Of presidential news conferences

“There are some questions that shouldn’t be asked until a person is mature enough to appreciate the answers.” Anne Bishop

For many years now, there has been a lot of crying and calls from the media fraternity and other stakeholders on the way Presidential press conferences are conducted every time ‘our dear number one’ citizen decides to hold one. Let me say at the outright that this has been the trend since the Bakili Muluzi era. It was the same with the late Bingu wa Mutharika and I want to believe that it was the same with the late Hastings Kamuzu Banda, if at all he held Press conferences.

The media has dubbed these conferences as ‘Press Rallies’ because they have largely been patronized by party loyalists who are normally there to give moral support to their leader. Obviously the journalists are outnumbered by these party fanatics and the situation has caused a lot of concerns among journalists who have complained that ‘it’s very difficult to ask certain questions’ to the head of State in such an atmosphere.

Often times, we have heard MISA-Malawi condemning such methods of conducting Presidential Press Conferences and I don’t have any qualms with that. What I find interesting is the argument the media people make. They say the way the press conferences are held are very political and tense such that one cannot freely ask questions because the party loyalists would sometimes boo at the person asking the question.

Reporter from Zodiak, Pililrani Phiri asking President Banda question
Reporter from Zodiak, Pililrani Phiri asking President Banda question

I happen to be a writer myself and I sometimes cover such events. And in my thinking, if party members heckle at a journalist who chooses to place himself or herself for that show, then it should be news enough to write about. On special arrangement, journalists can interview the Head of State on their own time. But we can’t have the President to ourselves as Journalists during such events, as when s/he is coming back from a big tour just like the one President Joyce Banda had last month where upon arrival; she was expected to respond to some emerging issues.

Journalists are not the only source of information that everyone should wait for them to get the information first from the President for all of us to know. Why shouldn’t Press conferences be attended by other non-media people such as party members? And why would one fear to ask a question, if the question was worthy asking and needed some answers?

Would you really fail to question the President because you are sitting next to someone wearing party clothes? Is it the faces of the party members or the clothes they are wearing that would give one fears to pose questions to the Head of State? What if they decide not to wear party clothes? Would that put your fears away? My belief is that if one is professional enough and has a valid and urging question, he or she would not mind whether somebody is sitting next to him and is wearing clothes in party colours or not. If I was the one asking, I wouldn’t bother whether I’d be booed or not. Because whatever happens after asking my question, to me that will be enough for NEWS!

We all heard what Pilirani Phiri of Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS) did at the recent press conference President Joyce Banda held at Sanjika Palace upon arrival from the USA, where she went to attend the 68th General Assembly of the United Nations. That was commendable and thumbs up to both the President and Pilirani.

My take therefore is that, these Presidential Press Conferences or Rallies, will always be there because our Presidents are politicians and politicians of this nature are rarely alone during public gatherings, in whatever form. It is therefore incumbent upon the Journalists to get oriented with such settings and perform their duties without compromising their profession. Long live freedom of expression!

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