Monday, March 17, 2014

The Press Gallery Takes A Stand



Last week the parliamentary press gallery passed the following motion:

"We as the Parliamentary Press Gallery reserve the right to ask questions in all photo-ops and availabilities with the prime minister, cabinet ministers, and all parliamentarians, to fulfill our function as journalists in a democratic society.”

The motion was passed in the face of the government's policy of not taking questions from reporters. James Baxter, the editor of ipolitics, writes:

The Parliamentary Press Gallery has rarely shown the guts and gumption of its Washington counterparts, but we lately have allowed ourselves to be cowed and co-opted by political parties — first the Martin Liberals and then the Harper Conservatives — and the bureaucracy to the point where we are guilty of too often just accepting what they feed us and pretending we’re grateful for the news McNuggets.

The Harper government came to power promising accountability. But, Baxter writes,

Accountability is in short supply within the 20 blocks that make up the Parliamentary precinct. It was bad enough when public servants began demanding they be referred to in media reports only as “officials” or “informed sources.” Now, at a recent budget lockup, journalists were told they couldn’t even say the background information  given had come from government officials at all.

We joke about the situation being borderline Soviet, but usually with a nervous laugh. Are we on a slippery slope to a place where everyone in the Parliamentary Press Gallery is working for some Canadian form of Pravda? 

Stephen Harper will go to the Ukraine, preaching the glory of democracy and  railing against Soviet style repression. But he obviously works from the Soviet playbook. The truth about democracy is that:

The people have to consent to be governed. That only works if they have — whether directly or through a proxy — a thorough understanding of what is being done in their names and by whom. It is unreasonable to expect any government — of the left or right — to give an honest accounting of its activities. This is the basic role of any political journalist in a Western democracy.

Everything the Harperites do is directed towards one objective -- making sure that the people don't understand what is going on. A supine press enables them to achieve that objective.

It's long past time the press gallery grew a backbone.


26 comments:

Anonymous said...

This has to be a first in any democratic government, so another first for Harper! First to be held in contempt of parliament. First country to drop out of the Kyoto agreement. First again in any democratic government to muzzle scientists. Who dares question this dictatorship,I really meant democracy, it seems the MSM reporters have finaly grown weary of being muzzled as well. I wonder if the press barons will quash any attempt at a press with a backbone? To be seen:)

Mogs

Owen Gray said...

A good question, Mogs. It takes guts to confront the prime minister. It takes more guts to confront the boss.

Anonymous said...

Baxter said: " ... but we lately have allowed ourselves to be cowed and co-opted by political parties...."

Almost fell off my chair laughing when I read that.

"Lately"? Anyone who has paid attention to federal politics knows that this has happened ever since Harper came into power in 2006.

Then there was that whole episode of Harper government being held in contempt of Parliament, a first for any Commonwealth country using the British Parliamentary system. One would have thought this would have awakened our PPG as to what was happening to transparency and accountability from Harper.

By claiming that this has even happened during Martin's time, Baxter has even stuck the knife in further in regard to the bending over of the PPG.

It is well known (except perhaps to Baxter/PPG?) that Harper/PMO plays hard ball all the time. Thus, unless and until they boycott all events where they are not allowed to ask questions without being pre vetted/approved by PMO, this will result in little improvement.

Owen Gray said...

They can boycott events, Anon. But it will take good investigative journalism to bring Harper down.

And that will require some investment from the owners.

liberalandlovingit said...

Helen Thomas would approve. And as was said- boycott and investigate.

Owen Gray said...

Helen Thomas would call out these folks, Loving It.

thwap said...

Since I hardly pay attention to either the press at Parliament or the Washington press corps, I couldn't have told you who was worse.

But given what I do know about the uselessness and sycophancy of the WPC, for a Canadian journalist to say that his/her crowd is even more tame than his/her US counter-parts is a pretty damning confession.

I suppose if you refused to put up with harper's bullshit you'd be fired, since 95% of our corporate media endorsed harper following his deserved conviction for contempt of Parliament.

Once again, endorsing a politician who demonstrated blatant contempt for the fundamentals of representative democracy is indicative of contempt for those fundamentals yourself.

Owen Gray said...

Given the editorial position of just about every paper in the country before the last election, thwap, you have every right to be cynical.

Anonymous said...

I'm left wondering how Canadians could allow a weird little party with a weird little sociopath as its leader take over their country. I am looking forward to reading the explanations in future periodic history publications, or perhaps future publications of Forensic Psychiatry Monthly.

Owen Gray said...

The only explanation I can think of, Anon, is that Canadians didn't care enough to look into the man.

There were warning flags everywhere. Progressive Conservatives like Joe Clark and Dalton Camp tried to let us know what was coming.

We just refused to listen.

Rural said...

The press gallery can "reserve the right to ask questions" all it likes but if the harperites refuse to take and answer them it is meaningless. Too little too late is my opinion on this, the Harper spin machine will continue to spew its lies and most of the media will continue to spread the manure.

Dana said...

The Canadian people are by and large a passive, incurious, complacent and compliant people who are mostly concerned with the onerous task of taking everything for granted.

For the Chretien years they believed themselves to be a tolerant, welcoming, secular and progressive people because that's what years of Liberal governments told them they were.

Now they believe those things less and less and increasingly believe what the Harperites tell them they are. Christian, militaristic, conservative, judgmental and welcoming only to the chosen few.

It's very hard for me to have much affection or respect for this country or the people in it any more. Cordial and distant is about the best I can manage.

Owen Gray said...

The Harper machine specializes in non-answers, Rural. The antics during Question Period serve as a constant reminder of how effective they are at stonewalling.

What we need is good investigative journalism. We need Canadian Woodwards and Bernsteins.

Owen Gray said...

It's always been true, Dana, that we get the government we deserve. I can't disagree with you.

Though, fool that I am, I continue to believe that Canadians are capable of electing better people.

Anonymous said...

Since the topic has taken a bend and is focusing on Canadians its fair to say that the press is somewhat representative of all of Canada. There are members of the press who are left leaning, right leaning and centre, politically speaking.

So since the majority of the press has been acquiescent of Harper, his Imperium and the manure he has been shovelling but now are showing a steak of rebelliousness I would think that also Canadians in general are feeling left out and ready for rebellion. If the press is indeed a good measure of the rest of us then we should be seeing a revolt against the cons in the next election. The not so ‘Fair Election Act’ I hope is the beginning of a ground swell to out cons permanently.

Canadians have to start looking at the reality that with Harper in power no citizens are allowed to participate in this government, (unless you are willing to sell your soul to Harper). The same way the press is not allowed to participate from the time honoured traditions of the press gallery, (unless they ask only scripted questions to receive scripted answers (Harper and/or his minions reserve the right to control the scripts)).

So finally Canadians have to ask themselves is this what we want from our government, to be voiceless and hobbled? Do we want to be a prisoner in our own country?

Mogs

Owen Gray said...

It's an intriguing thought, Mogs. The press gallery revolt may be the first wave of a rebellion against Harper.

The proof, of course, will be borne out in the results of the next election.

Anonymous said...

Harper is no Conservative what-so-ever, he even lied about that. Harper has a very shady political past.

In 1989 Harper was Policy Chief for his, Northern Foundation. In 2002 the Canadian Nazis, donated to Harper's Alliance.

Canadians are famous for, sleeping through absolutely everything. Harper counts on it. Trying to get through to many Canadians, is an exercise in futility.

How do people think, Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini gained control? They lied, deceived, were corrupt, thieved, used dirty politics, dirty tactics, controlled by fear and all of them cheated to win. And if that doesn't sound familiar, it should.

The Mound of Sound said...

Harper won't make any meaningful concessions to what appears to be, in any case,a tantrum. When it comes to journalistic integrity the corporate media cartel is an empty vessel. As for the parliamentary press gallery, the stable of stalwarts is pretty skinny these days. Bob Fife, really?

Owen Gray said...

Our journalists used to be made of sterner stuff, Mound.

Owen Gray said...

It should sound familiar, Anon. Unfortunately, our collective memory doesn't go back very far.

liberalandlovingit said...

I miss Jim Travers, Owen. He was on to them from the get-go. The journos honour him every year, on CPAC- but their work falls short. Don't we, the public, have anyone you can name, that does their job? Maher, McGregor? I go to CC for concise political analysis, but someone reporting to Canadian's on the 6 o'clock national news, would be helpful.

Owen Gray said...

I miss Travers, too, Loving It. Lawrence Martin has Travers sense of perspective -- perhaps because his memory is longer and better than most.

the salamander said...

.. I think Dana hit the nail on the head.. re Canadians.. Thwap as well re the press corps.. great to see Mound's blunt view.. and one of the anons re 'weird little party'

As always.. for observation & analysis.. and the view from outside the banquet.. I read the indy bloggers..

To a great extent, the press corps funnel the thin Harper minestrone.. But we do have some fine journalists as well.. the question is.. how many observant or concerned Canadians get access to them?

The Tyee easily challenges the Globe and Mail for incisive reportage.. as do many small 'papers' .. not to mention the aforementioned Indy Bloggers..

As always.. Northern Reflections is a beacon for anyone navigating the scary waters of Canadian Politics and Oil Culture

Owen Gray said...

I agree with your assessment of the Tyee, salamander. And that really gets to the point. There are alternate sources. But Canadians have to take the trouble to find them.

By the way, I appreciate your vote of confidence.

Rural said...

Further to this Andrew Mitrovica writes 'I spoke with the new Gallery president, CBC producer Laura Payton. She told me that she was negotiating with Harper’s press secretary to try to get him to agree to permit questions at photo ops and “availabilities.” . In his piece at Ipolotics he say the press is 'still waving the white flag' , I agree the press has not even reported on their own motion to 'reserve the right' to question the PM and as for the CBC “negotiating” to be able to ask questions.... well that kinda say it all doesn’t it?

Owen Gray said...

Harper doesn't negotiate with anyone, Rural. He issues ultimatums. Why would anyone be so foolish as to believe he or she can "negotiate" with him?