Note: Instances of my experiences cannot be generalized.
It is commendable how our government has opened its door for the media. I cannot imagine if my other journalist friends around the world would access their Prime Minister at odd hours, or chat up with ministers on phone and facebook.
If information was confined only to them, life would have been a little easier.
Here is a peek into how I go about searching for information:
I go through my story ideas and sort out whom to meet and talk. I draw up a list of people I need to get for my story. I know I have to talk to the center dealing with research because they did a study on it. Then I talk to at least two people from the center who forwards me to another department. The department (two people, numerous calls) sends me another office (three people including a former technician). After much waiting, I realize it is the lab people I have to get the data from. They say the information I am looking for was a bit too old. They take some time to search (I wait) and then they say I need to speak to the authorized person who apparently is in a meeting. Of course that does not exclude three health officials, two got quoted and other apparently was not in the picture because he was not the ‘concerned person.’
Dozens of meetings are happening everywhere. ‘Concerned persons’ are dispersed everywhere. I do not blame them for attending meetings. I cannot!
I have been told that the appointing of so called concerned person, officially known as the media spokesperson, would help mainstream the dissemination of information to the media.
But this system has made collection of information more painful. Most of the time, the ‘concerned person’ who I find after much queries, forwards me to the media spokesperson who in turn forwards me back to him or her because the spokesperson is not technically sound in the functioning of several departments, divisions and units.
Sometimes I would find my colleagues chasing after the so called ‘concerned person,’ like some wild goose chase (I mean literally). They also crib at times when the official concerned person that is the media spokesperson forgets to inform them on a very important meeting. I too, at times almost missed some important meeting. But the blame comes on me for being late.
In between, what I realize is that it wastes my time, the phone bills increase with every call and our energy (both yours and mine). Sometimes out of frustration I call this system, a way for the reporters to get entangled into the bureaucracy. It must not be so, but I assume this to be a way to hold back information.
Holding back information makes the reporter in me more curious. I probe into it. Some reliable sources would not always have the information. So I write an article based on whatever falls on my hand. And then that is where we are being criticized for not publishing accurately.
I would really like to not be accused. For me, if information is there, it is easier to write as I would understand an issue. If I have it, I will make sure to avoid all accusations of inaccurate reporting. But then when our civil service rules forbid civil servants to talk with the media, where are we supposed to get information from?
Being in this line of job you never know who would scold you for nothing, for someone else having made a mistake and in general for being from the media who is irresponsible. Sometimes it feels like people on the other end of line forget that we make a living out of this, too.
But I also have a question: If you refrain from giving information, how am I supposed to write unbiased and accurate stories?