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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Respect a man's time and he'll respect you!


Today, as a journalist, I got tired of lies and time-wasting that MPs are so accustomed to. It got ugly, but at least I gave the annoying lawmaker a piece of my mind.

I wouldn’t say it had anything to do with the symbolic ‘Saba Saba’ –the July 7, 1990 when Kenyans rose against a totalitarian regime and initiated the push for multiparty democracy-- celebrations, because it was just a matter of pointing out the basics of human respect to a man who seems to think so highly of himself. They say, respect a man's time and he'll respect you.

Here’s what happened: Parliament called the newsroom saying that “ODM rebel MPs had an urgent press conference at 10 am” to speak on the revocation of the positions of nominated councillors. As is the norm, a parliamentary reporter was assigned to cover the event.

Well, I got to Parliament five minutes early. I asked which MPs were coming for the press conference. I was told that it is assistant minister Aden Duale who had booked the media centre.

“Is he coming alone?” I asked.

“He’s coming with his colleagues,” I was told.

Twenty minutes later, with nearly all the media houses in attendance, the fellow was nowhere to be seen. Calls to his cellphone number went unanswered.

I waited for ten more minutes –House rules say that when a meeting doesn’t get going in thirty minutes, then it stands cancelled. That is Standing Order 167. I gave the MP five more minutes, then got a tad impatient. If they were a group and the rest weren’t here yet, then perhaps they deserved no coverage.

So, when another colleague came and informed us that he had seen Mr Duale “chilling out in the lobby alone”, I called my colleague William Oeri and together we went to ask him why he was keeping us waiting.

I told him plainly that he was late. He knew it. So, he looked at me and told me that, “I will be with you in two minutes”.

And, as an afterthought, I think, he looked at me and said: “Are you the only ones who can cover this assignment?”

I turned. “Are you saying that if we can’t wait for you, we should just go and let the newsrooms send other reporters to cover this function?”

“Yes! If you have other engagements let others come to this press conference,” he told me.

I told him, that it was okay and that I was leaving.

He got angry and shouted that I should give him some respect. He roared that he was told that not all media houses had arrived and that’s why he was waiting for some journalists.

“But you said ten; we were here at ten o’clock!” I shot back. Infuriated.

Then he said: “You can as well go, other journalists will cover me.”

Duale is the kind of fella who when contributing to debate in Parliament always has his eyes on the Press Gallery believing that every word that he utters, however irrelevant to the debate, deserves space in a national newspaper.

He is among the group of MPs who when they see print and radio journalists at a news conference and no single television camera, they say “The media is not here; let’s wait for them to come.”

As I left the lobby in Parliament, I told my colleagues that “the guy says that for those who can wait, should keep waiting”. When I looked behind me, I saw him trotting quickly to issue his statement. I debated about whether I should cover him or not. I decided to listen in.

The guy then berated journalists: “If you think you can’t cover me here in Parliament, I’ll just walk to your media houses and issue my statement there.”

“You’re late,” said one journalist.

“It’s not my mistake. Ask the staff here. They told me you guys were not ready yet; some of you had not even arrived,” he shot back.

Another journalist clicked. Still another told him: “Mheshimiwa usiongee mbaya!” (Watch your tongue). Another just kept quiet. Another smiled. Others giggled. Others just looked on blankly. Others grumbled. But they still went ahead to cover him.

I learned a lesson. If Parliament says “this group of MPs has a press conference”, unless they specify who are in the delegation, I’ll just skip it. Unless the topic is that important. Of course, there are MPs with clout, say the Speaker or the whips or the vice chairman of the parliamentary service commission or even the ministers. Those ones can be excused.

But the lone MPs who just feel that they have something to tell Kenyans; then they have to consolidate their thoughts, amass some form of clout and then call journalists with a specified well-thought-out agenda. There’s a reason why not all of them contribute to House debates. There’s also a reason why most of them are not taken seriously given their behavior in political rallies.

UPDATE: The media house that came late gave the fella mind-boggling airtime at prime time. Now I know why he was acting that rude. His coverage was guaranteed.

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