PNC Member of Parliament, Annette Ferguson has berated me for what she describes as “disrespect for the female journalist”, referring, I believe, to Stabroek News reporter Marcel Thomas. I beg to differ.
In fact, I happen to regard Ms Thomas as one of our more current professional journalists.
When the President answered the question put by Ms Thomas on the subject of the Chancellor and Chief Justice, she did not like the answer and, rather than reframe her question to probe further, she attempted to debate the President, at which point I intervened as the Moderator.
There is a distinct difference which I doubt Ms Ferguson understands between an interview and a press conference. In a one-on-one interview, the journalist is within his or her rights to express disagreement with a statement made by the person being interviewed if it is patently wrong because the conversation is free-flowing. In a press conference, in contrast, with a large number of journalists present and asking questions, the journalist has a professional responsibility to ask questions, not debate, so that others may have their turn.
I have written on this subject before when previously targeted by the Press Association, simply because, in fact, as the Moderator I expect a certain degree of professionalism at presidential press conferences and, as Ms Ferguson acknowledges, I act from the experience of having over many years been on both sides of that fence. The press conferences which I have moderated include, for instance, those hosted by Former US President Jimmy Carter, and the late Duke of Edinburgh when they visited Guyana.
In my previous letter on this subject, I quoted the description of a press conference by ABC News Reporter Irving Fang since 1968 and it’s worth requoting: “A kind of courtship dance which the interviewer and his subject feint, parry and manoeuvre around the topic, circle gradually coming closer together until the climactic moment of thrust and response.”
In another book, Freedom of the News Media by Olga G and Edwin P Hoyt, published in 1973, to which I have also previously referred, it’s pointed out that: “Freedom of the press did not mean – as some newsmen seem to think it did – that officials or others were bound to love or even respect any segment of the press. But then neither was it ever incumbent on the news media to love or even respect any segment of the government. The members of each side would have love or respect as they deserved it; such matters could not be guaranteed.”
In my view, we have made progress. We have established a Presidential Press Corp selected by the media houses themselves. At the last press conference, every journalist fully exhausted the questions they came prepared to ask. There was once a time when the Kaieteur News would come to a press conference with four reporters attempting to railroad the press conference. No more of that nonsense.