The press is entitled to public information, anytime

At a press conference in Village Urugwiro yesterday, a journalist sought to know from President Paul Kagame the reasons behind the arrest of Rwandair Director General. The President thought the question did not have to be put to him, reasoning that the police, the Prosecutor General’s office, or Rwandair board were the more appropriate organs to approach for explanations.

At a press conference in Village Urugwiro yesterday, a journalist sought to know from President Paul Kagame the reasons behind the arrest of Rwandair Director General. The President thought the question did not have to be put to him, reasoning that the police, the Prosecutor General’s office, or Rwandair board were the more appropriate organs to approach for explanations.

All the same the President was kind enough to share with the press what he knew about the national carrier, issues that were the likely causes of the arrest. He mentioned poor maintenance of the aircraft, improper accountability of company resources and substandard business administration, singling out flouting of some well established flight customs.

The head of state became even more magnanimous to the journalist after the latter lamented the reluctance by the said officials to cooperate with the press. And this uncalled-for behaviour is the gist of the matter here.

The airline boss was arrested last Thursday and held at Kicukiro police post. But asked by our journalist on Sunday, the police spokesman feigned ignorance, which is normal, and promised to get back to the reporter after consultations. He forgot to do that, as he owned up later when he was called again.

He was still credible up to that point, until he said on being called for a third time, that he had not made any break through. But he revealingly added that it was not advisable for journalists to look for information on weekends, since most institutions’ offices are closed. The reporter was asked to be patient till the next day, Monday. The director of the police Criminal Investigation Department is the one who later saved the situation by confirming the arrest.

Because Rwandair is a big and very strategic government institution, its affairs cannot be kept away from the public, especially when violation of law has been suspected. Two, going by the definition given to it above, you expected spokespeople of law enforcement organs to be in the know the minute its CEO got apprehended.

Question: could it be true the spokesman knew nothing about the arrest, three days after it had occurred, or it was that these organs’ officials were reluctant because they thought it was not ethical to reveal the arrest before the suspect was charged in court? By the time a suspect is arrested, the CID has already carried out preliminary investigations. The findings which are what lead to arrests should be freely shared with the press to avoid rumours. Speculation on what could be the reasons behind arrests does not in this case help the employer, the police or prosecution.

Neither does it do any good to the image of the suspect, even if they may later turn out to be innocent. Speculation can really hurt because many times distortions are at outrageous levels. Good public relations require that you tell your story. Not telling a story at all about something which is in the public domain already smacks of conspiracy of silence.

Ends

 

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