Monday, June 14, 2010

Harper's Stalinist Control of Information. Is the Press Gallery's Patience Finally Fraying?

The Harper years have not been anything for the Canadian media to be proud of. Harper wasted no time in severing their access to information and cowing them into submission. With barely a whimper the Canadian media have abandoned their responsibility to be the "watchdog of government" to transform into Harper's lapdogs instead.

Finally a few of them are coming clean about what they've allowed Harper to get away with on their watch. From "Helen Buzetti and Press Gallery colleagues" via The Tyee:

Most Canadians are aware of the blacked-out Afghan detainee documents and the furor over MPs' secret expenses. But the problem runs much deeper.

Under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the flow of information out of Ottawa has slowed to a trickle. Cabinet ministers and civil servants are muzzled. Access to Information requests are stalled and stymied by political interference. Genuine transparency is replaced by slick propaganda and spin designed to manipulate public opinion.

The result is a citizenry with limited insight into the workings of their government and a diminished ability to hold it accountable. As journalists, we fear this will mean more government waste, more misuse of taxpayer dollars, more scandals Canadians won't know about until it's too late.

...It's been four years since Harper muzzled his cabinet ministers and forced reporters to put their names on a list during rare press conferences in hopes of being selected to ask the prime minster a question. It's not uncommon for reporters to be blackballed, barred from posing questions on behalf of Canadians.

More recently, information control has reached new heights. Access to public events is now restricted. Photographers and videographers have been replaced by hand-out photos and footage shot by the prime minister's press office and blitzed out to newsrooms across Canada. It's getting tougher to find an independent eye recording history, a witness seeing things how they really happened -- not how politicians wish they'd happened. Did cabinet ministers grimace while they tasted seal meat in the Arctic last summer? Canadians will never know. Photographers were barred from the fake photo-op.

Those hand-out shots are, unfortunately, widely used by media outlets, often without the caveat that they are not real journalism.

In the end, that means Canadian only get a sanitized and staged version of history -- not the real history.

Meanwhile, the quality of factual information provided to the public has declined steadily. Civil servants -- scientists, doctors, regulators, auditors and policy experts, those who draft public policy and can explain it best to the population -- cannot speak to the media. Instead, reporters have to deal with an armada of press officers who know very little or nothing at all about a reporter's topic and who answer tough questions with vague talking points vetted by layers of political staff and delivered by email only.

A Call to Arms

Last month, reporters gathered in Montreal at the Canadian Association of Journalists' conference to discuss these issues. On behalf of our members, we are calling on journalists to stand together and push back by refusing to accept vague email responses to substantive questions that require an interview with a cabinet minister or a senior civil servant. We are also asking journalists to stop running hand-out photos and video clips.

We are also calling on journalists to explain better to readers and viewers just how little information Ottawa has provided for a story. Every time a minister refuses to comment, a critical piece of information is withheld or an access request is delayed, Canadians deserve to know.

Look, there's no two ways about it. When Harper appointed political commissars to the PMO to filter enquiries that would be permitted to pass to the public service and to shape (propagandize) those responses that would be permitted to go back, it was a direct and powerful, not to mention, disgraceful attack on Canadian democracy. That's what Joe Stalin did. It's an outrage that I've written about many times and it ought to have been one that the Conservative-Lite Party of Canada used to club Harper over the head again and again and again - but didn't.

Fortunately there is reason to hope that the parliamentary press gallery may be finding the spine that the none-too oppositional Opposition Leader lacks. It's about damned time.


Anonymous said...

Unfortunately for Canadians, The "
press gallery", is also vetted by their bosses who are vetted by the owners.
Journalism doesn't exist in Canada...almost', and Stalin had it tough compared to Harper.

Okie said...

On the propaganda and controlled message fronts, it's difficult to know where to begin?

Creepy might be a good word to start.

Add to that the sloppy or intentionally misleading jounalism plus leading people by what is not included in many MSM articles. i.e. the CBC's coverage of the story from the NY times you wrote on yesterday. It was just awful, and the only thing in their favor was they clearly identified the original source.

Other issues that are front and centre with news sources now is presentations based on unidentified sources, read hearsay or someone just made the shit up. Then there's the editorializing in articles which aren't editorials. Save the bullshit, just the facts please. But who knows the facts now? Does it matter to much of the MSM anymore or is that the point? Which brings me back to Creepy.

As the MSM and political parties have caught on to this feedback idea, they often present a part of a story then leave it up to message carriers and moderators to do the rest. Day after day the message on politically sensitive items is carried by what seems like teams which operate at different levels of intellect. The common denominator though is no matter how thoroughly their messages are debunked, or how reliable the sources, they are back the next day and the next and the next carrying the identical messages. Almost verbatim usually.

Its as if we are in the midst of an Orwellian Seige masterminded by the spawn of Josef Goebbels.

That's Creepy.

The Mound of Sound said...

It is indeed creepy. There was a time when working journalists at least ascribed to the notions of impartiality and truth. No mortal could ever keep biases entirely suppressed but it was essential to at least strive to get as close as you can.

Without that professionalism, marked by intellectual discipline, journalism turns into Fox News, a parody of truth. Once journalists yield to their biases, which are in fact their basest instincts, they betray the public and turn into the purveyors of rank lies.

The miracle of the far right in North America has been their mastery of dominating the media. This has been achieved by corporatizing the media and facilitating concentration of ownership and cross-ownership. To honest journalism that's a vicious cancer.

It's time our Parliament forced the dismemberment of the media cartels. Place them under strict limits and force the divestiture of their news outlets. Put competition back into the biz. Restore diversity of opinion and the widest possible debate.

I've often wondered how Conservatives can support Harper's anti-democratic ways. Surely they must be willing to put Canada ahead of their partisan interests on something like this. If not, they're piss poor Canadians.

Okie said...

We saw the epitome of concentration of ownership of printed news in NB with the Dark Empire controlling the whole lot and even having the power to get past the monopoly laws. In spite of the heavily slanted weight of evidence, multiple witnesses, plus the fact they did own every major newspaper, the inquiry found that it did not represent a significant negative influence on the general public.

We knew then, the paradigm shift was complete.

About Conservatives support of Harper and his anti democratic ways, there is more than one reason for that and in the minds of many the Liberals were / are simply much worse. The fury of a Conservative scorned never dies, they bequeath it to their Children.