible task. The response is regularly “I'll get back to you on that” and then silence and a mobile phone that does not answer.
If no one is available to give that all-important official comment, writers are always uncomfortably aware that some might see the report they are producing, as one-sided. However, it is not the reporter’s fault that a public organization not been equipped or prepared to answer media queries and deliver the official line on something that has happened.
A shake-up of the press and publicity teams at ministries and state organizations will hopefully change this. Skilled public relations specialists will need to establish press desks that are manned for long hours, especially in the evening what most newspapers are finalizing their stories for publication the next day. Senior executives in government bodies must also be made aware of the need to communicate with the media and told how their organization’s press officers can guide and facilitate the process.
The official press spokesmen will also be busy pushing out good news stories to the media as well as answer the tougher questions when things are not working out as planned.
Improving the formal communication channels will also counter the rumor-mills which the world over, fill information vacuums, sometimes dangerously.
One cardinal rule of journalism is “If in Doubt, Leave it Out”. Sometimes, because of extremely poor performances by official press offices, important stories have had to be held for lack of official confirmation. Yet the public wanted to know the facts. Deprived of these, speculation set in. That is bad all round. It is in everyone’s interests to have a freer, more efficient and timely flow of official information and responses.
It is also in the interests of the public that journalists are required to correct errors. Mistakes and misunderstandings can happen all too easily in a fast-moving and frantic newsroom, with deadline pressures looming and telephones ringing off the hook. Whenever these happen, the media have a responsibility to set the record straight as soon as possible with an apology. Accuracy has to be everything.
The second significant development was the first meeting of the new 12-member board of the Saudi Journalists’ Association in Riyadh, which the Cabinet this week confirmed would be the only body able to approve journalists working in the Kingdom. The SJA board was chosen from 17 candidates by some 440 members of the association. Representing the interests of journalists and journalism in the Kingdom, the SJA is also committed to promoting the training of journalists to the highest standards and to co-operating with colleagues in other GCC member states and wider afield.
Arab News is not responsible for the view points, opinions and actions expressed by online commenters. Individual posts do not reflect Arab News' points of view or opinion, and abusive content will be removed