The reason why David and Lincoln were fired.
David Hinds of the Working People’s Alliance has become a victim of his own advice. He is the latest casualty of the coalition’s inability to utilize the skills at its disposal to deal with criticisms of the government.
In a letter published in the 16th November 2017 edition of this newspaper, and entitled, “Public relations never win people over to political positions” Hinds made the observation that the coalition and its government tend to rely on public relations rather than political narratives. He noted that the coalition has within its ranks people who know the issues, understand politics and political polemics, and could contend with the PPP’s propaganda any day.
Hinds made two mistakes in his assessment. Firstly, he was being too generous to the coalition government by labelling what it practices as public relations. The weakest link in the coalition government has been its inability to counter criticisms of its work. And this inability is because what it does is simply put information out there without providing any framework for that information.
A good example is the webpage which is run by the Ministry of the Presidency. This webpage is run by a unit with that Ministry that is heavily staffed by inexperienced persons. The unit has become something of an inside joke within local media circles. All this unit does is to churn out information as to what the President or some minister within the Ministry of the Presidency is doing. It takes this information and places on its webpage for the other media houses to utilize. It runs two television programme each week which more or less states what the President did, a copycat of what was done under the PPPC. “This week with the President” is no different from the “President’s Diary”. To call that public relations is to give it a sobriquet that is misleading.
The second error made by Hinds was to limit the need for political narratives – an even much more misleading term – to countering criticisms by the PPPC. In fact, criticisms by the PPPC have been the least of the problems of the coalition. The main criticisms have been coming from the not-so-usual suspects.
The coalition has been pilloried by civil society for the signing, by the PNCR-dominated City Council, of the parking meter contract. It has faced harsh criticisms over the production sharing agreement with ExxonMobil. The PPPC has been relatively guarded in this matter. The President has himself faced stern criticisms from civil society over his handling of the race-laced outburst by one of his press staff, his irregular hosting of presidential press conferences and his unilateral appointment of a Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission.
The typical response of the President’s press unit to criticisms is to claim that the critics are malicious and reckless. But if that Ministry was to take the mole out of its eyes it would recognize its inability to respond effectively to criticisms of the government. It can hardly defend then President.
David Hinds, along with Lincoln Lewis, became the victims of the inability of the government to effectively respond to its critics. The government is besieged with criticism. It has been hopeless in dealing with the landslide of criticisms which has come its way.
The little kids which the government has in charge of its ‘public relations’ are out of their depth. They do not have the experience or knowledge to deal with the daily barrage of criticisms faced by the government. The government itself does not know how to deal with the problem and so they have turned on themselves. In panic and frustration someone has decided that the Guyana Chronicle is owned by the government and that it is incomprehensible for that paper to entertain criticisms of the government.
This is why Lincoln Lewis and David Hinds were dropped. They were dropped because the government’s inability to respond to its critics. They were dropped as part of the response to that inability – the muzzling of critics.
Yet, within the government there is an example of how effective public relations can be conducted. The Ministry of Finance produces a television feature called “Dollars and Sense”. The Ministry of Finance has one public relations officer and this one officer does a fantastic job in producing this programme which is framed to achieve the objectives of clarifying, informing and responding to criticism.
The Ministry of Finance is not interested in getting its Minister’s name and picture in the papers. It is interested in getting its message across. This is what is called effective public relations.
Contrary to what Hinds claimed, public relations does win people over. But it has to be carried out by experienced and competent persons.