Opinion: Measuring success (of the St. Maarten Gov. press secretariat)

POSTED: 02/24/15 9:55 PM

The doomed press secretariat will continue its spin-factory existence under a new leader after the departure of Mike Granger per the end of next month. Alston Lourens will take over per the first of April – no joke. We have nothing against Granger or against Lourens – but we do have issues with the press secretariat that Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs installed after taking office on December 19 of last year.

In a press release, Granger said that he was “proud of the fact that out op 39 inquiries from various media source since the government was sworn in, we have been able to respond to 36 in a timely manner.”

Let’s take a look at that number of 39 media inquiries and see how this holds up against the system under the previous three governments when the Prime Minister was available every week for a press briefing.

Usually, at least three media reps (not all journalists, but that is another story) were present and they had the opportunity to pose any question to the PM or to other cabinet members present. This little question hour went in two rounds and in each round each journalist was allowed to ask three questions.

With three media reps present – good for six questions each – this amounted to 18 questions per week.

The Gumbs cabinet has been in office for nine weeks since December 19. Had the PM continued the tradition of the weekly press briefings, media representatives would by now have had the opportunity to pose at least (9 x 18) 162 questions.

In general, the answers to these questions were forthcoming immediately.

The spin-doctors at the press secretariat dealt with 39 questions in 9 weeks – not even one question per day if you consider that the news business goes on seven days a week – and 123 fewer questions than journalists would have asked at the weekly press briefings. Three of these questions were never answered. But still, according to Granger, this is the measure of the press secretariat’s success.

In other words, the government – through the press secretariat – answered 126 fewer questions, an astonishing decline of 77.8 percent.

The Gumbs cabinet has presented itself as a team that stands for transparency and openness, but in this case the figures really don’t lie. The cabinet has distanced itself from the media – and thereby from all citizens who are interested to know not only what the government is doing, but also why it is doing what it is doing.

Adding insult to injury, the press secretariat claims to be proud of the questions it handled. Apparently, this is the way the current cabinet wishes to communicate with the media – through carefully orchestrated press statements that without any doubt have been vetted by the ministers involved before they are sent to the media rep who asked for the information.

The Today Newspaper gave up on the press secretariat already in January, after an honest attempt to see if it would work. However, after the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris in early January the press secretariat and its principals failed miserably. We asked why on earth the Dutch and St. Maarten flag were flying full mast at the border, while the flag of our mourning French neighbors was half-mast. This came across as painful and insensitive, but for all we know the press secretariat could have cooked up an explanation. Instead, we were stonewalled, the same way we were stonewalled when we asked for a public statement of PM Gumbs on the terrorist attack. All we got was silence, not even an explanation why no answers to our questions were forthcoming.

It is time for the cabinet to reconsider its communication strategy with the media, because the current setup is a dramatic failure. We are not calling for a return of the weekly press briefings, but a bi-weekly question hour for invited media reps would already be a huge improvement.

We do not need lengthy press statements that read like official announcements from the government and we do not intend to publish such products from the press secretariat. If the cabinet wants to publish information in that format, it ought to contact our advertising department.

In the meantime, Today will report about whatever happens in the political arena through its own information channels and not through the spin-doctors at the press secretariat.

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