THE PRESIDENTIAL REPORTER
(By Napoleon Ato Kittoe, 02/06/2019)
Some describe journalists reporting from any given presidency or presidential houses, as dignified. There are those who bundle journalists and state officials together, and begin to think they are same.
Springing out of these, it is not too surprising to find people bearing on the journalists for one help or the other. If the help sought from power corridors is not attended, the journalist is taken to be wicked or insensitive. This is in spite of the fact that, the journalist is not one who calls the shots in power corridors. The media personnel’s role in this attachment is to relay to the public, information granted by the house.
In the era of democratic rule and political cleavages it creates thereof, a journalist whose permanent schedule is on government in power, is either taken to be favourite of the ruling party or sings the party’s song.
Very few have opted out of call ups or the happenstances that have put them in the presidential circle, as assigned reporters. Majority go with it. The many fallouts in the line of the latter are probably reasons why the former have stayed put.
The media which want to be internationally appealing, crisscross the globe in a hard fight to be seen to live up to the accolade. The reporters in these outlets are found everywhere or sponsored to travel to places making the news. This is not the case with the constrained ones, where reporters are regimented and sometimes deliberately kept to a humdrum. These are those ready to pounce on the opening of being attached to the presidency with travel opportunity. Their own press houses which see international exposure as a privilege and not the rule, ain’t going to give them the chance so they make hey whilst the sun shines elsewhere. Perhaps aware of obstacles in their way, the powers are beginning to place direct calls on their preferred journalists.
The next hurdle facing a journalist operating in the presidential fraternity are Communication officers within that fraternity who upon seeing the interest shown by media personnel attached to the place, begin to sieve choices for trips. At this point, the right to go will be at whims and caprices of somebody who determines selection.
Selection shrouded in secrecy, communication officers have the benefit of doubt on their side. Some Presidents do not want to be seen splashing per diem on too many heads. Some officers want a few to go and share information. Either way, it is not in the best interest of the media which must be on location to give vivid, ocular account of situations making the news.
Foreign trips have the good, the bad and the ugly sides. Leaders who died in plane crashes as Rwanda’s Juvenal Habyarimana 1994, Mozambique’s Samora Machel 1986 and Lech Kaczynski of Poland 2010, to mention but a few could have perished with journalists. Even where journalists are put on different planes, they are exposed to same risks. On the ground, many are aware of the extraordinary movements of presidential convoys, more often than not speeding through traffic for security reasons. The speed is calculated to escape the sharpest and the smartest marksmen targeting a personality in the convoy. The risks here in terms of accidents are real. Very real
The flip side, exposes journalists to people and places, on the ends of the world. The peripatetic global journalist instantly finds himself/herself in the domain of personalities wearing the badge of uncommon freedoms. The journalist is not necessarily one of them but hobnobs with the rich, the famous and the powerful whom a President have access. Many have dreams but only a few attain their dreams. To dream and to live it, is certainly in the realms of an uncommon freedom.
A presidential reporter meets all kinds of persons, presidents, monarchs, captains of industry, celebrities. A presidential reporter flies to conferences and places where state visits are to be paid. Places people see as abstract or distant to their realities, a presidential reporter may go there just on the sheer ticket of the president’s delegation.
Journalists are found in all places just like lizards. The nomadic reptile are found on walls of some of the deprecates of places and luxury mansions.
A journalist in high places is accorded protocol treatments at the following places. Banks, passport offices, post offices, airports, transport terminals, academic institutions and other such places. The fellow is given special dispensation by persons able to identify and comprehend the temporarily acquired social status.
Such a status becomes artificial when the presidential reporter has not got the means to support it. We are talking about financial muscle here. It turns murky and disturbing at times for journalists in this category.
In Washington DC and other top destinations, it is possible to find presidency reporters standing by the roadside waiting to catch public transport. In the Africa setting, it is a different ball game. Society expects to see such a reporter swimming in wealth , and among the many status symbols are luxury cars. The story is told about a journalist in this ilk who joined a queue in a very open space waiting for the next taxi. She was identified by other commuters who hit the wrong cord by asking why she was rubbing shoulders with them, when she was expected to have it all.
Pigeonholed in society’s gentry, such a journalist is compelled to adopt ways to match public perception. If he/she does not own a car, the easiest way out of public relations crisis is to take a taxi, even if the fare is too dear or uneconomical. He/she is also “forced” to eat at some of the best restaurants which dissipates the pocket at the expense of the normal, downtown food joints.
There are many Presidential journalists who don’t find cars as an immediate priority yet they have no choices than to obtain one to synchronize with the system.
A presidential reporter wrapped in forlornness is a bad commentary on the president and indeed the presidency team because people see him/her as one of them. A personable character, naturally or acquired, is necessity about any journalist who must join that team. Mobility is key to meeting the exigencies of the schedule such as responding to unexpected assignments involving presidents.
A journalist walking in power corridors told an interesting story in which he was targeted by a world’s first class real estate conglomerate as prospective client for housing units in a city of an arab gulf state. He was caught on the wrong foot. The journalist said, his popularity or the weight in his name is inversely related to his pocket. The golden opportunity hung on the door to his room yet he could not invite it in.
Not all targeting are good baits for these journalists. A presidential reporter on the beat is well protected, courtesy by the association with the President’s team which come under some of the best of securities.
Out of the job, the reporter is as lame as lame duck. First of all, those poorly accommodated and maybe housed in compound houses or densely populated vicinities are exposed to perceived or real political hazards. Any political maniac can attack them, thinking the journalist’s role in keeping the party in power in good shape, as opposed to the party of the attacker’s choice, is breach of public trust.
In Africa, once a party in government is out of office, the presidential reporter becomes a part of the bad water poured away by succeeding regimes. Protocol officers stay. Drivers stay. Foreign affairs officials stay. Chiefs who sang praises of the old order are tolerated. Security are reposted but journalists are dropped completely.
Retired to newsroom, a presidential reporter faces the new challenge of having to cope with peers who thought he/she walked the previous “privilege” alone. There are some of such reporters who never got promoted back at workplace, for very strange reasons except to read the signs of the times and perhaps invoking some metaphysics to understand these. It may appear as if being a presidential reporter in Africa was for self gratification and never a part of composite operations in the media organisation.
The reporter who is not decent and is a failure of the test of state secrecy which is tacit obligation of the beat, might stumble on a bad patch. Once upon a time, a presidential reporter in Ghana was withdrawn over alleged misreporting.
US President Donald Trump had a question and answer face off with CNN’s White House Correspondent Jim Acosta, out of which the latter had his accreditation withdrawn.
Reporting from the top requires self respect, respect for professional tenets, social ethos and time honoured etiquette. However, this exhortation doesn’t respond to the two examples given. Both stand on their own, mutually exclusive.
It is instructive that the journalist in power corridors be aware at all times of the huge responsibilities, in dissemination of information about the high office of state. He/she has to be meticulous before churning out information and must be a quick learner of some of the complicated topics the President may wade in. Such power of speaking about a presidency could literally be interpreted to be using the bathing sponge on the president, his team and activities connected with them.
Any slip dents the president in the high political stakes of political competition brought about by democratic choices in freer societies.
No reporter worth his salt and mettle, including those under suspicion of belonging to a side, goes on presidential assignments and would deliberately twist or turn the facts upside down. It happens nowhere in the ideal conception of journalism which has ample and elaborate checks before a story goes to bed. Those who stray are quickly identified and disused.
The worse a reporter may do is to attempt to indulge behind the scenes gossip. This leads nowhere because situations reporters are made privies, are those already given for public consumption.
At the end of the day, a presidential reporter may not have a deep pocket as it has always been. A smart one will uphold vital contacts.
The journalists’ residual power is that such a reporter comes away as presidential historian. However, the reporter may not be able to live down the consequences of political tagging .