Politicians must answer reporters’ questions
I agree with the view expressed by Adam Harris that reporters should not be mouthpieces for any politician (KN Sep 2). Yet many reporters are just that. However, we must not ignore the fact that some reporters, columnists, letter writers and even editors and publishers have an agenda – their personal or political agenda – and are not objective in their reporting or editing.
Reporters and media practitioners (including columnists) are part of the fourth estate and should discharge their duties professionally and without bias. Otherwise, they will mislead a gullible public, as is the case with some columnists and reporters. They should write objectively and pen news exactly as “eyewitnessed” or revealed to them. And the analyses of columnists should be balanced and supported with evidence. Reporters and editors should not editorialize or comment on the news event unless they are penning an opinion like that of a columnist.
It is the duty of a reporter to put a politician on the spot at a press conference so as to get answers out of him or her on important public matters. That is the role of a reporter during my 34 years experience in the field. It is highly disrespectful for a politician to tell a reporter or anyone else “to shut up” or to state what questions he or she would or won’t answer. Politicians should answer reporters’ questions irrespective of how unsavory is the question. If a politician does not feel comfortable about a question, just simply say you will get back to it later. But don’t tell anyone “shut up” or “I am not answering that question”.
Politicians must answer questions at press briefings – that is the purpose of a briefing unless it is a major event at which the politician feels answering questions will compromise some important action. In such a situation, the politician should explain that he or she can’t take questions or answer a particular question because it is highly sensitive – reporters will understand. But never tell reporters to shut up!
There are press briefings in the US where the politicians issue a statement and immediately leave the podium. That is understandable, especially when reporters and politicians have a working relation. But if the politician is going to take questions, there is no such thing as “an unrelated question” to a press conference. Reporters are free to ask about anything, even if it is unrelated to a briefing.
In response to a question he or she does not want to address, a politician can say he or she is not in a position to offer an intelligent answer, but will get with the reporter on the question. That is how press matters are addressed in the US when politicians do not want to deal with an issue.
Politicians and reporters have an abiding duty to be courteous and respectful. But politicians are not always at fault for the violation of trust and respect. In many situations, reporters pen or report untruths and so incur the wrath or disrespect of politicians.