Following Juncker’s example to be more media-friendly
E DII TO RII A L
It is good to see that the new EU executive, just two days in office, is leading by example when it comes to improving media relations and communicating better with the disenfranchised public of more than 450 mln Europeans.
Its President Jean-Claude Juncker has pledged to be more media-friendly with his spokespersons no longer attached to Commissioners, but responsible for policy areas, covering the work of more than one Commissioner. In all, thirteen will speak on the record, most of them former journalists, while Juncker himself is expected to be more often present in the press rooms in Brussels to meet the media not only to deliver the good news on achievements, but also when problems arise.
Obviously, this comes out of the battering that the EU establishment has had in the past few years of economic and other crises, with unemployment, youth and immigration issues on the lips and minds of almost every European citizen nowadays.
This is probably why the seminar last week on a “new era for government, media and communication” in Nicosia was well timed, but partly went off course.
The event, hosted by the government’s media machine – the Press and Information Office – and the British High Commission also highlighted the shortfalls of the Cyprus government when it comes to not only talking to the public, but also listening. With the majority in the hall absolutely clueless about the need for frank and efficient communications, it was clear that some government departments have not yet grasped the importance of conveying the right information to the consuming public, either through the traditional press or the social media platforms. One case in point was the lack of a round-the-clock press spokesman at the Foreign Ministry, while one pitiful excuse given was that announcements were posted on the ministry website, but not after 2.30pm when public servants go home.
Even the comments by the presidential commissioner for reform that juggling between news and policy was a thin line, fell just short of immaturity, especially coming from an allegedly pro-business administration that is moving at the same pace as the civil service and has yet to deliver on many promises, some 18 months in office.
First of all, why the PIO resources are not better utilised to give out information ( and not necessarily policy) is beyond reason, as in the past many officials from the department have been seconded to various government offices to handle press and public information. Perhaps some ministers prefer to enjoy the ego-trip of fifteen seconds of fame and a news clip on popular TV.
On the other hand, the advisor brought in from the UK, Alex Aiken, said it all: “The key elements of a successful government communications strategy are to promote, explain and justify actions and decisions.”
This is a civil servant, who has an opinion but does his job professionally, regardless of political ideology. In the UK, he said, his colleagues are bound by a code of conduct and enjoy the confidence of the ministers. Greater still, they are not afraid to speak their mind when they believe a senior government official (or even the PM himself) may have put his foot in it, with all the negative repercussions for an administration this may have had. After all, it’s all about project a clear and honest image. Something to learn about…