Taber town council adopted a new media-relations policy last month, and The Times applauds the move for a long overdue update of the policy which was last tinkered with in the early 1990s.
From who is allowed to talk to who in certain situations, the speed in which communications with media are encouraged, and decorum are but a few issues addressed in the policy which has been showcased in this week’s print edition (Page A4).
One of interest to the Times is “all media personnel shall be treated with respect and professionalism at all times” while “media personnel shall never be disparaged by any member of council, administration, or town boards either publicly or privately.”
While The Times certainly appreciated the policy for that in the realm of mutual respect, if we are not doing our job factually, we should be disparaged and taken to task. We should not be protected from slings and arrows in the realm of accountability.
Media screws up, and when the Times is made aware of that, we are quick to print a correction on the front page with no malice in our intent. No one is perfect at the task at hand all the time, but it is whether any entity has the humility to acknowledge their missteps and improve on them to try and do better next time.
What has been muttered in town councils past in chambers is ‘don’t believe what you read in the paper’ or past mayors speaking of the role of the media being a cheerleader for town council.
The fact is, if one were to read editorials from the Times in recent years, they have not been so much as being critical of town council decisions, but rather the process in getting there in terms of transparency.
It is hard for the public to judge a decision on its merits, when none of the logic being used is being discussed in open session, in a very shades of grey reasoning to put an issue behind closed doors in the first place.
The transparency which the Times had demanded of others certainly applies to the profession of journalism as well.
But if the media is to be held accountable just as government should be, people must go past the simple catch phrases of ‘Fake News’ when something is published that one may not agree with. The Times encourages people to ask for the background information we used in crafting a story, or listen to the recorded meeting in which we have quoted someone in which you feel is a little off.
Be it government, media, business, a religious institution, a volunteer group, friendship or marriage, increased transparency and accountability makes for a healthier society as a whole.
The Times certainly appreciates town council and administration realizing the realities of public relations in the 21st century, and taking positive steps to form a bridge to media in our respective tasks.
But adopting a policy and taking concrete steps to ensure that policy is being fulfilled are two separate things.
Here is to hoping there is genuine follow through in the policy, and not just lip service.