Reporters are never mouthpieces

September 2, 2012 | By | Filed Under Features / Columnists, My Column 

These days, everyone is an expert on news and news reporting. Beyond that, everyone is a critic of the reporter, especially if that reporter is keen to do his job and that job is to keep the government in line. It is true that no reporter is liked by the government because of his role in highlighting those things that the government may wish to suppress.
In recent times reporters have been examining many things that were once hidden to the point that people were unaware of the real state of affairs in the country.
For example, people never knew that there were people who were paid more than handsomely for doing little or nothing.
More recently, a reporter on my staff opted to examine a multi-million-dollar construction at Enmore. From the inception, this newspaper found that the cost of the facility was abnormally high and therefore warranted closer examination.
Needless to say, the government had a plaster for every sore exposed by Kaieteur News. When we said that the machinery could have been had from Brazil, the government said that indeed it was. However, the nation had been led to believe that the machinery had come from India. The query about the cost led to the fact that a lot of the money was spent on the factory. In the end, the high-priced factory was a virtual white elephant.
Then came conflicting reports and a press conference on another controversial project…the Specialty Hospital.
The reporter decided to challenge the Minister in charge only to the told to “shut up”.  The columnist, Peeping Tom, writes that the reporter should not be allowed to grill a Minister. Utter crap. If a Minister summons a press conference then he wants to sell his side of his story. He must also be prepared to answer any question pertaining to his role as a Minister.
Peeping Tom said: “When a journalist leaves to cover a briefing or a press conference he or she does so under the assumption that something is likely to be said that will be of public interest. The journalist is there to capture that which is of public interest so that it can be communicated to the public.
“At most press briefings and press conferences, questions are usually entertained. This is done for the purpose to allow for clarifications or to provide additional information.
“Their job is not to get into a debate with the host of the press conference but only to report on what was said.”
I use foul language and I would describe this piece of drivel in such language. No reporter should be a Minister’s mouthpiece. If the Minister wants to say something and not having to answer questions, then he can issue a press release.
The duty of reporter is to get the Minister to talk about those things that he does not want to.  For example, there was the Head of the Presidential Secretariat hosting a press conference to talk about Cabinet matters and decisions. A reporter took the opportunity to ask about the missing laptops and got an answer.
As far as Peeping Tom was concerned that question did not form a part of the press conference and therefore should not have arisen. Poppycock. But then again Peeping Tom is not a reporter and never has been.
It turned out that the sons of a man who switched political alliance are at the centre of the probe into the missing laptops. This would have remained a state secret.
I can now understand why reporters with the state media go to press conferences and more often than not, keep their mouths shut. I can also understand why Ministers prefer to hold tete-a-tete with members of the state media to the exclusion of the private media.
The media dug into so many things and attracted Government’s criticisms only to be proven correct. I watched the media coverage of the Republican convention and through the media, I learnt that the Republican candidates lied or distorted the facts. The reporter refused to be the mouthpiece. Reporters in Guyana lack the research capability largely because record-keeping is not what it should be.
I have institutional memory and am therefore able to question any Government official on some things. I have been able to challenge changes in statements and comments. I am still to get an answer to the query about when did Guyana assume responsibility for the construction of the specialty hospital.
It was the then President Bharrat Jagdeo who described reporters in the private media as vultures simply because they dared to challenge some of the contradictions in his comments. They also challenged some of the decisions he made and were proven correct. Reporters are duty bound to get the stories that Ministers want to hide.
I also noticed that there are always those sycophants who parrot whatever the government says about reporters. For example, there were the stories about the Kaieteur News thwarting national development simply because it highlighted a number of problematic dealings.
One New York lawyer who was shown some of what was written about Kaieteur News, said “This is not even news.”
I can also understand why those who get peeved rush to the courts with a hope of silencing some reporters. I also know that some of them will get a rude awakening.

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