Mistakes Prince Otu, Must Not Make With The Press … BY AGBA JALINGO

In Breaking News, Opinion, Politics

As a bevy of persons queues up to lobby for the position of Chief Press Secretary CPS to the Governor-Elect of Cross River State, Prince Otu, I am inclined to make a few suggestions that I think may help in his consideration of who the cap fits.

Let me start by clearing the doubt if any, that yours sincerely is not interested in holding any position in Otu’s government. I am rather eager to see a governor that will hit the ground with workable solutions and we will lend our support.

Having said that, I will proceed with pointing out a few things I think were wrong with the way the present government has managed its information and opened its flanks to wanton bashing.

1. Governor Ayade appointed a CPS and then stifled him at the same time. Stifled him in the sense that, though he had a spokesman, he would oftentimes, rather send short WhatsApp messages to several other media aides who are supposed to be working under the CPS and pressure them to put them out without any clearance. This created a lot of disloyalty and discordant tunes in communication. It wasn’t clear where to get the real gist from the government.

Twice the governor directed that press releases should not go out without clearance from the CPS or Information Commissioner, twice the directive was disobeyed without retribution. The incoming Governor should have a CPS who must be in charge on paper and indeed. A strong and reorganized office of the CPS where the lines of authority are clearly understood and enforced. the staff must know who their boss is. The public must know a specific person to run to for authentic information on behalf of our governor.

2. Governor Ayade, throughout his tenure of eight years, had only two formal engagements with the media in Cross River State. The first was not long after his inauguration in 2015 and the second was during his second term, where he flared up and swore never to meet the media again after a journalist asked him a question he considered uncomfortable. He resigned to sending only press releases of his activities via the CPS to the press. He even drove some “unfriendly” media organizations out of the Government House and prevented them from following his program trail.

3. The problem with this method is that, after some time, the press releases become monotonous and boring. Every media outfit has its style and may not want to continue copying and pasting what someone sits somewhere, writes, and send across. So parts of these releases are prone to mutilation and interpretations to suit the styles of each media outfit. It also leaves a huge gulf for speculation. But if the press is free to do their work of following the Governor around as it is standard practice, those veils will be mitigated.

In my thinking moving forward, there has to be deepened and regular interactive engagements with the media. That’s the governor’s window to the people. The door of the governor has to remain open to questions from journalists. The questions are never the problem. It is usually the answer. The media organizations that were driven from the government house should be invited to return and take their place and report what they see. 

Government will still write press releases when the need arises but government activities should not be reduced to press releases only. Increasingly, the media should be given the freedom to see for themselves and report what they see. That relationship is healthier.

4. The incumbent Governor deliberately belittled the press in Cross River State but preferred to junket the national media and that was a huge mistake. What is obvious today is that most Cross Riverians who consume news about our State do not wait for the media from outside the State to mold their opinions about governance in the State. The alternative media in the State has grown over the years and gained significant authority and credibility and people rely more on it now to shape their opinions. So belittling this very critical constituency and even attempting to suffocate it, detracted unquantifiable goodwill from the outgoing government.

5. The incumbent Governor just packed a crowd of people who had no business in government and called them media aides. Over 100. Some were merely hired to flood social media and mob anyone that is not speaking nicely of the Governor. They have no coherent or constructive thing they can say about the government. Even with all that huge number of them, the few who are pointing out the government failures are having the upper hand.

While it is impossible and even inappropriate to stop any supporter from bantering over negative comments about a Governor, it is however appropriate to make sure that those who do that in the government’s name or with a government I.D. card are reduced to the barest minimum. If people must carry a title to do government work on social media, it shouldn’t be for bantering but for persuasive and easy-to-grab communication that can help to foster strong relations between the new Governor and the people.

Finally, I am convinced that the tenure of the next Governor will face stiffer and greater scrutiny. New technology and tools are here and are coming. More media houses will emerge. More forceful youths will appear with more energy to question the government. The next CPS has to be someone who is serene and calm-headed but deep and sharp enough to be swift and intuitive. The person should also have had a relationship with the boss so he or she can reasonably predict him even when he is unavoidably unreachable. That person should also have significant reach and contacts beyond our State.

I hope with these few points of mine, I have been able to convince and not confuse you, that an effective CPS is better than an online mob.

Yours sincerely. 

Citizen Agba Jalingo is the Publisher of CrossRiverWatch and a rights activist, a Cross Riverian, and writes from Lagos.

NB: Opinions expressed in this article are strictly attributable to the author, Agba Jalingo, and do not represent the opinion of CrossRiverWatch or any other organization the author works for/with.

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