Think of the media as a friend, a partner in development
The admission by the Director General of Health, Leausa Dr. Take Naseri that the Ministry is looking to improve its communication lines with members of the public through the media is refreshing.
Coming at a time when the health of the nation is at the forefront of the national agenda with the coronavirus pandemic, it is not just reassuring for members of the fourth estate who have a responsibility to their audiences, it is equally if not more important, for members of the public who have a right to be informed. In many cases, we are talking about information that could save lives.
Indeed, there is clearly a need for the Health sector, in this case the Ministry of Health, to think of the media as a friend, a partner in promoting best practices and health messages for the wider public.
While the media and the Ministry of Health may appear different in the roles they play – and they are - at the end of the day, they both exist to serve the people of Samoa, and everyone else, the best way possible. And that can only be done through the exercise of mutual respect, working in partnership and to make sure that the end goal is always what is best for the people we exist to serve.
This is why we say the comments made by Leausa in a story titled “Health works on improving media communications” published on the pages of your newspaper last week are a breath of fresh air.
It is not a secret that more often than not, from the media’s perspective, getting reliable information from the Ministry of Health has been a real challenge. During the measles epidemic for example, Leausa and his colleagues had come under fire countless times for the lack of information and the absence of accurate information, with regards to questions about what was happening at the time. Which was disappointing.
Let us be reminded today that journalists and the media do not ask questions because they have a habit of wanting to annoy and harass the people being questioned. They don’t ask questions because they are on a crusade to make someone’s life miserable. They don’t just ask questions because they have nothing better to do. Let’s be frank, this is what many people say about the work of the media. They think journalists are a bunch of “nosey kids” who have nothing else to do.
These claims could not be further from the truth.
In circles of democracy, like Samoa, the media is referred to as the fourth estate. We exist as the bridge between different branches of society, in this case the Ministry of Health and our readers, to report freely, fairly and accurately as our contribution to a transparent, accountable society guided by the principles of good governance.
Journalists and all media workers are ears and eyes of members of the public. The simple truth is that it is the job of journalists and the media to ask questions.
As ears and eyes of the public, journalists often have the unenviable job of asking those tough, difficult and uncomfortable questions on behalf of their audiences who have placed their trust on the media to provide them with information they need to make informed choices.
In the media, our job is to provide a forum for public debate, which functions to inform, educate, and entertain. Another one of the most important functions of the fourth estate is its role as a watchdog of the Government and public officials. This is where it can become uncompromising and brutal. But that’s a story for another day.
For today, we want to think about partnerships. We want to think about ways where we can help share vital information and inform our readers even better than we have ever done before.
We want to think of ways where we can shape a healthier Samoa by providing accurate, relevant and timely content to achieve that purpose. In that vein, we want to encourage public servants and everyone else to think of the media and the free press as a friend, not an enemy. Think of them as a partner in development. Do friends disagree? Do partners fight? Of course they do but that’s life.
Keep in mind that the media is not just for the bad stuff, there are plenty of open pages for the wonderful positive work that is being done by all members of the community. Which is something that is highlighted every day on the pages of the Samoa Observer newspapers.
Last week, when Leausa fronted the media during a training session in Apia, the Director-General acknowledged the concerns about the rocky relationship between the media and the Ministry of Health. He also revealed their plans in terms of going forward which includes establishing a Communications Department within the Ministry.
“I think we will have press personnel to answer questions soon,” he said, “we need to get that through Government if they will allow that.”
We sincerely hope they do, the sooner the better. As for what has happened in the past, Leausa said: “My sincere apologies to the media society, no one is perfect. Sometimes people make mistakes, and if there is anything that I have done, forgive this servant.”
To err is human but to forgive is divine. And trust us when we say this, we are not perfect ourselves and we have some mistakes over the years. What’s important is that we acknowledge our errors and promise to do the best we can to ensure they are not repeated, as we look to fulfill our roles and purposes with renewed vigour and zest for life.
Have a wonderful Sunday Samoa, God bless!