It was certainly a banner day for Stephen Harper’s new Conservative government. Today, the centrepiece legislation (essentially the foreseeable legacy of this new government) was tabled in the House of Commons by Minister John Baird, the President of the Treasury Board.
However, this anticipated legislation, which is unequivocally at the centre of Stephen Harper’s mandate in Parliament, was overshadowed in the following CBC clip (linked below) by sarcasm and anger at PMO communications by CBC reporter Keith Boag.
(UPDATE: The first 1:08 minutes of) Keith Boag’s report on
the Federal Accountability Act the media’s frustration
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The clip is marked with numbers which refer to the notes below:
- Keith Boag remarks (or complains) that Stephen Harper made them “jam” into a small room for a press conference. (Perhaps a larger venue such as the lobby outside of the HoC would be more appropriate for large crowds of reporters and their technical crews? However, I hear that reporters would prefer to “jam” themselves in the narrow hallway outside of the Prime Minister’s office and cabinet meeting room)
- More than 300 clauses in the FAA? Not bad. Too bad the FAA’s merits do not strike Boag enough to underscore them first in his report. This report instead begins with his anger towards cabinet accessibility.
- “Reporters had dozens of questions about [the FAA]”, Boag remarks as he sets up the video which includes an irate reporter complaining, “Are you going to ignore everyone (the queued reporters) in the lineup?”. Boag then edits to qualify the reporter by explaining that Harper only allowed one question in each official language. CBC’s chief political correspondent continues sarcastically, “Then he left, to champion public accountability, transparency and openness elsewhere.”
It’s always interesting when reporters make themselves the topic of the news. Stephen Harper and his communications team have done their best to control messaging and the PMO’s position (that is, after all, what a communications team gets paid for). So, as we see with Keith Boag’s report, the battle continues between the PMO and the PPG. A couple of sincere questions that I ask are: How much access to the PM and cabinet are reporters entitled to? Does the PM allow/deny access for his own benefit/peril?
In this modern era of 24 hour cable news, reporters are certainly under more pressure to get the report filed quickly (and often live) and get it with full picture, sound and comment.
The Prime Minster’s office, in contrast, is not under the same pressures and really hasn’t changed to a significant degree in its need to satiate the media since print reporters that made telephone calls for comment were the primary report filers. Modern media demands the sound bite and live video and these demands are at odds with a body (the PMO) that’s strategy has never really changed: control messaging and information flow.
If I found myself in Ottawa as a reporter for the modern news industry I would very rightly be frustrated with Stephen Harper’s communications approach that finds itself directly incongruent with the demands of my job. However, I don’t believe that I’d be justified in laying blame on the PMO for its strategy. Overall, the media’s gripe, however, is not an issue of accountability upon which the Conservatives campaigned (and subsequently received a mandate). Stephen Harper is not accountable to the Keith Boag (as a reporter) by any legal or constitutional measure. Boag may certainly vote against the Conservatives when the next election is held, but Harper’s communications strategy is certainly not part of any accountability requirement in the context of the Federal Accountability Act.
Many of those that watch Ottawa will remember the days of Jean Chretien when the former PM went on a golf vacation. The PMO would only tell the press gallery that their boss was on “personal business”.
Boag tries to link the frustrations of his job with “government accountability”. Canadians voted for change in the way that government contracts are awarded, lobbying is conducted, and the way that whistleblowers are protected. They voted for accountability in the way government works. Canadians did not vote for the Boag’s easy access to the most sought-after video and sound bite.
UPDATE: For the sake of clarity for some readers out there, I agree that the PPG/Boag certainly has the right to be frustrated. However, facile and on-demand media access is not an issue of government accountability (in the context of the FAA, or the election/mandate that was fought/received on the issue). My complaint is that it was selfish for Boag to complain about his frustration when it was unrelated to the story.
UPDATE (bonus video): The CBC scores again for biased reporting on the same night. Check out the clip below which is from a report about Access to Information:
CBC reports on Access to Information
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“Ottawa may not be a ‘culture of entitlement’ as the Conservatives claim. But it is a culture of secrecy.”
Err… wasn’t it Justice Gomery that called Ottawa a “culture of entitlement”.
Seriously… come on CBC. I just reality checked your “Reality Check”.
By the way, Crown Corporations (including the CBC) will be subject to reformed (and stricter) Access to Information legislation tabled by the Conservative government.
UPDATE: Much to my surprise (and likely hers as well), Zerb agrees with me.
UPDATE: Well, that was short-lived and too good to be true. Apparently Zerb misinterpreted the video and thought that the clip represented the entire report (even though it doesn’t end with “Keith Boag, CBC. Ottawa”) She focuses on her misinterpretation rather than in the fault that lies with the state-run media.