As the Barbados Government Information Service (BGIS) gears up to celebrate its 55th anniversary, its Acting Chief Information Officer, Sharon Lynch, says the services of this public relations organisation are needed now more than ever in this technology-driven world.
Ms. Lynch expressed the view that there was an increasing demand for information from the public in this information age. ???Barbadians understand that they have a right to know and to know the truth, and I think our society is sophisticated enough to understand when the truth is being told and when something is being hidden from them. In addition, information is so readily available and accessible from all parts of the world that people know and expect they are going to get information from government in a similar way.???
Therefore, she underscored the need for an agency like the BGIS to coordinate this information and ensure its accuracy. She described the sharing of information with members of the public as arming them with power to know what to do and how to act.
And, the Acting Chief said the organisation is on a mission to reach more people as it disseminates Government???s information, and disclosed that in the New Year the BGIS would be employing social media to do so.
???We are fortunate to have some young officers who are very much into technology and they are anxious to use it. They have put forward a proposal for us to be on Facebook and we are fine-tuning it. We know that by being on Facebook we will be able to communicate with the world, but also connect with and attract the attention of younger persons in our society because that is the way they communicate, not just via traditional media,??? she pointed out.
She added that technology had been advancing rapidly within the last 20 years and the BGIS had not been utilising it as it should, but gave the assurance that this situation would change. She noted, for example, that its Web Section had been in existence for five years and its work had grown tremendously during that period. She is of the view that this area has to be on the radar of the organisation since more people could be reached via this medium.
???We certainly need to pay a lot more attention to the web because it has global reach and people all over the world are able to access Government???s information. So, we need to use that to our advantage. People are able to find out what is happening whether or not a government wants them to find out, so it is better to get your information and education out there first because if you don???t put the right thing out there, people are going to assume things and get the wrong information. It is better to put the right thing out the first time, especially since information is so readily accessible,??? she remarked.
The Barbados Government Information Service was established in 1958 to educate citizens about the activities of Government, especially since many of them were asking legitimate questions about its policies, programmes, taxation and expenditure. At that time, the organisation had a staff complement of one, but by 1963 it was upgraded to a full-fledged department, and the Government Film Unit, which had been operated by the Visual Aids Section of the Ministry of Education from 1944, was transferred to BGIS. This meant that the Department assumed the responsibility for the production of Government films, which were shown primarily by the Mobile Cinema, at community centres and at overseas missions.
Over the past 55 years, the BGIS has accumulated an enviable collection, which includes film, photographs, and print material. It has also become the major repository for the audio visual history of Barbados.
The BGIS now has radio, television and press sections. In addition to functioning as Government’s public relations advisor and publicising information in a timely fashion, the organisation plays a major role in educating members of the public about various issues, so that they can make informed decisions and ultimately live better lives.
Public relations is a specialist field that is very critical because it can ‘make or break’ a project. However, Ms. Lynch lamented that sometimes other departments only remembered it at the end of their planning.
???Public relations should be included when you are making your plans for any new project; it needs to be at the forefront and we should be a part of the planning so we are able to better advise the??Ministries.
???We need to work closely with the technocrats, the professionals and the administrative arms of the Ministries and the agencies. If these persons take us into their confidence and remember that we are public servants, just??like them, subject to the same Secrets Act, then Ministries and the public will be better served,??? she stated.
The Acting Chief bemoaned the fact that sometimes it was difficult to get information from some Government Ministries because they saw the department as media. She said there was a need to help those Ministries to better understand the role of the BGIS because the beneficiaries of that knowledge would be members of the public.??
She stressed, however, that there were some Ministries that fully understood the functions of the department and the importance of public relations and readily took advantage of the opportunity to disseminate their message.??
It is clear that in this era of participatory democracy, there will always be a place for the Barbados Government Information Service. However, the organisation must continue to change and adapt its way of disseminating Government information to keep its publics informed and in so doing ensure that every citizen is kept abreast of various policies and programmes.