The Jimmy Carter press conferences (pic by Bikas Rauniar) were definitely better organized than many of the usual PCs in Nepal that are grossly mismanaged and both organizers and reporters are responsible for such mess.
24 Nov: It’s 10:30 PM and I just finished writing second of the two news items of the day (they will appear in tomorrow’s editions of the paper.) I missed the 9:30 van that was delayed for about 15 minutes. Now I am actually waiting for the next one which will leave the office at 11 PM. It was a hectic day. Thanks to the 39th US President James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, I woke up early today.
It was 9 AM that I finally decided to throw the siraks off. The alarm rang just on time I had wanted it to sing the national song: 7:15 AM. I wanted to sleep more. I set the alarm for 8:30. It worked but still I didn’t want to get out of the bed. It was 9 when I finally decided to get up because I had to attend Carter’s Press Conference that, according to a Carter Center invitation, would begin “at 12:15h at the Megha Malhar Conference Center of the Crowne Plaza Soaltee in Kathmandu, Nepal.” Here is what was in the invitation that made me wake up early: “Due to security protocols, accredited Nepalese media and foreign correspondents are asked to arrive no later than 11:15h using the rear entrance of the Conference Center. Persons arriving after 11:15h will be denied entry.”
I didn’t want to be denied entry after reaching Soaltee. Not that I had hoped to get any scoops from Carter but a denial would mean my time wasted for nothing. It’s kind of boring to wait for more than an hour before Carter shows up behind the microphone. It was the same experience five months ago when he had come here in Nepal for his second and four-day-long visit.
I am home now. It’s already morning of the next day (Sunday, November 25). Woke up at 9 AM though no Carter press conferences today. I will continue with my previous day’s journal.
So I was talking about Carter’s press conference. Just like the last time (that is five months ago), Mitra Pariyar from the British Embassy delivered some instructions to the seated journalists in a rather cold tone. But he sounded professional. I wondered, just like the last time, how and why a British Embassy employee was brought in to deliver instructions and provide interpretations in a press conference of a former U.S. President. Well, why should I care about such trivial things, I concluded and diverted my attention to other happenings in the Megha Malhar.
We talked about the media giving so much importance to foreigners and expressed our dissatisfaction of this attitude of media. Who is Jimmy Carter to us after all? Yes, he is the former President of America and Americans and he was in White House some 26-27 years ago. And now we are running after him as if he has some vital medicine to cure our disease. May be like some anti-Polio drops that, if he puts in our mouth, would eradicate all the problems of Nepal.
Nepali leaders are not less interesting when it comes to twisting the remarks made by the foreign dignitaries they meet. Last time, Prachanda and Babu Ram Bhattarai told reporters that Carter told them not to listen to [James F. Moriarty] the American Ambassador in Kathmandu. Carter refuted that claim in his press conference the next day. This time Carter didn’t have to refute any such statements but every leader emerging out from meetings with Carter had a different version of what he said in the same meeting. Some would say, he said this and others would say he said that. Sometime it was frustrating while covering his visit because of such contrasting versions from those who were in the meetings. Reporters were not allowed in those meetings and to go to the meeting venues was like almost insulting yourself. Some reporters complained to me that they had to stand in a certain corner, wait for hours and get nothing more than a sentence or two from Carter. I never went to such meeting venues like PM’s residence or Election Commission.
And these Carter Center guys consider themselves as the stars during such visits. They don’t even pick up phones; ignore our emails as if we were desperately seeking their autographs. Hell with autographs. We don’t even need Carter’s autograph. My colleague in Nepal Magazine, Deepak Adhikari, told me that when he visited Carter Center’s web site to learn more about Carter’s visit, he was welcomed by the same old page that wasn’t updated for months. [I told him that the Center was emailing press releases and announcements to reporters and his response was: these American’s only talk big things! Why we make issue of Nepali government web sites not being updated? Even Americans don’t update their sites. I hope he will be able to share his ideas and perspective with Americans more effectively when he goes to work at Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in Pennsylvania for a six-month-long fellowship that will begin coming March.]
Both of the Carter press conferences were definitely better organized, I must admit, than many of the PCs in Nepal. Sometime I think Nepali journalists do need such kind of strict management so that they can learn some etiquettes of the press conference. Most of the press conferences are grossly mismanaged and both organizers and reporters are responsible for such mess. We don’t have the culture of providing information in an organized manner. Reporters have to fight for a single piece of release sometime. [Then there are other occasions when organizers beg reporters to be present in their programs and cover the event.] This happens mostly with the high-level meetings in our Prime Minister’s residence. I still remember that chaotic press conference, first by the Maoist Chairman Prachanda and other leaders of Seven Party Alliance inside the PM residence that saw reporters struggling to find space for themselves and speakers struggling to make themselves heard to the reporters. There was no light, there were no chairs for reporters to sit and, of course, there were no micro phones for speakers. Prachanda famously used that scene to make his point: “Look at this mess. A press conference inside the PM’s residence is like this. Just imagine what is the situation is the country. It’s worse. We want to change that.”
Well, well, well, that’s him, Mr. Chairman the Orator. I also participated in a press conference some months ago organized by his party in his party’s office (that was when the party office was in Old Baneshwor). That was not different than the one in the PM’s residence. Unlike the previous one, this was a pre-planned event; reporters were invited specifically for the press conference. Reporters hardly saw faces of the speakers and the situation was such a chaotic that I wondered what was going on in there: a press conference or jana yuddha! Then it poured and all the speakers and reorters had to rush inside a little room and continue with chatting. A press conference turned into a khas khus guff. As always Mr Chairman had this wonderful excuse: we will organize better when we are in power!!!
So much with the Maoists’ promises of organized press conference.
So the good old Carter delivered his written statement (he read out parts of the statement) which was provided to reporters after the conference was over. The question answer round was interesting and the ‘real’ news came in there: his proposal on the 30:70 radio for the electoral systems. Carter talked about the proposal that he had submitted to the Prime Minister that morning and also talked about how the Maoist-U.S. relations were improving. For the first time, I found this lady called Sudesna Sarkar of some Indian news agency asking a question that was worth asking. Otherwise I have seen her asking all the nonsense questions and taking the organizers’ (and of course reporters’) time.
The press conference was over and another reporting assignment was waiting for me. This one turned out to be interesting.