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Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Observations From Inside the Gordon Brown Press Conference at the G20 London Summit

With urgent deadlines covered, I can return to my observations on the press briefing with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Once inside the press conference, I make a dash for the front row. Seating for the audience is divided into three sections, left, where I am, middle, and right. Stills cameramen are in front of us, television cameras are to the sides and at the back of the room. As many of them are quite burly I tap one, Ray, on the shoulder and remind him that he needs to stay down by the floor so that the helpless female behind him can see the Prime Minister. Ray doesn’t object, and immediately becomes my friend.

UK lobby television reporters, Adam Boulton, Nick Robinson, Tom Bradby, etc, sit in the front row of the middle section.

A veteran South Asian business correspondent friend sits next to me and we discuss questions we might ask the P.M.

‘Ask him if this is the end of capitalism,’ the correspondent suggests, only half-joking.

There is a lean, light-coloured suited official on stage staring out at the media and I tell him that I want to ask a question. He asks me what the question is. He reminds me of someone with a military background.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown steps onto the stage in front of me, walks to the lectern, and delivers a communiqué of London Summit decisions, after which his lean, light-coloured suited official starts calling out the questioners. He gets some of them from a list. I have shot my hand straight into the air, expecting to be given the chance to speak shortly.

The official opts for other journalists. He includes a few from British television and also a male reporter with a very trendy haircut from China Central Television.

The suited official is interesting. I learn that he is a senior Downing Street press person. When he gestures to one of the roving mic carriers, he mimes to show them where he wants them to go.

He holds up four fingers. This means fourth row. One finger means first row. I see him stroking his chin, and when the mic carrier looks at him blankly, clearly bemused, he gestures in a more animated fashion - his hand moves up and down from his chin to his chest - while mouthing ‘beard’ and holding up three fingers.

At one juncture, the mic carrier takes initiative and runs towards someone holding up his hand, without waiting for instructions from the stage. This seems to cause the Downing Street official to have an apoplectic fit and he jumps up and down noiselessly, makes a gesture of slitting his throat and shouts a silent ‘no!’

This is all going on while the PM is delivering serious answers to the attentive international press assembled. I'm surprised that I haven’t been asked to stand up and deliver my question yet, and my arm is beginning to ache badly. In fact this is the longest I’ve had to wait to make my point in any press conference, anywhere. But journalists must practise patience, so I become zen-like, knowing that my time will come.

Eventually, another Downing Street official tells his colleague on stage to call me out. I jump up, ask my question and sit down, mightily relieved.

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