Hi my name is Leana and I’m a producer on Newshour. Our programme has a great reputation for getting world leaders and opinion makers on air. But I’ve had a particularly obstructive day with the government of Gabon. I wanted to share my experience with you and get your opinions on it. This is the story that they didn’t want to talk about:
Sorry, but if you’re ill today in Gabon, West Africa, there is no doctor or nurse to help you. Every health worker in the public sector is on strike and so every hospital, doctors surgery and clinic is closed. Imagine you’ve been in a car accident and you turn up at the hospital and there is no one there! Unless you have the money to pay for private health care – which most people in Gabon don’t – then you have no choice but to go home.
I really wanted to have this story and news rarely comes out of Gabon – another great reason to do it. We have a reporter there, Linel Kwatsi, so I thought no problem. I thought wrong.
I gave our man in Libreville a call to check the story out. Indeed Gabon is in crisis. I sent Linel out to find and interview a doctor on strike and a sick person who can’t get care. Of course this was a bit of a hard task as every hospital was empty! However, he managed to track down couple of women suffering from malaria who are unable to get treatment. The doctor told him how staff are not paid properly and the hospitals have been drastically deteriorating and lack even the basic supplies; like cotton wool and thermometers. Union leaders said corruption in government meant the money never got to the health sector.
Now I had to get an interview with the government. Usually when you have several days to fix a government interview, it’s not difficult. You put the bids in and you usually get the Minister or a spokesman. But no – the Health Minister is actually very high up in the military and does not do interviews. OK. What about the President’s spokesman?
No. He doesn’t talk. The spokesman doesn’t talk? The reporter gave me his number and told me to have a go – but warned me not to let him divert me to his wife. A classic tactic apparently. Libreville was not looking good – so I called the Gabon embassy in London. Sorry the Ambassador is away and I don’t have his number. The Charge d’Affair? He doesn’t come into work till 11am. I pushed the poor lady who was by now sounding very nervous at my insistence – he hasn’t really done any interviews lately and no I can’t call him, we’ll call you.
Ten minutes to air and I had nothing – there was a hole in the programme – aahhhh. I had given up on the government, but where my interviews from Gabon? Linel our reporter was desperately trekking from internet café to internet café, but internet connection is slow and seemingly intermittent in Gabon. Well if there isn’t any cotton wool in the hospitals it’s not surprising that broadband connection is slow. Finally he got it all through and it went to air – much to our satisfaction and exhaustion!
How can we entice leaders from media shy administrations to come onto the programme? Or do our programmes even need official voices – especially if interviews are not going to be candid?