Stephan Harper and the Media

Imagine going into a meeting with colleagues on Monday morning, where you work, and responding to a question about your work by ignoring the questioner and looking to someone else in the meeting, or worse yet, by getting up and walking out, declaring that your colleagues are out to get you.  Imagine going into a meeting with clients on Monday morning, to discuss a new initiative your company is putting forward, but refusing to answer questions.  Imagine addressing project stakeholders, but refusing to allow stakeholders to form their own agenda or questions.  Can you imagine keeping your job, or the project, or whatever under these circumstances?  In the real world, petulant displays like Harper put on the other day, walking out on the National Press, and no refusing to speak with them entirely, those sorts of displays get you fired.

This isn't the first time I've talked about this specific issue, or about Harper and the media in general, and I'm pretty sure it won't be the last.  I'm certain it won't be the last time I give my friend Anitsirhc reason to say "I told you so."  George ran an excellent bit on this on Thursday night's The Hour where he talked about this issue, and talked about the tradition of first-come-first-served questioning during Press Gallery conferences, and I loved the fact that he played Terry Milewski's questioning of the PM, and the non-answers regarding his claims.  I'd also like to commend George on using the word 'crap' in description of all this … its never been appropriately applied than the way he used it in this report.

But this issue goes beyond the tradition of the Press Gallery.  It speaks directly to control of information, and it speaks to vital questions of democracy.  What Harper is looking for, essentially, is a media environment where his office controls who can ask questions of the PM, and when.  Buried in several of the reports I've seen, George's included, are phrases that send chills down my spine.  "Approved list of reporters" was one, when describing who would be able to ask question during Parliament Hill press conferences.  When did we flashback into the era of Soviet-style media manipulation, where only government approved journalists get access to the Prime Minister?

The fact remains that Harper has forgotten who he works for.  Regardless of their status as reporters, every single person in the Press Gallery is Harper's boss as a citizen of Canada.  He serves at their pleasure, as he serves at my pleasure, and at all of yours, if you are citizens of Canada.  He is obliged to answer to me, and it is not in his job description to appoint or approve the people who ask him questions for me … the function of a free press is to provide a free marketplace of ideas where I can choose to read the reporters from the Globe and Mail, the CBC, or The National Post, or any number of other specific viewpoints on the information.  If Harper's office controls the list of people who ask him questions, then the 'marketplace of ideas' ends up skewed towards the whims of the PMO.

The irony is, in theory, I am Harper's poster-boy redneck.  I was born and bred in Alberta and i believe fiercely in individual rights and responsibility, solid conservative values.  I should be the sort of person Harper appeals to, and I'm here to say that he needs to talk to whatever reporters want to ask him questions.  One of his jobs … perhaps his ONLY job in the grand scheme of things … is to tell his project stakeholders whats happening.  Harper sees it as an intrusion to answer reporter's questions … it is, in fact, the reason for his existence in Canadian politics, IMO.

If he thinks the public supports him on this, I think he'll find he is badly mistaken.  There's something about the notion of the PMO preparing lists of 'approved' reporters that turns my stomach.  One of the key complaints western leaders had about the Communist threat was its control of information flow, and making lists of approved reporters and news agencies was one of the main ways communist governments controlled that information flow.  If nothing else, borrowing the methods of Josef and Leonid is hardly good optics for a Prime Minister who is supposedly Conservative and right wing.

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One Response

  1. Imagine if Martin did the same thing when he was prime minister and it wasn’t a big deal.
    Like he did during the last election.
    Making reporters get on a list, same as Harper is doing now.
    What if the media ignored it when a liberal did it and blew a gasket when a conservative did it?

    Editor’s Note: What ifs are fun … but if they are only what ifs, they are useless …

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