Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A press conference

Press conferences are generally pretty boring affairs that result in boring stories that fill up the space in newspapers that readers mostly skip over as they scan the pages for interesting news.

So this morning I was hardly overjoyed when I was assigned to cover a media briefing by the Joburg Traffic Chief who stepped down from his post last night after striking metro cops threatened to continue their strike until he was removed. He was corrupt, they said, because he and his wife drove flashy cars and he must please explain how this is possible on his salary.

All a bit of a yawn, but hey – this stuff has to be recorded. So I headed over to photographic and was delighted when my friend Jeans-and-Tackies was assigned to go out with me. We recently bonded when we were sent to Mozambique together to cover Operation Rachel where the cops use tons of explosives to blow up tons of guns and ammo and stuff. She had a meltdown when a cameraman tried to swipe her place on the helicopter during the big bang and went mental when a waiter charged her R118 for a bottle of Graca – but I digress.

We rushed down to the transport department in the basement and were given the oldest Toyota Tazz imagineable. Jeans-and-Tackies was not a terribly experienced driver, had crashed one of the other cars yesterday and so I gather today's hunk-of-junk was Transport Manager’s revenge. Ah well, it got us there. And then Jeans-and-Tackies got her own back by revving enthusiastically into a parking bay, bashing the car against the concrete barrier!

We arrived early, nabbed prime spots and waited for the 10am start. It was going to be tight – I had to get all the info and file a full and complete story by 10,45am. Of course TV and radio reporters began arriving at like 3 minutes before the scheduled start and embarked on tediously setting up their lights and cameras and microphones.

A few minutes of stress and a bunch of big shots walked in and the briefing started a mere 10 minutes late. Not bad for Africa time hey!

And so we had the expected info delivered to us. Traffic Boss says he is stepping down in the interests of the community and to end the strike before it turns violent. City Manager says Traffic Boss is an honourable guy and that they have appointed independent lawyers to investigate. Legal Director says they will have a final report in a mere three months!

Then question time. All very predicatble until an astounding reporter grabbed the limelight. He was wearing a t-shirt with “I am not fluent in Idiot. Please speak slowly.” emblazoned across the chest. I swear. It was either intended sarcasm or unintended irony, because he then proceeded to prove extreme proficiency in Idiot.

“Some of us have only been writing one side of the story up until now because we have been speaking to the unions and you guys just don’t talk to us,” he proclaimed in a public declaration of where he stands with regard to journalistic objectivity.

“Those union guys say you are corrupt. So now I want to know something,” he said, speaking directly to Traffic Boss.

“Are you corrupt? And your department. It is so corrupt. So, so very corrupt. And everybody knows this. Can you please tell me. Is your department corrupt?”

I could not believe it. What kind of response did this genius expect? Was he hoping Traffic Boss would go “Oh ja, you got me there. I have been spouting utter shite until now. I am indeed corrupt”??

And so we left. I drove the aged Tazz while Jeans-and-Tackies frantically filed her photographs from her laptop. I did my best to dodge the news cameras set up in the parking lot as TV reporters recorded their own little interviews and pieces-to-camera. Tonight, please oh please, I will not be seen Driving Miss Daisy across the backdrop of their shots. I will not be making an embarrassing background appearance in any stories flighted on tonight’s news. It would not be the first time!

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