Former CBC News head Tony Burman to Al Jazeera

TORONTO – Tony Burman, the one-time head of CBC news, has been appointed managing director of Al Jazeera’s English operations.

Burman, 60, takes over from Nigel Parsons, who has held the position since the network’s launch two years ago. Parsons is now managing director of business acquisition and development.

“In the months ahead, I will … put an emphasis on the expansion of Al Jazeera’s vast audience reach into important new areas of the world, most notably North America,” Burman said in a news release.

He called Al Jazeera’s newsrooms the most diverse in the world with a presence in more than 50 countries.

“I look forward to capitalizing on this strength through increased investment in investigative journalism, more provocative and insightful current affairs and expansion of the network’s large worldwide network of more than 60 news bureaus.”

Burman, an award-winning news and documentary producer, left the CBC last year after 35 years at the public broadcaster, including seven as editor in chief.

In 2006, Burman oversaw CBC News’s introduction of a new look and attitude on all its platforms in response to demands that the public broadcaster try to be hipper and cooler. A survey of Canadians found that parts of the CBC News operation didn’t appeal to young people.

Al Jazeera’s English channel was launched in November 2006 and is now available to more than 100 million households worldwide.

Somehow, this makes sense for the former CBC News editor-in-chief.

Getting out the vote in the US election

While is was inevitable for some time, Arizona senator John McCain only recently became the official nominee for the Republican Party. Most U.S. observers believe that Chicago junior senator Barack Obama will defeat Hillary Clinton in the Democrat primaries.

Now, the question: in a Obama vs. McCain contest, who is more likely to win? The easy answer for most is Obama. Since McCain has be the de facto nominee for quite some time, the U.S. media has focused primarily on the horserace that is Obama vs. Clinton. In short, the Democrats are getting high profile while McCain’s storyline is wrapped up in the interim. This translates to perceived momentum and this translates well with voters as who is perceived to win will often bring voters on side; people like to pick a winner.

However, Obama has a tough road ahead. He has largely been unvetted by the media and democrats (the internal contest) are reluctant to bring out the heavy ammunition against a potential nominee who may represent the Democrats’ only hope to retaking the White House. If the Dems leave Obama too damaged, he may not stand up well in the main event. However, his kid gloves treatment may in turn be part of his downfall. As we’

History as viewed through a different sort of lens

On the so-called “Cadscam”, some reporters are re-writing history.

Consider the following from an article by Lawrence Martin, a senior reporter for the Globe and Mail in the Parliamentary Press Gallery:

Mr. Cadman, who had left the Conservatives to sit as an independent, was therefore preparing to vote with the Liberals to keep the government afloat. But Conservative Party officials, Mr. Moore said, were in discussions with Mr. Cadman, trying to work something out. [emphasis mine]

Now, here’s an excerpt from Steve Rennie’s CP story:

Harper said while he wasn’t optimistic about their chances of persuading Cadman – a former Tory MP who had left the party to sit as an Independent MP – to vote with the Conservatives to bring down Martin’s government, he urged two people “legitimately representing the party” to tread cautiously. [emphasis mine]

When Brian Mulroney was testifying before the Ethics committee, opposition MPs did their best to refer to former “Conservative” Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, rather than “former Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney”. In fact, we can see it here in an excerpt from this 2008 article in the Toronto Star:

Lawyers for all three men have also argued Gomery showed signs of bias through various statements to the press — he memorably described Chrétien’s fondness for monogrammed golf balls as “small-town cheap” — and in his decision to hire Bernard Roy, the law partner and longtime friend of former Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney, as the inquiry’s chief counsel.

So, what does this mean? Remember the Liberal alarms that went off post-merger that decried that the new Conservative Party was not the new version of the Progressive Conservative party? Now, we see opposition MPs try to associate Mulroney with the current Conservative party. Now, we see an entirely new invention by associating Chuck Cadman’s history with the Conservatives/Tories when he never sat as an MP for an party called Conservative! Chuck Cadman sat as a Reform MP and then as an Alliance MP. It suits Lawrence Martin’s narrative to throw around the “Conservative” label as his story discusses the dark cloud that has surrounded Conservatives lately (he even seems to extend the adjective “conservative” to the now jailed Conrad Black to imply the political noun “Conservative”). To streamline the scandal narrative, press flacks are revising history to label Cadman (and his alleged inducement back into the fold) as a Conservative-Independent-Conservative progression of events. Newspaper readers don’t need to be helped along; giving news consumers the full and truthful context is superior than bending affiliations to fit a desired storyline.

UPDATE: I was wrong. Cadman sat briefly as a Conservative MP post merger until he lost his nomination and then sat as an independent a few months later. I think that it is still more accurate to describe Cadman as an Alliance/Reform legacy MP rather than Conservative as the context of “Cadscam” relates to his independence from the new Conservative legacy. Still, I argued against what was factual. My apologies to Lawrence Martin.

C-10, censorship, Liberal outrage and double standards

Jane Taber in the Globe and Mail today:

The Liberals acknowledged yesterday that they tried when they were in office to eliminate tax credits for offensive movies, but only to prevent a film about schoolgirl killers Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka.

Critics say that a similar move by the federal Conservative government is an attempt to censor the Canadian film and TV industry.

I tell ya, it’s never been easier to point out a double standard! While Taber does great work reporting on the Liberals coming forward first to suggest that they’ve done something similar, what she fails to mention is that the controversial section of the legislation limiting grants for subjectively offensive films is virtually word for word the same as the Liberal legislation!

In 2003, Sheila Copps, the Liberal Minister of Heritage introduced the following:

(3) The definition “Canadian film or video production certificate” in subsection 125.4(1) of the Act is replaced by the following:

“Canadian film or video production certificate” means a certificate issued in respect of a production by the Minister of Canadian Heritage certifying that the production is a Canadian film or video production in respect of which that Minister is satisfied that

(a) except where the production is a prescribed treaty co-production (as defined by regulation), an acceptable share of revenues from the exploitation of the production in non-Canadian markets is, under the terms of any agreement, retained by

(i) a qualified corporation that owns or owned an interest in the production,

(ii) a prescribed taxable Canadian corporation related to the qualified corporation, or

(iii) any combination of corporations described in (i) or (ii), and

(b) public financial support of the production would not be contrary to public policy.

Guidelines

(7) The Minister of Canadian Heritage shall issue guidelines respecting the circumstances under which the conditions in paragraphs (a) and (b) of the definition of “Canadian film or video production certificate” in subsection (1) are satisfied. For greater certainty, these guidelines are not statutory instruments as defined in the Statutory Instruments Act.

and here’s the analogous parts of C-10, the Conservative legislation:

(3) The definition “Canadian film or video production certificate” in subsection 125.4(1) of the Act is replaced by the following:

“Canadian film or video production certificate” means a certificate issued in respect of a production by the Minister of Canadian Heritage certifying that the production is a Canadian film or video production in respect of which that Minister is satisfied that

(a) except where the production is a treaty co-production (as defined by regulation), an acceptable share of revenues from the exploitation of the production in non-Canadian markets is, under the terms of any agreement, retained by

(i) a qualified corporation that owns or owned an interest in, or for civil law a right in, the production,

(ii) a prescribed taxable Canadian corporation related to the qualified corporation, or

(iii) any combination of corporations described in subparagraph (i) or (ii); and

(b) public financial support of the production would not be contrary to public policy.

(7) The Minister of Canadian Heritage shall issue guidelines respecting the circumstances under which the conditions in paragraphs (a) and (b) of the definition of “Canadian film or video production certificate” in subsection (1) are satisfied. For greater certainty, these guidelines are not statutory instruments as defined in the Statutory Instruments Act.

In February 2004 (under Liberal PM Paul Martin’s government), the following guidelines describing “ineligible genres of production” (those that do not qualify for a tax credit under the program:

a) news, current events or public affairs programming, or a programme that includes weather or market reports;
b) talk show;
c) production in respect of a game, questionnaire or contest (other than a production directed primarily at minors);
d) sports event or activity;
e) gala presentation or an awards show;
f) production that solicits funds;
g) reality television;
h) pornography;
i) advertising;
j) production produced primarily for industrial, corporate or institutional purposes;
k) production, other than a documentary, all or substantially all of which consists of stock footage; or
l) production for which public financial support would, in the opinion of the Minister of Canadian Heritage, be contrary to public policy.

Double standard? Yes, I think so.

The Harper Government

In political communications, an objective of prominent important is framing your political opponent(s). For example, the Conservatives have seized upon Stephane Dion, just over a year ago the new leader of the opposition and crafted a public persona for the man before he had a chance to do so himself. The Conservatives introduced Canadians to Stephane Dion rather than allowing Dion to define his own leadership. Now, even when you prompt an Ottawa reporter to fill in the blank: Stephane Dion _________, the response that you’ll inevitably get is “is not a leader”. For the more Liberal-sympathetic members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery it helps if you mimic the timbre and cadence of the narrator in the now infamous ads.

One of the classic methods of defining one’s opponent is personification (either by emphasizing or diminishing its importance). In favourable media reports on a positive event, headlines will personify accomplish while when bad news happens a favourable headline writers will often spread responsibility thin. For example, if the Conservative government announced that it was to send the coast guard to rescue a sinking ship of orphans, the National Post might trumpet, “Harper acts to save children” while the Globe and Mail might report “Ottawa approves watercraft extraction”. In a situation where a negative event occurs, the favourable press might write “Ottawa spending at record level” where an unfavourable paper might publish “Harper government out of control”. Negative messengers try to personify the blame and thinly distribute the plaudits while positive messaging personifies the kudos and distributes the blame. After all, it is easy to demonize one person rather than a collective such as a party, or, even more abstract, the city where the federal government sits.

Moving along this logic, the opposition parties in the current Parliament have sought to sharpen their criticism on one focal point: Stephen Harper. Thus, they reason, it is more effective to blame “The Harper government” than “The Conservative government” or “Ottawa” (opposition MPs are part of “Ottawa” too, in the cynical and literal sense of the term/location). However, polls on the Harper and his party are showing that the Prime Minister frequently polls higher than his party; Canadians are more comfortable and warm to the concept of “Harper” than they are “Conservative”. This may be attributed to a few factors such as the transcendence of the Prime Ministership beyond the concept of party. “Harper government” may actually be a redundant phrase to some people, synonymous with “the Prime Minister’s government”. The “Harper government” is therefore somewhat inert in its effectiveness as messaging for the opposition.

The term “Conservative”, however, is a term with which people may or may not self-identify. Since it is the weaker of the two terms (Harper being the stronger), it is difficult for opposition parties to personify the negative and take advantage of this weaker brand.

The Liberal Party on the other hand has a stronger brand (the Liberal Party) than the personification of it (Stephane Dion). This plays to the Conservatives favour as they can both personify the negative and use the weaker brand at the same time to emphasize their message.

Lessons in New Media: Regretting the Error

This article is part of a series on blogging, political blogging and the evolution of news reporting.

Blogging continues to evolve as a medium where authors can engage in a variety of activities from finding communities of fellow hobbyists or of like-minded people, to bringing a more populist view and report of the news as it develops.

In the reporting of news, much like in traditional media, errors can and do occur. For anyone that chases a story where facts are raw, breaking and ever-changing, it is not unexpected that the reporter will have to amend an update for their viewers/listeners/readers. After all, that’s why these occurrences are sometimes called “late-breaking developments”.

At the extreme end of reporting is 24-hour cable news where journalists often cover an event live and from the scene as the news itself is unfolding. Not many reporters are savants and they do the best they can to report what facts they are aware of at the time, what is likely to be known shortly, and what the significance of these elements are to the broader picture. Often, reporters on the scene will deal with sources that may have special knowledge, but themselves may be ignorant to certain facts of which others could be aware. Of course, as this all burns in the crucible of the news event as it occurs, hopefully the truth can come out in its purest possible form at the end.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have news magazines which publish stories which have happened and which may have been concluded for weeks. A reader can get a great in-depth report of an event after it has unfolded by picking up a copy of Maclean’s, the Economist, or Time. Editors do not often publish corrections in this news medium because while the pressure of deadline is still there, it is entirely different; updating news consumers as to what is happening and now gives way to concerns of whether a story is still timely or relevant. Insignificant minutia (both accurate and inaccurate) are distilled away by the longer passage of time afforded to this medium.

In between these two poles we have the “6/11 o’clock news” and newspapers. Both media will more frequently provide corrections of their reporting when necessary, yet in comparison with cable news which corrects its errors in the context of news updates and reasonably passes off corrections as “the evolution of a story”, newspapers and nightly newscasts correct their errors as lapses in quality.

Blogging represents an interesting amalgam when reporting on ongoing and developing news stories. While most blogging exists in print (some of it is video- based with vlogging), the blogging medium sees its fair share of reporting that is more aligned with cable news than with news magazines when it comes to late-breaking developments and the unfolding of the broader news story. The “live print” of the blog medium can represent a departure from what is expected by consumers that read their news rather than watch it. While most live reporting is only ever watched as that (i.e. live), it is archived and can be played on future broadcasts. Yet, there is less of an expectation for formal correction as the reporter generally corrects live as they proceed with their report. Readers of newspapers and news magazines have traditionally expected to see corrections of erroneous reporting since the time-frame between publication and correction spans from the period of a day through a span of weeks.

As blogging represents an odd mix between being “live” and being expressed in print, consumers of traditional media can have mixed expectations as to what is acceptable when it comes to correcting errors in ongoing reporting.

A blog post both represents a record of what’s been said and an ongoing dynamic report of what’s happening. To differentiate between other forms of printed media, errors can be edited off of a blog as if they had never been made at all. Indeed, this can be an easier task than a newspapers publisher recovering every print copy of his/her publication and burning them. So, when an error is made while blogging, is it always entirely appropriate to excise the inaccuracies when they are made?

First, it should be noted that corrections should always be made when errors come to a blogger’s attention. But, is it appropriate to remove the record of the error if by doing so we have the sole benefit of providing accuracy of our facts? Other forms of media do not have such a luxury and the journalistic standard has always been to note the error since it cannot be recovered. Since blogging allows a sort of historical correction that is not afforded to traditional media, is it appropriate to do such a blunt correction rather than letting the record of the error stand while providing a correction?

The blogging convention that has developed among those that participate in the medium has been to, except in rare circumstances, let the record of the error stand while pointing future readers in the direction of the correct information.

One can accomplish this in a number of ways. When a blogger wishes to correct the record of fact, while at the same time maintaining the historical record of the story as it was reported and as it developed, the blogger should return to the offending statement/paragraph and provide a reference to where one can find the correct information. For example, one might create a link to the update “see update” or if not linking the update, simply refer to the update that the reader should be able to find below “see update 3/19/2007, 3:21pm”. Another option that further emphasizes the error, maintains a record of it, is the use of HTML (<strike></strike>) to strike-through the text, just like this. This option can fail, however, as certain blog aggregators and RSS readers strip all HTML tags from the text (and therefore the record of correction as well).

The final and least preferred corrective option is to delete the entire post. While this is not faithful to the record of reporting, it can be a easy face-saving measure for some. When considering this option, consider that making errors in the ongoing coverage of developing events is to be expected even if unfortunate. Readers should be able to follow the progression of your reporting as it happens to understand how the unfolding of the story unfolded itself. Letting the error stand (but correcting the information) is also a good self-corrective measure as the consequences of errors retain their cost to and effect on the author.

To my recollection, I have only ever deleted one post instead of letting the record of my error stand while pointing readers in the direction of the correct information. At other rare instances long ago, in the interests of the truth, rather than the truth and the record, I have made factual edits to longer than short-standing sentences or paragraphs.

I regret the error.

Did the Liberals buy CBC Kyotoshop?

It appears that the Liberals are learning some dirty tricks from the CBC. Found at Liberal.ca:

A familiar technique has been used here to emphasize the dirty particulate colour of climate change (who knew that CO2 was a sulfuric red/yellow/brown?)

The Liberals have modified an image of a smokestack in alarmist fashion with a sepia filter to exaggerate the evils of Canadian industry and economic production.

Where have we seen this technique before?

The CBC has been caught using the same method to ratchet up the effect on a news photo to presumably make a similar point as the Liberals (Kyoto is the only way):

It appears that the Liberals have purchased the same photo editing software used by the CBC:

Heh.

CBC, politics and Facebook

The other day, I discovered a tool on Facebook for advertisers that allows a prospective ad buyer to narrow down a potential target group for the purposes of showing an advertisement to a particular demographic. For example, one could select the United Kingdom, the city of London, females, aged 18-35, who like “Painting”, and have selected their relationship status as “engaged”. You’ll find that out of a pool of 1,612,980 people in London (or of 6,407,580 on Facebook in the UK), you’ll be targeting your ad to 140 people specifically based on the breakdown above.

facebook-london.jpg
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So, I thought another breakdown might be interesting.

Facebook boasts 7,361,720 accounts in Canada. Of these accounts, 1,340 are at “CBC / Radio Canada”. If one then checks off “Liberal” as a delimiting factor, we’re left with 180 accounts. If we uncheck “Liberal” and check “Moderate” we get 40 accounts. Now, if we uncheck “moderate” and select “Conservative” we get “fewer than 20″ (Facebook seems to measure accounts for this application in blocks of 20. I assume that less than 20 could mean anywhere from 0-19 accounts).

So, to summarize, there are 1,340 Facebookers at CBC. Of this group, 180 have self-declared as Liberal, 40 as Moderates, and 0-19 as Conservatives.

Of course, this isn’t a scientific breakdown of political inclinations at CBC. After all, it could be possible that Conservatives are much more shy about posting their “Political Views” on Facebook. Further, one cannot confidently say that Facebook is representative of the population at large. This is simply data presented “as is”, for your consideration.

cbc-facebook.jpg
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cbc-facebook-liberal.jpg
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cbc-facebook-moderate.jpg
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cbc-facebook-conservative.jpg
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UPDATE: For those that have asked about the Canadian breakdown on Facebook, out of 7,361,720 Canadian accounts on Facebook, 618,240 are self-declared Liberal, and 281,840 Conservative. This is a 2.2:1 Liberal:Conservative ratio. In contrast, CBC has at least a 9:1 Liberal:Conservative ratio among its self-declared political people with Facebook accounts.

Don Newman’s politics

Did anyone else catch this editorial by one of Ottawa’s most respected news veterans?

This lambasting of Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been featured on CBC’s Politics website for most of this week. Let’s take a look:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has gone out of his way to let the reporters in the Parliamentary Press Gallery who cover him know that he doesn’t care very much about what they think.

Uh oh. PMO vs. Parliamentary Press Gallery politics was so early summer 2006, non? Don Newman seems to lament that Stephen Harper and Ottawa reporters were born in different pods. Besides, it’s Stephen Harper’s job to run the country. It’s the PPG’s job to care about what Stephen Harper thinks, not the other way around.

When he arrived in office with his minority government in 2006, Harper immediately had his communications staff tell the Gallery he would not hold news conferences in the theatre in the National Press Building.

He did, yes.

Never mind that every prime minister from Lester Pearson to Paul Martin had used the theatre to meet the press, along with a host of politicians, dignitaries and other notables. Even one of Harper’s heroes, Margaret Thatcher, held a news conference in the National Press Theatre during an official visit to Canada in the early 1980s.

No, Harper wanted to meet reporters in the foyer of the House of Commons, with the Chamber doors open behind him and Canadian flags in the background. A better visual image on TV. And if it looked a bit like the White House, so be it.

Yep, it seems we’re going there. As a veteran newsman, Newman knows that nothing appeals to his type of Canadians more than reductio ad americanum. What is Newman criticizing here? That the builders of Parliament made the foyer and House look like the White House from a certain angle, or that our Conservative cowboy Prime Minister chose it. From one angle, we see the House of Commons. From another (which bends around a few planes of reality), it’s the White House.

But the change of venue wasn’t the cause of friction between the Prime Minister and the people who cover him.

Really? (See above)

At Prime Ministerial news conferences in the Press Gallery Theatre, the President of the Press Gallery is the chairman of the event. The President is elected for a one year term by his or her peers.

And the Prime Minister’s government was elected by the people of Canada. Who’s authority are we appealing to here? The Parliamentary Press Gallery – and by extension, its President – are not elected by the people of Canada, does not exist by any law or statute written or ratified by the people’s representatives in Ottawa (or any other jurisdiction). The PPG is a club, with limited and exclusive membership.

Questioners are selected on a first come basis as they identify themselves to the President.

This would seem fair, however, first and foremost it would seem that a press conference is a consensual affair entered into by two (or more) participating parties. Further, the President and the gallery doesn’t recognize anyone outside of the club. The Gallery fashions itself as the gatekeeper to access to federal politicians in this Canadian Parliament. I remember reading of a time when freedom of the press was something that some journalists fought for. They used to fight for access, now they control it.

But in the new world order of Harper press conferences,

yeah, he went there. But let me take this opportunity to contrast the “old world order” that Newman is accustomed to with that which exists today. Twenty-four-hour cable news, blogs, gaffe-amplifying Youtube, the online social network, and even Peter C. Newman’s hidden tape recorder are today’s norm. The Prime Minister may wish to limit access because the demand for access has gone up as reporters try to score the next “Puffin” piece to wedge between commercials for sit-down showers and CHIP reverse mortgages.

a list of questioners is prepared by a member of the Prime Minister’s staff, from the names of reporters who indicate they want to ask a question. With control of the list, the Prime Minister’s staff can control who gets to ask a question. People the Prime Minister doesn’t like, or who ask tough questions, can be ignored.

When the Toronto Blue Jays or General Motors holds a press conference, is it not generally run in the same way? There is a press secretary/liaison that calls upon journalists with their hands up. Oh, the lessons we learned in kindergarten. The teacher may not call upon the bratty kids, but knows that those kids/reporters will still act in a way or write what they like.

When the Harper regime

regime!

tried to install

install!

this system after taking office, it was claimed the new approach was needed to provide more decorum around the Prime Minister. But formal news conferences by Prime Ministers have never been impromtu scrums. Reporters sat in theatre seats and only got to ask a question when their name was called by the Press Gallery president.

It was clear immediately that control

control!

of the list, not decorum, was the issue. At first no one in the press gallery agreed to the new procedure. But after a couple of months, under pressure from the owners or managers of their companies, the solidarity of the gallery

solidarity! (but not forever, sorry). Isn’t the press supposed to be in Ottawa to observe? It seems that they are participating in politics.

cracked and a number of reporters now go on the list of the Prime Minister’s flack

Dimitri’s a stand-up guy, I’ll have you know.

and ask questions when he holds a news conference.

Privately, friends and supporters of the Prime Minister admitted Harper wanted to limit the press because he believes most reporters were not sympathetic to his political programs. And he didn’t want to encourage any problems that might create.

In some circles we call that hearsay. We finally learn of the Prime Ministers real motives and it’s backed up by private conversations?

And pushed around or shut out, you might think that members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery would be attacking Harper at every chance they got.

Pushed around, shut out, attacking! What an image of a violent struggle.

But a funny thing has happened.

Harper has received generally benign coverage. Why?

Because Harper has abandoned or paid only lip service to most of the progams considered either controversial or far to the right on the political spectrum.

Considered by whom? This is your opinion piece, Mr. Newman…

Instead he has adopted entirely new attitudes on climate change, Quebec, and a number of other issues.

Attitudes most in the Press Gallery think are more moderate, more mainstream, more “sensible” than his previous positions.

It’s fantastic that our unelected, access-self-entitled, exclusive club of journalists in Ottawa have work-influencing and expressed opinions on policy matters and whether or not they are “sensible”. Those private conversations, Mr. Newman? Do you get the sense that the Prime Minister may have a point that his coverage extends beyond dispassionate and unbiased analysis?

So it has fallen to Harper’s former employee at the National Citizens Coalition, Gerry Nichols and others in the Conservative movement, to point out and criticize what are clearly major policy reversals. Policy reversals his former allies say are the “Flip Flops” of Harper the Prime Minister.

Harper just can’t win! He’s applauded for taking “sensible” mushy positions on one hand but on the other he’s a flip flopper on conservative principles and still draws criticism from Newman via Nicholls!

For the most part, embattled as they are with Stephen Harper and his communications helpers, Parliamentary Press Gallery journalists have not raised the “Flip Flop” issue.

“Embattled” is a press term that we hear when journalists believe that a news figure is in trouble (usually with their political party or the electorate). Since “embattled” is a subjective term, what happens when the press uses it to describe the Prime Minister’s relationship with itself?

The Prime Minister may have changed his mind but if he now agrees with most reporters, that kind of a “Flip Flop” is clearly enlightenment.

Don Newman’s politics indeed.