We are not willing to sacrifice accuracy for immediacy
Stabroek News
May 4, 2002

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Dear Editor,

Once again, we must thank the writer for his letter captioned "The Public Relations Unit has to be much more on the ball than it is now" (30/4/2002). On this, there could be no dissenting voice, and current circumstances suggest that this is the only way we can improve our relationship with the general public.

However, the writer continues to make the error of citing one case to make certain hasty generalisations. We are left to wonder what is his real motivation.

For example, the writer stated that "Instead of addressing the real concerns which journalists across the media spectrum face in their relation with the GPF's Public Relations Unit..." Is the writer speaking for journalists across the media spectrum? He did not go to the trouble to tell us but gave the impression that all journalists experience the same thing with the Unit, this could not be true. We have been releasing information to many in the media. One isolated case, which could have been avoided had the writer/caller provided a contact number, seems to be the instrument by which he now measures the performance of the Unit. This is the reason why we agree with John Mair in his letter "Letters no substitute for PR work" (29/4/2002). But it is communications like this on the one hand, which stipulates that the PR Unit articulates appropriate responses to keep unsuspecting citizens from being misled and help them understand all the facts involved in our effort to fulfill our mandate. We could not allow such public statements letters, reports, talk show programmes to go unanswered. Otherwise we would be contributing to the general problem which affects our work.

Clearly, Bertwald Bradshaw's letter "The Duties of a Public Relations Officer" (30.4.2002) provides a clear understanding of the work of Public Relations. This is essentially why Public Relations Operatives could not always be available to talk with representatives of the media every time they choose to call. There are a number of other stakeholders, who must be satisfied.

Again, he attempted to suggest that because his call could not be dealt with by me the Public Relations Unit does not have a system. This could not be right. Further, the writer did not ask to speak to any other Officer on the day in question, he insisted on his request to talk with me. It was at that point that the Officer concerned asked for a contact number, which the caller refused to give. What is the source of complaint? We respect and regard every journalist and media operative and hope that they would reciprocate those crucial values. If the officer asked for a contact number the caller should have provided her with one, and taken issue if the call was not returned.

On the question of immediacy it is clear that, even with the most advanced technology, security agencies around the world, could not always be as immediate as everyone would like them to be. And yes, "it is the lack of immediacy that lends itself to speculation by some media personalities...". This is the price we must pay for our high respect for journalists to ensure that they are given accurate information.

As was indicated in an earlier letter, reporters and journalists take the liberty to speculate and make assumptions, sometimes beyond our imagination. But the Unit must verify all information processed for public consumption. Invariably, readers and viewers would not ask journalists to provide proof or empirical evidence to substantiate many of their stories, and some media personalities get away with saying whatever comes to their heads, rather mouths, as a result of this lack of scrutiny by the public. Very few reporters go to the trouble to apply hard facts to support their reports. In some cases, where reporters realise that an error was made, they neglect to apologise or even offer a retraction. However, the Police are morally, legally and otherwise obligated to provide accurate information to the public. We do not have the same latitude to say anything without providing the evidence.

Naturally, this would take time. But we would rather be sure than to rush to the press with a certain story. We are not willing to take that chance, even if it means a small delay in our reporting to the press. In other words, we are not willing to sacrifice accuracy for anyone's notion of immediacy. For example, on Monday evening, one Television news reporter rushed to report an accident which occurred in Berbice, and state that five (5) persons died. It turned out that two persons died and others were injured. This is the result of rushing to say what has not been properly checked. The report was not corrected. Even so, we have been trying our best in very harsh circumstances and continue to ask for the understanding and cooperation of the public. Even in cases where information was relatively immediate, some reported carry on the usual wild speculation.

The time line stated by the writer on information released on Sergeant Kooseram is inaccurate. In fact, the Unit released that information long before 9 a.m. of the said day. This could be verified by the media houses which received it before that time.

Notwithstanding my explanation on the reason for the distribution of video copies of a press statement, the writer continues to remain unconvinced about the motivation even in the face of commendations, to the Commissioner for the release, by some of the very colleagues he purports to represent.

Finally, there are standard protocols for the Commissioner of Police to interface with the media. But a number of other factors must as well be taken into account. Like time, regards for intelligence and the circumstances surrounding specific issues. Surely, everyone would wish the Commissioner to address every issue involving the Police, at as many Press Conferences and interviews as each journalist or reporter thinks necessary, unfortunately this is not practicable.

Yours faithfully

Royston King

Public Relations Consultant

Guyana Police Force.

Editor's note:

This newspaper's experience with the police's public relations unit has been a very frustrating one and there have only been minor changes since the hiring of Mr King as a consultant. On any given day it is difficult to get in touch with a spokesman in the public relations unit who is authorised to speak. Moreover, the spokesman is usually not in a position to provide information on the specific enquiry and asks to be contacted again. Frequently the spokesperson is not there when called again for the information. The situation is worse on the weekends. It is difficult to find officers in the unit and when contacted they have nothing to report even though major crimes have been committed.

If the police force is serious about public relations it must deploy an officer or officers trained in public relations who is fully aware of all of the day's major happenings and can brief the media throughout the day.

Another major problem is the complete unwillingness of regional police stations to provide basic information on crimes in their jurisdictions. Reporters are always referred back to Eve Leary which inevitably is unable to help. While there must be a chain of command in the dissemination of information, the police force should allow regional stations to release basic details.