Providing information

Stabroek News
August 16, 2001

One of the important functions of the media is to provide useful information about things that need to be fixed or corrected. This can lead to action being taken, especially if the information is provided vividly and succinctly. Two recent examples come to mind. In the first, a feature was published in Sunday Stabroek on the abattoir. One public spirited citizen was so appalled about what he read, namely that the animals are beaten to death with a pipe, that he indicated that he will make every effort to acquire the gun used in modern abattoirs, which ends the life of the animal to be slaughtered immediately. It is the sort of situation in which the Guyana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals could also provide some support. In the second, a photograph showing a gaping hole in the public road at Leonora which was clearly a serious traffic hazard led to it being filled in shortly after. We also frequently get letters from readers about problems relating to roads, drains, water supply or rubbish disposal in their areas and to the credit of the authorities this has often led to remedial action being taken.

In more complex matters such as economic policy, the media can also play a useful role by providing accurate information that illuminates the situation. The problem with much public debate is that it is ill informed. The politicians and the people don't have all the relevant facts at their disposal. This leads to erroneous criticisms and decisions and often there is a lot of heat and little light.

Getting information can be difficult. Records are sometimes not properly kept or are not up to date. This clearly affects the quality of policy making. No one, for example, knows the population of Guyana today. A census is long overdue. No one knows how serious the unemployment problem is, how severe the housing problem is and so on. The society has not been geared to providing useful information efficiently and in a timely manner. The Bureau of Statistics is doing what it can but needs to be strengthened and expanded.

Where there is no information or insufficient information one has to substitute conjecture, anecdotal evidence and even rumour. That leads to bad decisions being made and to ineffective or misguided policies. The better informed a society is the more likely it is to make progress and the less likely to make foolish mistakes.

It is instinctive to see the kind of economic information routinely and regularly put out in developed countries like America on a wide variety of topics ranging from the rate of inflation to the cost of living, housing starts, imports and exports and so on. A reconstructed Guyana Information Service should conceive this as one of its highest priorities, in co-operation with the relevant government agencies like the Bank of Guyana and the Bureau of Statistics. Moreover, as we have suggested on several occasions, the Governor of the Bank of Guyana should meet businessmen at least once a quarter, perhaps at a lunch or dinner, to report on the state of the economy. The more reliable information there is the more informed public criticism and discussion will be and the less scope there will be for rumours and misinformation.