Journalists protest the ban on questions at government press conferences

by vgimenez
Oct 30, 2018 in Miscellaneous

Journalists in Argentina and Spain are fighting the growing trend of government press conferences that ban questions.

They've launched social media campaigns over the loss of this basic right that helps journalists better inform citizens. Twitter hash tags on this issue include “los periodistas #queremospreguntar,” which translates roughly to "journalists want to ask" in Argentina and “#sinpreguntasnocobertura” "without questions there’s no coverage" in Spain.

In Argentina, the campaign launched by Foro de Periodismo Argentino (Fopea) gained momentum after the recent Once train station wreck that killed 51 people and wounded 700.

Following the accident, several government leaders including the now-former Minister of Transportation Juan Pablo Schiavi and the Minister of Federal Planning, Julio De Vido held “press conferences.” In reality, they were “monologues” because the government officials didn’t accept questions from journalists present.

“In all cases, it was clear that their prepared speeches were not exhaustive or did not respond to all of the questions that reporters had, which distorts the concept of press conference. This situation is widespread in the national government and has unfortunately trickled down to the regional and city level,” Fopea noted in a statement.

Gastón Roitberg, a Fopea member and multimedia assistant managing editor at La Nación, told IJNet that although many colleagues “attend these press conferences,” the association wants journalists “not to accept this situation.”

In Argentina, attendance is often the only way for journalists to access the statements of politicians. Press conferences are not usually broadcast online, with a few notable exceptions, including the national congress, which owns channel Senado TV or the city government of Buenos Aires, which transmit its legislature sessions through Ciudad Abierta.

Fopea compiled dozens of questions reporters wanted to ask at press conferences and couldn’t, in this Storify.

Before the question muzzle hit Argentina, journalists in Spain were also concerned about it. In January, journalism association Federación de Asociaciones de Periodistas de España (FAPE) launched“#sinpreguntasnocobertura” to counter this trend at the assembly of the European Council.

The social media campaign was “another step in the battle against the common practice of offering press conferences where questions are not allowed, widespread among politicians and other public figures, that affects both rights of citizens to be informed and the ability of journalists to report.”

An online petition was supported by several media organizations as well as individual journalists. Petitioners want journalists to distinguish between "statements" and "press conferences" in stories so the public will know that politicians were not accepting questions.

Are politicians limiting or banning questions in your region? How do you deal with the problem?

Photo: CC-licensed, thanks to Pablo G. Escobedo on Flickr.