So what if the truth is inconvenient?
The Times, April 1, 2008
By Heather Brooke
A senior police worker is facing a disciplinary hearing for “damaging the reputation” of West Yorkshire police. Philip Balmforth is in trouble for granting an interview to The Times last month on Asian girls going missing from Bradford schools. Bradford City Council complained to the force claiming his high-profile work was damaging the city’s image and was “bad for regeneration”.
Now, I thought the police’s role was supposed to be about solving crime, not engaging in “reputation management”. Obviously I’m behind the times: clearly PR has taken over our public institutions.
Public sector bodies should not be in the business of reputation management. The reputation of a private company has value because it is by reputation that customers choose to buy goods and services. But most public institutions are monopolies; we have no choice but to buy, if not use, their services. In the absence of competition it is only through public scrutiny – and whistleblowing – that some level of accountability is gained. To try to restrict this is wrong.
Yet many public institutions forbid staff from speaking to the public or press without clearance from the all-powerful press offices – and permission doesn’t come easy unless you’re peddling a saccharine story. The fine line between co-ordinating communication to provide the public with clear information and propaganda used to push an agenda has been crossed by many bodies.
Mr Balmforth is a national expert on forced marriage. Why should he have to clear everything he says with a press officer? He was giving facts about crimes and should not be used as a pawn to sell a particular political policy. Bradford council’s wish to airbrush out ugly realities comes at the direct cost of the happiness, even the lives, of young girls.
We think it absurd that Thailand has a law against insulting the King. We are shocked by Turkey’s prosecution of Orhan Pamuk, the award-winning novelist, under Article 301 of the penal code for the offence of “denigrating Turkey’s national identity”. We might laugh at Brunei’s constitution which declares: “His Majesty the Sultan can do no wrong in either his personal or any official capacity” and further admonishes that “No person shall publish or reproduce in Brunei or elsewhere any part of proceedings. that may have the effect of lowering or adversely affecting directly or indirectly the position, dignity, standing, honour, eminence or sovereignty of His Majesty the Sultan”.
Now just replace “His Majesty the Sultan” with Bradford council or West Yorkshire Police and you get an idea of the thinking in some of our public institutions.
Tags: The Times