Minister with responsibility for Information, Senator the Hon. Sandrea Falconer, says the policy of the government, since assuming office on January 5, is to ensure that its communication is open, timely, clear, effectively managed and responsive to the needs of the people.
In order to promote a government that is visible, accessible and accountable to the public, communicators from all Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) are now brought together for monthly meetings with Minister Falconer, to map ways to improve government communication and to promote the policy of transparency, accountability and increased access.
The website of the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) is now under re-construction in order to make the improved facility interactive, user friendly and informative.
In addition, Post Cabinet press briefings have been expanded to include discussions on current issues, briefings by Ministers and public officials.
Review of Access to Information
The Access to Information (ATI) Act has been reviewed and recommendations made to reduce the number of “exempt categories,” in order to allow members of the public more access to Government information. A review of the Act is scheduled for every 2 years and the process is now underway.
“The (Bill) to amend the Access to Information Act has been completed and review of a Cabinet submission is to be undertaken soon, so that the amendments recommended can be effected,” she informed.
In addition, the Minister has sought to give momentum to the development of a code of practice, which would guide public authorities as to how they should discharge their duties in compliance with the Act governing the accessibility of public information.
The ATI Act legitimises the public’s right to access official documents created and maintained by all government authorities and has been described by the responsible Ministry as “one of the boldest initiatives adopted by the Jamaican Government to make government more transparent, publicly accountable and accessible to its populace, and has created an environment to encourage and foster public participation."
But Minister Falconer, herself a media practitioner, is taking the measure much further by “promoting and facilitating increased access to state information."
Free flow of information
In one of her earliest pronouncements, the Minister said the Government is committed to “a more open, accountable and responsive system of governance” and that “the Access to Information Act is a key part of our efforts as a nation to improve transparency, accountability and increased public participation in the process of national decision-making."
“The Government believes in the free flow of information, which is essential to a democratic society and is not afraid to entrust the people with the information they need to foster public debate and the free exchange of ideas, information and opinion,” she declared.
With respect to the role of the media, the Minister opined that the media, in playing its role in the process of transparency and openness, must strive for fairness and balance, while communicating information in a clear and simple manner.
And, during her introductory visit to the Jamaica Information Service (JIS), for which she has direct portfolio responsibility, the Minister commended the staff, particularly the reporters, radio and television producers and other media professionals for their contribution to public education in an impartial manner.
She has since given an undertaking to adequately resource the JIS Regional Office in Montego-Bay, in order to satisfy the communication needs of Western Jamaica.
Digital switchover in 2025
With respect to the Broadcasting Commission (BCJ), another key agency of the Ministry, the Minister has committed to give momentum to efforts to begin a comprehensive study in May on the requirements for ensuring a successful switchover to digital in 2015. The study and consultations going forward will include media managers, journalists and representatives of allied media services.
Digital switchover is the term used for the replacement of the traditional analogue television (TV) broadcasting system with digital format and Jamaicans will eventually have to upgrade their television sets and recording equipment to receive digital content.
Executive Director of the BCJ, Cordel Green, who announced the impending switch-over at a recent technical seminar in Kingston, said the study, which should be completed later this year, will identify, among other things, cost points, and opportunities for funding and support.
This emerging reality is not lost on the Minister. Addressing librarians recently, she assured the fraternity that, “the Government of Jamaica is aware of the indispensible role that your association and your members play in the life of our country. Records and information are the lifeblood of any society. They are the basis on which decisions are made, services provided and policies developed and communicated."
Provision of complete and reliable information
Stressing the point that good records and information management are of benefit to everyone, she emphasised that those requesting information must be assured that the “information provided will be complete and reliable."
The Minister observed that effective records and information management systems allow businesses to “reduce their operating costs and retrieve records faster."
She said in keeping with Jamaica's 2030 vision and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the government commits to “the use of digital technologies and networks as effective tools to allow for public access to information."
Creative Production and Training Centre
With respect to the Creative Production and Training Centre (CPTC), the facility will be rebranded and restructured in order to realise its full potential. Noteworthy is the agency’s contribution to Jamaica’s 50th anniversary celebrations.
In this regard, the CPTC has developed a series of new local cultural programmes, in support of its mandate “to record, promote and archive diverse expressions of Jamaica’s culture, with a view to nurturing a sense of national pride and identity."
In addition, the CPTC has developed a special ‘Cultural Medal of Honour’, to acknowledge the tremendous contribution of Jamaican cultural icons.