Missing MH370: Challenging to deal with media, says press con moderator

Ever wondered who is the moderator at the daily press conference on the disappearance of flight MH370?

For those who did not know - he is Jagjit Singh, the assistant information officer of the media and corporate communications division of the Information Department.

In an interview with StarMetro at Sama-Sama Hotel where the daily press conferences are held, Jagjit said his role during the last 12 days was challenging and an interesting experience.

"It is interesting as it is something new for me. It is my first time moderating at a press conference in such a capacity."

"It is also challenging to cater to local and foreign journalists," he said, adding that he also assisted in coordinating the media centre.

On the criteria to select the media members to pose questions to the authorities, he said he picked them at random.

"Local journalists are given time to ask questions first, followed by the foreign media.

"I try to remember faces so that everyone has a fair chance of asking questions," he said.

The no-nonsense Jagjit added that: "I have security background, so I may seem stern, but one has to be stern to keep things in control.

At the media centre set up at the hotel, 25 staff members were working in shifts round the clock to provide information and assist journalists, said Jagjit, adding that staff at the department in Precinct 4, Putrajaya, were also playing similar roles.

"It's a requirement under the National Security Council Directive 20 to set up a media centre during a crisis or disaster to disemminate the necessary information to the press.

"We act as the go-between for the media and the people they want to interview.

"The objective is to provide a conducive working environment for the press, including providing them with internet service, TV, coffee, tea and light snacks," he said.

His first stint as a media coordinator during a crisis was the 2008 Bukit Antarabangsa landslide, followed by the 2011 Hulu Langat landslide and the Lahad Datu intrusion last year.

"No two situations are the same. We learn from mistakes and review the situation to see how we can further improve on the delivery.

When asked on the difference between local and foreign journalists, Jagjit said all journalists were the same.

"You are hungry for information, you want things fast, accurate and detailed, we try our best to assist," he said.

A journalist from the United States who was pleased with the way the press conferences were conducted said:

"There is equal opportunity for journalists to field questions during the press conference, it is quite balanced. But, of course, we always want more information.

Having covered several crisis and disasters such as last year's Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines and the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake in Indonesia, NHK Japan Broadcasting senior correspondent Jun Kobayashi had his fair share of trying to get the latest information to report.

"There are many rumours and we are not sure which is a reliable source, hence the challenge is in getting the right info," he said, adding that Japanese viewers are concerned about news regarding MH370.

Hunan Broadcasting System journalist Effy Zhang said this was the first time the station was sending its crew overseas to report from the scene.

"We usually get international news from other news agencies. This is a new experience and a challenge for us.

"All of us are stationed at the hotel so we are unable to interview other sources," she said.

The presence of media personnel from about 100 organisations at the Sama-Sama Hotel in Sepang looked somewhat like a huge international media assembly.

The hotel lobby was a scene of a big newsroom with journalists and photographers from all around the world filing their stories and sending their photos to their respective media headquarters.

It is a stark contrast to the operations centre in Lahad Datu during the intrusion by Sulu gunmen, where it was hot and humid while the accommodation was scarce.

The rush is after the end of every press conference. One can see reporters and photographers jostling for tables, chairs, and power points to send in their reports and photos.

As for broadcast journalists, it is to find the best spot to do the stand-upper to give their viewers the feel of a live report on an air tragedy.