The media, in all its forms including newspapers and magazines, radio, and television programmes, has a very important role to play in improving governance, and in ensuring that improvements are sustained.
Governance needs communication - telling everyone about what is happening, and interpreting raw data to understand its significance.
In the past, too much information about roads - how decisions are made, how much roads cost, why roads have not been maintained - has been confined to government officials and road sector professionals. Unfortunately, when information has later becomes available to a wider audience, past performance and standards of governance are often found to be lacking.
The media has a position of power, controlling what information is released to the wider public and when it is released. Selecting the right information to circulate, analysing it to explain its significance, and releasing it at a time that is constructive to ensuring good governance, are significant responsibilities placed upon the media.
It is true that the Internet is changing the landscape of how information is released and circulated. Important information can be made available to millions of people simultaneously, analysed the other side of the world, and acted upon within minutes. But the road sector is a complex collection of activities, and many people will not have the knowledge or skills to understand much of the data available. Only enthusiasts will continually be searching the Internet for interesting information, and only a limited cross section of the public has regular access to the Internet. On the other hand, a newspaper headline, a television news item, or a television debate can reach a significant proportion of a country's population very rapidly.
In the past, news items about the road sector have often concentrated on localised interests or immediate news, such as repairs needed on a particular road or individual road traffic accidents. To improve governance, more general performance information needs to be publicised, including whether the most appropriate road improvements are being made and whether the management of the road network is providing value for money.
The media has a good understanding of what interests the public, and also of the level of detail of explanation that is suitable for widespread distribution. These skills need to be combined with a limited technical understanding of what is important and why.
Examples of the type of information that the media can provide are:
Analysis of road improvement programmes - Are the roads with the most traffic getting priority? Is there any correlation between the latest project plans and individual politicians personal interests? Is enough road maintenance taking place, and are the right roads being given priority for maintenance?
Is all of the information that should be available already in the public domain? - Are all new project plans and road maintenance plans published? Are responsibilities clear? Is enough information about costs available?
Are road stakeholders getting value for money? - Compare road construction costs per kilometre with equivalent costs for other countries. Are road maintenance costs reasonable?
Is the quality of road construction and road maintenance up to standard? - Has anyone observed any problems on construction sites? Are the drains beside roads clear, or is there standing water in drainage ditches? Do unpaved roads have the right surface camber so that they drain properly?