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Posted 13 February 2009

Ah the joys of being a journalist. Arenít we the most sought after people on the planet? Arenít politicians and CEOs clambering over themselves just to talk into our mikes and spill their wisdom onto our notepads?

Now consider this. Sometime early in January this year (oh no, not last year - but it could have been for all the progress I have made so far) I approached SABMiller. I wanted to find out more about their sustainable development initiatives. They have put a lot of information out on the web but that does not mean that all my questions have been answered.  

Moreover, SABMiller had given a contact email address. So I contacted them, told them who I was and why I wanted to speak to them. After all, I was going to give a paper on sustainable development at the IBD Africa Section Conference in South Africa in March.

Makes sense, doesnít it?

For several weeks, there was no reply.

I then decided to send an email to their corporate affairs director who sits on SABMillerís executive committee explaining my grievances to her. That was on 26 January. Nice lady, a real pro. She wrote back immediately, saying that she would make sure someone got in touch with me.

Next day their head of media relations dropped me a line, asking me again what I wanted to discuss with their sustainable development team.

I replied by submitting a list of questions.

The following day (28 January) the secretary of the head of sustainable development contacted me with the info that her boss was available for a telephone interview. She gave me several dates to chose from. I ticked the one on 16 February.

On Friday 13 February I was still waiting for a confirmation whether her boss will keep the appointment.

I assume they expect me now to check my email on an hourly basis to find out when exactly on Monday 16 February I will have a chance of firing some questions at their head of sustainable development. 

Ok, I am not Reuters or Bloomberg. Supersonic speed is not what my readers want from me.  

But processing a request for over four weeks and involving three people Ė call that efficient?

Incidentally, SABMillerís head of sustainable development is going to give a paper at the same convention. Chances are high that we will bump into each other.

Trouble is he may not be allowed to talk to me there.

Had I phoned into SABMiller as suggested, they would have taped our conversation in case I misquote him. Or in case he says something he is not supposed to let on.

Who am I to complain? Pity those poor CEOs. Latest I have heard is that corporate lawyers are discussing whether executives may use keywords or prompts when giving PowerPoint presentations during board meetings.

Why?

Some lawyers actually think that itís best if CEOs and directors read out pre-written statements. That way they pre-empt a dispute over whoís exactly said what.  

So much for the freedom of speech.  

 

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