When officials are not available for comment, it’s a lose-lose

Mahmoud Al Abed (Photo: JNews)
Too much damage has been done to Jordan’s image and standing because of perceived restrictions on the freedom of the press and access to information.اضافة اعلان

According to one report, “rights groups have noted the steady erosion of press and political freedom in Jordan in recent years, a process which has picked up speed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

We can question these reports and prove that they are not totally, or not at all, credible, but we, as professional local mainstream journalists, do have an accessibility problem. It is so hard to get government officials to speak on the record, or even off the record. Many of them simply do not respond to phone calls, text messages, WhatsApp queries, or emails!

When Jordan News detailed its editorial policy, the editorial board agreed on two specific constants: no compromise on balanced coverage and staying away as far as we can from using the line “officials at so-and-so government agency were not available for comment”. Three weeks after going live, we can now see how difficult it is to balance a news story when the concerned officials are not even interested in doing their job of defending the image and reputation of their agencies.

Some officials in charge of PR at ministries, and government bodies in general, believe that adding a reporter to a WhatsApp group to receive press releases is more than enough to prove that they are cooperating.

Well, no. Reporters can and should wait for the required data to be prepared when they are writing an in-depth story or an investigative report or feature, but not till eternity, and not when the information is urgent.

How ironic it is when a reporter seeks “wasta” to have access to a public relations officer at a government office! What is more ironic is that when there is something positive a news outlet seeks to publish about a certain department, and it is denied information or interviews on the topic. This is not a hypothetical scenario; it has actually happened. Speaking of irony, Jordan News has easily accessed overseas government departments, including, for example, the Norwegian immigration agency, while it has struggled to get a comment from a health ministry official in Amman.

In the meantime, authorities seem to be totally consumed responding to issues trending on social media. That is a good thing when the issue has some value. However, how about responding to a question by a professional reporter concerning public health?

On a positive note, we are optimistic that the administrative reform drive the country is embracing will take into consideration transparency as a reform goal. The process of managing media should be revisited, staff rehabilitated and mechanisms of work revised as part of the drive.

The process should ensure that the media affairs minister is secured with the resources required to design a mechanism of work that is a win-win situation for all: the public, the government, and media professionals.

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