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.