Reporter's Notebook: When NOT to call a press conference
Post-Cabinet meeting press conferences can be an important affair. It’s usually a chance to pose questions to the highest government spokesman, Jimmy Manyi, and so journalists turn up. Sometimes, though, a press release is all you need. Really, Jimmy. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.
The Government Communications and Information Systems building is on Vermeulen Street in Pretoria and is pretty far to get to for most journalists. We tend to arrive there from Auckland Park or Rosebank, Johannesburg. But it’s in this building that GCIS CEO and Cabinet spokesman Jimmy Manyi likes to hold his press briefings after Cabinet meetings – the auditorium has a video link to Cape Town. Fair enough, it makes it easier to hold a press conference covered by journalists in two cities simultaneously. But then don’t make us mission out all that way for information that could have, frankly, been emailed.
Before Manyi accuses me of being a Debbie Downer and not reporting him properly: the Cabinet wished Nelson Mandela a happy birthday. It also noted that President Jacob Zuma will travel to China (where he’ll be receiving a professorship from the University of Peking – I’m sure he’ll tell us why when he gets back), that deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe will be sent to the international Aids conference in Washington DC, congratulated Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on her election as the African Union commission chairwoman, something about women’s month, something something the South African Olympic team and so on and so forth.
What was particularly annoying was Manyi’s inability to answer questions – mostly because nothing had been decided yet. Cabinet was in recess for a while, and so nobody had anything substantial to report, or at least conclude, at Tuesday’s meeting. Even reports that were due, like the one commissioned on hydraulic fracturing in the Karoo, were delayed until August because of the recess.
Manyi brought along Mokoditloa Moemi, the director-general of sport, to tell us that the preparations for the African Cup of Nations that will happen in South Africa next year are on track. Provincial and national government will also contribute cash so that the burden of this unbudgeted-for tournament is not for the cities to bear alone. However, Moemi could not say what the bill will be – that will only be finalised by the end of the year in Parliament, due to the fact that it will be more than the 8% expenditure increase that treasury can make without Parliament’s approval.
We don’t yet know who will be the new home affairs minister, or where Zuma is on that one. Oh, and cabinet is still mulling over the National Development Plan and will finalise its inputs at the Cabinet lekgotla in August. So, really, everything important is happening in August.
Manyi’s eagerness to get information out in the public domain is understandable, and he has complained before that he has been selectively reported. The media have in turn have accused him of not understanding how news or newsrooms work. Unfortunately, Thursday’s press briefing will only serve to reinforce that notion. Calling a press briefing implies that you’re about to deliver big news – or that you’re in a position to field important questions. If that does not turn out to be the case – well, don’t be surprised if you don’t get reported on. This isn’t rocket science here.
There are also some pretty hectic things happening in the country right now that you would think would make the notes of a post-Cabinet meeting statement. For example, why is there no word on the ongoing Limpopo education crisis? Yes, there is a task team that has been appointed and we’re waiting on that outcome, but things are unravelling pretty quickly and it does not help the perception that the government is not on top of things for us to be told to wait.
Seriously, Jimmy, a press release will suffice next time if all you’re going to announce is a list of things Cabinet “noted”. DM