EDITOR'S CHAIR: If you are a public servant, your first duty is to the public

South Wales Argus: Blaenau Gwent AM and minister Alun Davies Blaenau Gwent AM and minister Alun Davies

THERE is a golden rule to which all public servants should be bound.

It is this - if you are a public servant, your first duty is to the public.

Yet time and again we see party and politics put before elected representatives' duty to the public.

Let me give you two examples on our doorstep.

In doing so, I am not attempting to single out individuals because there are numerous examples of this behaviour across public life.

But the cases of Gwent AMs Nick Ramsay and Alun Davies are both local and recent so they serve my purpose well.

Regular readers will know that Mr Ramsay and Mr Davies, who represent the people of Monmouth and Blaenau Gwent respectively, have both been in hot water in recent weeks.

Mr Ramsay was the subject of a complaint from a member of the public that he appeared drunk during a debate in the Senedd.

Mr Davies was found guilty of breaking the ministerial code by lobbying Natural Resources Wales, a body he is responsible for as natural resources minister, in favour of the proposed Circuit of Wales racetrack in his constituencies.

In both cases, no further action was taken by the National Assembly or the Welsh Government.

Readers will have their own views on those decisions.

What concerns me, irrespective of whether action should or should not have been taken, is the apparent refusal of either AM to open themselves up to public scrutiny.

And by that, I mean they refused to give media interviews.

This is not meant as a media whinge.

I have a firm belief that we in the media have a crucial role to play in questioning politicians, in particular, on behalf of the electorate.

The Argus, and other similar organisations across Wales, is now far more than a newspaper.

Publishing a print product six days a week is just one of the things we do.

The combination of our newspaper, our website, and our mobile and social media feeds, produces an audience considerably larger than it was a decade ago.

Our basic job remains the same - we find out stuff, we write it down and we publish it. We just do it in a variety of ways and on a variety of platforms.

The point I make is the media - in all its modern forms - is still the best way for public servants to make themselves accountable to the public.

Yet instead we get prepared statements issued by press offices, or read out in debating chambers.

Both Mr Ramsay and Mr Davies refused to speak to the media about the issues affecting them.

To be fair to Mr Davies, he relented last night and will speak to us today - but only after some pressure from us.

These were not private or personal issues. They related to the jobs they do on your behalf.

As I say, I use Mr Ramsay and Mr Davies as examples.

Public servants do not seem happy to risk losing control over how, when and by what means they communicate with the people they are meant to represent.

This refusal to engage with the public via the media is now endemic throughout public life.

And yet Gwent's AMs and MPs are happy to take up offers of columns to be published in the Argus and other similar outlets.

It is a one-way track and it is not good enough.

So I'll make this promise to our readers. The next time a local politician or public servant refuses a perfectly reasonable request to talk to us - and therefore you - about a matter of public interest we'll let you know.

And if they write a regular column for us, we will suspend its publication for a set period of time.

Comments (12)

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10:23am Thu 3 Jul 14

KarloMarko says...

Good stuff! BBC Wales seems to be in the pocket of the Assembly, in fear of disturbing its self serving consensus, and the Western Mail is just Martin Shipton, warts and all. It's getting worse as the elected become ever distant and, without accountability, at some point a major scandal will build and rip the Assembly wide open. As to AM/MPs half hearted "think pieces", these seem to be cobbled or spliced together by someone on work experience on a slack afternoon. Would they be really be missed?
Good stuff! BBC Wales seems to be in the pocket of the Assembly, in fear of disturbing its self serving consensus, and the Western Mail is just Martin Shipton, warts and all. It's getting worse as the elected become ever distant and, without accountability, at some point a major scandal will build and rip the Assembly wide open. As to AM/MPs half hearted "think pieces", these seem to be cobbled or spliced together by someone on work experience on a slack afternoon. Would they be really be missed? KarloMarko
  • Score: 1

11:37am Thu 3 Jul 14

landyman3030 says...

As has been proven over the last few years with the expenses scandal, transparency of the political system to the public is the only way to keep them honest. Nobody needs to know things that may be deemed security issues but details of personal involvements, hidden agendas and conflict of interest need to be published.
The majority have been found lacking in morals and scruples it seems when it comes to the financial rewards offered to politicians. It may be the system but if the system is wrong, we need to know that to.
So SWA, i applaud you're stance on the WAG and it's members. If you find that there has been a reason to doubt an AM integrity, we need to know about it in a factual way. Transparency is the key.
As has been proven over the last few years with the expenses scandal, transparency of the political system to the public is the only way to keep them honest. Nobody needs to know things that may be deemed security issues but details of personal involvements, hidden agendas and conflict of interest need to be published. The majority have been found lacking in morals and scruples it seems when it comes to the financial rewards offered to politicians. It may be the system but if the system is wrong, we need to know that to. So SWA, i applaud you're stance on the WAG and it's members. If you find that there has been a reason to doubt an AM integrity, we need to know about it in a factual way. Transparency is the key. landyman3030
  • Score: 10

12:07pm Thu 3 Jul 14

Aquarius says...

I can't think of many AMs, MPs *or* local councillors who these days regard their first duty as being to the public. They seem to be serving themselves, their party and various vested interests instead. In fact, I get the impression they think that what e think doesn't actually matter at all (except when it comes to getting elected, naturally...!)

So yes - this editorial hits the nail on the head. And if they can't live up to that, then they should be got rid of. And that includes those further up the chain who seek to protect these same people.

So that means you too, Carwyn Jones. Keep acting like you and your mates are acting in various matters, and face an uphill struggle at the next WG elections. Remember that large areas of Wales never voted for you, and the ones that did are slowly having their eyes opened....
I can't think of many AMs, MPs *or* local councillors who these days regard their first duty as being to the public. They seem to be serving themselves, their party and various vested interests instead. In fact, I get the impression they think that what e think doesn't actually matter at all (except when it comes to getting elected, naturally...!) So yes - this editorial hits the nail on the head. And if they can't live up to that, then they should be got rid of. And that includes those further up the chain who seek to protect these same people. So that means you too, Carwyn Jones. Keep acting like you and your mates are acting in various matters, and face an uphill struggle at the next WG elections. Remember that large areas of Wales never voted for you, and the ones that did are slowly having their eyes opened.... Aquarius
  • Score: 14

1:09pm Thu 3 Jul 14

Mr Angry says...

I agree with the editorial 100%. However what is the point of asking any Politican any Party a question ? They never give a straight or truthful answer anyway ......
I agree with the editorial 100%. However what is the point of asking any Politican any Party a question ? They never give a straight or truthful answer anyway ...... Mr Angry
  • Score: 7

1:12pm Thu 3 Jul 14

-trigg- says...

In the case of Mr Ramsey, it was found that there was no case to answer.

One member of the public complained that he appeared to be drunk during a debate. It was found that he wasn't drunk and that others who were present didn't believe that he appeared to be.

As such, it would be churlish to demand that he answer questions from the newspaper regarding an incident that didn't happen.
In the case of Mr Ramsey, it was found that there was no case to answer. One member of the public complained that he appeared to be drunk during a debate. It was found that he wasn't drunk and that others who were present didn't believe that he appeared to be. As such, it would be churlish to demand that he answer questions from the newspaper regarding an incident that didn't happen. -trigg-
  • Score: 6

1:40pm Thu 3 Jul 14

Kevin Ward - Editor says...

trigg
You miss the point. I explain above that no action was taken.
My point is that politicians should front up when such allegations are made.
There is no reason why Mr Ramsay could not have answered questions about the alleged incident - presumably to deny the allegation.
trigg You miss the point. I explain above that no action was taken. My point is that politicians should front up when such allegations are made. There is no reason why Mr Ramsay could not have answered questions about the alleged incident - presumably to deny the allegation. Kevin Ward - Editor
  • Score: 0

2:59pm Thu 3 Jul 14

Aquarius says...

-trigg- wrote:
In the case of Mr Ramsey, it was found that there was no case to answer.

One member of the public complained that he appeared to be drunk during a debate. It was found that he wasn't drunk and that others who were present didn't believe that he appeared to be.

As such, it would be churlish to demand that he answer questions from the newspaper regarding an incident that didn't happen.
Regarding Mr Ramsey, who says the incident didn't happen? He was running his words together and sounded slurred. If you have heard him talking normally, you'd have known the difference.

The question is why? And there could be several answers apart from the one that many people will have come up with. He could have been tired, he could have been taking medication, etc etc. Clearly they believed whatever it was that he told them, and there is no reason why they shouldn't in the absence of any other hard facts to the contrary.

People will - rightly or wrongly - make up their own mind as to the cause.
[quote][p][bold]-trigg-[/bold] wrote: In the case of Mr Ramsey, it was found that there was no case to answer. One member of the public complained that he appeared to be drunk during a debate. It was found that he wasn't drunk and that others who were present didn't believe that he appeared to be. As such, it would be churlish to demand that he answer questions from the newspaper regarding an incident that didn't happen.[/p][/quote]Regarding Mr Ramsey, who says the incident didn't happen? He was running his words together and sounded slurred. If you have heard him talking normally, you'd have known the difference. The question is why? And there could be several answers apart from the one that many people will have come up with. He could have been tired, he could have been taking medication, etc etc. Clearly they believed whatever it was that he told them, and there is no reason why they shouldn't in the absence of any other hard facts to the contrary. People will - rightly or wrongly - make up their own mind as to the cause. Aquarius
  • Score: 1

6:52pm Thu 3 Jul 14

scraptheWAG says...

since when did carwyn jones worry about serving the people of wales the only thing he wants to do is cut front line services so he can expand his not so little empire
since when did carwyn jones worry about serving the people of wales the only thing he wants to do is cut front line services so he can expand his not so little empire scraptheWAG
  • Score: 1

7:50pm Thu 3 Jul 14

Katie Re-Registered says...

"I have a firm belief that we in the media have a crucial role to play in questioning politicians, in particular, on behalf of the electorate."

I wholeheartedly agree with you here, Kevin: after all who broke Watergate, for instance? I'd go even further and say that the local and national media should also be servants of the public and have a duty to work in the service of the public and should be accountable to the masses.

The problem begins when newspapers and the media in general try to second guess what the needs of the public are or, worse still, attempt to brainwash the public into thinking their needs are those congruent with the handful of uber-powerful media barons who own the news.

To this end, much of the mainstream media in Britain has created a climate of fear around certain groups of people and deliberately spread misinformation and sadly, post-Leveson, continues to do so. Often it's not so much what the media reports but what it does not report as much is edited out to present a distorted worldview to the masses.

However, the state and status of the media - especially newspapers is now changing rapidly and this is largely down to one thing: the growth of the internet. This has led to the democratisation of publishing and even though the net lends ability to a minority of crazed hateful extremists who can give their views more credence than they deserve (as do mainstream newspapers that market hate), we, the public have become generally much more well-informed than we were previously.

Cissexist journalists, for example, can no longer publish the stream of lies about transgender people that they got away with in the early '90s without such transphobic propaganda being challenged (*see the counter-challenge to Julie Burchill's rant in The Observer that took place a couple of years back, for instance!)

I agree with the basic argument of this editorial that the essence of journalism should be pivotal to the championing of free speech. However, I also believe that anyone and everyone can be a journalist - not only someone who writes and works for an established newspaper. Indeed, you mention here that the Argus actually makes great use of the general public and the information that feeds through social media. Often, as a news item is breaking I notice that the Argus puts out a request for any information that any readers might have - which I think is a very good and worthwhile thing.

I think that you've got the right, general idea Kevin and you and your newspaper is moving with the times, taking on board changes that many in the newspaper industry see challenging and attempting to turn them into positives.

However, I also feel that when a person or group of people take it upon themselves to *act on behalf* of the majority of people it is wise to exercise caution. This, after all, is often the typical defence of military dictatorships that seize power from failing (and often admittedly corrupt governments) who then claim that they have only taken the initiative to act to protect the general public.

*In short: there is no substitute for the electorate themselves questioning politicians and for a democracy to be genuine and authentic it is the majority of people primarily to whom our public servants should be accountable to and not solely a select professional body of society - such as the media, the military or religious leaders.
"I have a firm belief that we in the media have a crucial role to play in questioning politicians, in particular, on behalf of the electorate." I wholeheartedly agree with you here, Kevin: after all who broke Watergate, for instance? I'd go even further and say that the local and national media should also be servants of the public and have a duty to work in the service of the public and should be accountable to the masses. The problem begins when newspapers and the media in general try to second guess what the needs of the public are or, worse still, attempt to brainwash the public into thinking their needs are those congruent with the handful of uber-powerful media barons who own the news. To this end, much of the mainstream media in Britain has created a climate of fear around certain groups of people and deliberately spread misinformation and sadly, post-Leveson, continues to do so. Often it's not so much what the media reports but what it does not report as much is edited out to present a distorted worldview to the masses. However, the state and status of the media - especially newspapers is now changing rapidly and this is largely down to one thing: the growth of the internet. This has led to the democratisation of publishing and even though the net lends ability to a minority of crazed hateful extremists who can give their views more credence than they deserve (as do mainstream newspapers that market hate), we, the public have become generally much more well-informed than we were previously. Cissexist journalists, for example, can no longer publish the stream of lies about transgender people that they got away with in the early '90s without such transphobic propaganda being challenged (*see the counter-challenge to Julie Burchill's rant in The Observer that took place a couple of years back, for instance!) I agree with the basic argument of this editorial that the essence of journalism should be pivotal to the championing of free speech. However, I also believe that anyone and everyone can be a journalist - not only someone who writes and works for an established newspaper. Indeed, you mention here that the Argus actually makes great use of the general public and the information that feeds through social media. Often, as a news item is breaking I notice that the Argus puts out a request for any information that any readers might have - which I think is a very good and worthwhile thing. I think that you've got the right, general idea Kevin and you and your newspaper is moving with the times, taking on board changes that many in the newspaper industry see challenging and attempting to turn them into positives. However, I also feel that when a person or group of people take it upon themselves to *act on behalf* of the majority of people it is wise to exercise caution. This, after all, is often the typical defence of military dictatorships that seize power from failing (and often admittedly corrupt governments) who then claim that they have only taken the initiative to act to protect the general public. *In short: there is no substitute for the electorate themselves questioning politicians and for a democracy to be genuine and authentic it is the majority of people primarily to whom our public servants should be accountable to and not solely a select professional body of society - such as the media, the military or religious leaders. Katie Re-Registered
  • Score: 0

5:04am Fri 4 Jul 14

Dai Rear says...

"If you are a public servant, your first duty is to the public" is a noble sentiment but one not shared by those who are. It is very clear that, whether politico, civil servant, NHS employee or other ("cis" something as no doubt Katie would describe it) your duty is very clearly to the organism of which you are part, and its expansion. I have seen little evidence to the contrary and the strongest evidence in favour is the organism's treatment of "whistle blowers"
PS Kevin the "unsubscribe" glitch remains. Every day is groundhog day.
"If you are a public servant, your first duty is to the public" is a noble sentiment but one not shared by those who are. It is very clear that, whether politico, civil servant, NHS employee or other ("cis" something as no doubt Katie would describe it) your duty is very clearly to the organism of which you are part, and its expansion. I have seen little evidence to the contrary and the strongest evidence in favour is the organism's treatment of "whistle blowers" PS Kevin the "unsubscribe" glitch remains. Every day is groundhog day. Dai Rear
  • Score: -4

6:34am Fri 4 Jul 14

Kevin Ward - Editor says...

Dai
Apologies, the issue with the tick box is affecting all our company's websites. It is being looked at, but is out of our control locally.
As soon as I am told it is fixed, I will let you know.
Dai Apologies, the issue with the tick box is affecting all our company's websites. It is being looked at, but is out of our control locally. As soon as I am told it is fixed, I will let you know. Kevin Ward - Editor
  • Score: 0

10:02am Fri 4 Jul 14

displayed says...

" if you are a public servant, your first duty is to the public."
Who ever told u that, it dont wash with the council or any of the politicians whose role is "supposedly" to serve the constituency they "live in"!

No it dont appen.........
" if you are a public servant, your first duty is to the public." Who ever told u that, it dont wash with the council or any of the politicians whose role is "supposedly" to serve the constituency they "live in"! No it dont appen......... displayed
  • Score: 0
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