HISTORIANS have already dubbed our era as ‘The Communication Age’. The speed with which information on most matters can be transmitted to individuals, groups or masses is already remarkable and improving all the time.

This gives headaches to those in a democracy that govern us because they would prefer to keep tight control over what the electorate gets to know and how the information is presented to us. The perceived need to manage very carefully what voters can find out has led to the arrival on the political scene of the so called ‘spin doctors’. These are people that have training and experience in dressing up blunders by politicians to look like they are successes and ensuring that any good news is given the most rapid, prominent and widespread broadcasting.

It is the job of the news media to try to get at the truth and force a degree of transparency into the workings of local and national government. The reporters involved in such work have to develop the skill of spotting situations where those elected to govern or to provide an opposition to government are trying to keep quiet about something that the general public ought to know.

Investigative journalism has had some notable successes in recent years. How would we have found out about the widespread malpractice involved in the claiming of expenses by Westminster MPs had it not been for a broad sheet newspaper exposing it? Another example is the Watergate Affair in the USA that led to the exposure of improper conduct by President Richard Nixon. So, the electorates on both sides of the Atlantic already have much for which to thank investigative journalists.

A free press is vitally important if we are to remain a true democracy. In an ideal world, the electorate should receive news that is accurate and not politically biased. We should be given the cold facts and then allowed to make our own judgement through the ballot box about who we wish to govern us. Sadly, life is not quite that simple and very few national newspapers take a politically neutral stand when informing their readers.

It was with much pleasure that I saw recently advertised a post within the group that publishes this newspaper you are now reading. The process has begun to appoint a journalist who will specialise in researching what is happening in local and national government that is relevant to Wiltshire and then reporting on this in the group’s publications.

Reading the advertisement brought to mind the late Dennis Kingman who, in the latter half of the last century, carried out a similar role to the one now advertised. He was a very competent journalist and a man who was widely respected throughout local government in Wiltshire. He took the duty of reporting with accuracy and without political bias very seriously.

He became very well known and highly respected at County Hall, at the district council offices, at police headquarters and at fire headquarters. He took great care to be seen as being a servant of the readers and not in any way under the influence of politicians and/or public servants. On the occasions when he visited fire headquarters, although Dennis was not unfriendly, he refused to accept even a cup of tea lest it made him obligated for receiving the hospitality. Dennis was thoroughly professional at all times.

I wish the successful applicant for the post now advertised every success and happiness. I hope they measure up to the task as well as Dennis Kingman did.

By John Craig