ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr has expressed regret over his leaked comments that he "hates journalists", and said his government's new communication strategy is not intended to prevent the media doing its job.
Mr Barr attracted both praise and criticism when audio emerged of him telling a group of communication professionals last week he was "over" the mainstream media and "hates journalists".
"What passes for a daily newspaper in this city is a joke and it will be only a matter of years before it closes down," Mr Barr said.
"We need to completely overhaul the way we communicate as a government and that's exactly what we're doing."
But MEAA media director Katelin McInerney said bypassing one form of media for another was "shortsighted" and "naturally raises questions about why it is being done".
"'Traditional media', as the Chief Minister calls it, has an ongoing role to play to communicate matters of public interest to the community," Ms McInerney said.
Asked on Tuesday if he stood by his comments, Mr Barr said: "Hate is a strong word and I regret using it."
"Obviously, I don't have, or seek, a close relationship with journalists," Mr Barr said.
"It is my intent to find new and creative ways to communicate with the community. It is my responsibility to explain the government's plans and activities to the community that elected us. If I can have this conversation directly, I will.
"This effective and direct communication does not impinge on journalists doing their job nor imply a disrespect for their profession."
In his speech to industry professionals, Mr Barr said he wanted to talk directly to Canberrans "not through the filter of journalists, and particularly through the filter of print journalists, which is a dying industry". He promised to "both resource this and to deliver this change".
The ACT government employs 92.54 full-time equivalent communications staff across its eight directorates.
The Chief Minister, Treasury, and Economic Development Directorate by far has the most communications staff, accounting for 34.54 of those full-time positions, as of last November.
A whistleblower said Mr Barr's office began pushing the social media first directive early last year, and that it wasn't "nefarious" in its intent, rather that it was in line with industry best practice.
However the whistleblower said the directive failed to take into account the real problem with government communications - the "unwieldy layers of approval and bureaucracy" that "frustrated the heck out of everyone".
They estimated 85 per cent of government communications, regardless of how straightforward the message was, had to go through several layers of management, including the minister, for approval.
Ministers only had to be "hammered once" before they demanded to sign off on each piece of information released, the whistleblower said.
"The process is so risk averse now it takes at least three days to get a single word from somebody," they said.
"They've tried to fix the problem without acknowledging the problem."
Mr Barr told Fairfax Media the strategy, first released in February, was "about being open and transparent about our agenda and meeting our obligation to keep the community informed".
"We were elected to deliver a series of commitments and will be clear about what is open for change as a result of community feedback, and when we are sharing information to keep the public up to date on new or changed services, policies or programs," Mr Barr said.
An ACT government spokeswoman sad the new strategy was designed in-house over about six months.
It places a greater emphasis on the use of deliberative democracy - a pilot of which is already under way in the CTP citizens' jury - community panels, and reaching audiences that can be missed by mainstream media, like young people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, and people with disabilities.
"The ACT government acknowledges the best way to reach these groups is to communicate openly in a way that these groups tell us they like to hear from us, and for each group this is different," the spokeswoman said.
"For this reason, engagement should designed and conducted in ways and at times that meet the needs of these different sections of our community."
Asked how much would be spent on the new strategy, she said it would be up to the individual directorate but that campaigns would be subject to the independent reviewer process.
Topics up for discussion include a design for a new Canberra Theatre Centre and looking at expanding the cat containment policy in force in newer suburbs.
That review is part of Labor's power-sharing deal with the Greens, while $100,000 was set aside in the last business to look at whether Canberra's performing arts facilities, including the theatre, were up to scratch.
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