It’s Right to Know Week
but few journalists are celebrating. In the midst of an election, public
servants aren’t talking to the public, and the prime minister’s ‘no reporter
zone’ is enjoying some added muscle from the RCMP. Here’s a round-up of this week’s news that (in some circles) wasn’t fit to print:
With the election now in full swing, a survey of community online newspapers across Canada shows some outlets choose to highlight community-based stories with little (and sometimes no) coverage of the federal election while others provide exciting examples of what can be done, even with meager resources.
Is it within the RCMP’s mandate to stop the media from doing its job?
That’s the question asked in a Canadian Press feature, with a news hook about Tory candidate Dona Cadman being whisked away from reporters. The story reported that police manhandled one reporter to stop her following Cadman.
“Mounties protecting Prime Minister Stephen Harper during a campaign event in Surrey, B.C., were used Tuesday evening to stop reporters from approaching a high-profile Tory candidate,” said the story. “Keep them out,” Harper aide Ray Novak shouted at the RCMP security detail as journalists approached Dona Cadman….CTV’s Rosemary Thompson was literally yanked aside by one Mountie as she approached the retreating group – which did not include the prime minister.”
“Many on Parliament Hill believe the PMO’s use of RCMP security to thwart reporters has increased under a Harper government that is obsessed with communications control,” wrote CP reporter Bruce Cheadle. He included background on previous cases where the RCMP crossed the line — including “the most infamous case of RCMP deploying its resources for essentially communications reasons came under the watch of former Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien at the 1997 APEC summit in Vancouver.”
Another question: How does the RCMP brass expect to improve its terrible relations with media — and arguably increasing public distrust — if the force behaves as any politician’s handmaiden?
Kory Teneycke, spokesman for Tory leader Stephen Harper, on the non-role of journalists: it is not a candidates’ priority to speak to media — but rather to get elected.
Teneycke was quoted in the Globe and Mail in a story about how party officials whisked away B.C. Tory candidate Dona Cadman after a speech, away from waiting reporters. (“Cadman has said the party offered her dying husband, the late independent MP Chuck Cadman, a $1-million insurance policy for his vote in a crucial 2005 confidence vote,” noted the Globe.)
Here’s Teneycke’s quote:
“Local candidates’ priority is campaigning in their local ridings and not talking to the national media.” Added the Globe: when it was pointed out that local reporters were present, he said he
has not said it was their priority to speak to local media, either.
This does not bode well for the future — of our democracy, never mind voters trying to make up their minds by becoming informed.
Continue Reading We’re chopped liver
Excerpts from a scathing piece by Andrew Coyne in Maclean’s on the performance of political journalism in Canada:
“…in one respect every election is the same: the press coverage. It’s always an embarrassment, and always in exactly the same way. Politicians learn from their mistakes, sometimes. We just go on repeating ours.
The media “… are hurting democracy. We aren’t just missing an opportunity to help the public make sense of things at a critical time. We’re making things worse. We’re actually getting in the way.”
Coyne especially dislikes horserace reporting:
Readers, he says, want to know about political candidates: “Who are these people, and what are they going to do to us? Tell us about the candidates who are running for office, their values and character. And tell us what they would do with the power they seek from us, their policies and platforms. If you need to add a little colour to make it entertaining, fine, but don’t let that obscure the main point.
“What, instead, do we tell them? We tell them who’s ahead, over and over and over. And, of course, who’s behind.”
Sez Charlie Smith of the Georgia Straight on the subject of television journalism (his blog in the alternative newspaper is a rant about the resignation of a NDP candidate in British Columbia):
“In Canada, our dumb, pot-smoking-obsessed, issue-avoiding television news programs are probably elevating the risk of a Conservative majority government. Time will tell if Harper can replicate the financial and foreign-affairs records of the Bush administration.”
Jeez Charlie. Why don’t you tell us what you really think?
Continue Reading Blame TV news
Two prominent Newfoundland journalists have crossed the line to run as candidates – and “it’s not pretty,”
observes Greg Locke in this J-Source post.
But when the Sydney Morning Herald threw out the question to readers – Should Ex-journos
Become Pollies? – the response was milder than you might expect. The
question brings to mind the case of former MP and ex-journo Dick Proctor, who
flipped into ‘journalism mode,’ scribbling notes at the sound of a juicy high-level
conversation on an airplane. Jon Filson raises the question: What would a working
journalist have done with the notes?
Then there’s the reverse play: when politicos become
journos. Eric Green of the Washington-watching website America.gov argues politicians may bring
their spin with them, but they also bring an inside track on issues that the
rest of us can only dream about. In Blurry
Line Separates Politics, Journalism, Green points to the example of the
late Tim Russert, an ex-politico who established a solid journalistic reputation.
But this only works when allegiances are shed, the article cautions. In other
words, blurry or not, the line matters – and once you’ve crossed, it’s not so
easy to go back.
Has the defence department muzzled its employees?
Reported Canadian Press: “The Defence Department has ordered staff to limit media interviews during the federal election campaign in a move critics charge is nothing more than an attempt to contain potentially damaging coverage of the Afghan mission.” CP quoted Carleton University journalism professor Chris Waddell criticizing the order: “Whether there’s an election on or not, these people are public servants and accountability shouldn’t be suspended in the course of an election campaign nor should information be suspended.”
But the CP story also quoted a statement from an un-named spokeswoman in the department’s media office that officials “continue to communicate with media and the public and grant select interviews.”
Clear as mud.
Continue Reading Defence officials muzzled?
Federal delays in responding to public requests are at a “crisis level”
and Canada lags behind many other countries on openness scale, says a recent report on freedom of information access laws worldwide.
Continue Reading Canada’s information less free, says report
Elections produce a lot of numbers. A guide to some of the online resources available to help you get on top of the numbers game.