But maybe, just maybe, reporters have finally been pushed too far. I mean, jeez, when an unsigned editorial in the Toronto freakin' Sun is steamed, well.
Some free advice for Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Stop ticking off the messenger.
It's as simple as that.
It is one thing, for example, to expect the media to embrace your cutesy photo-op at a piano with 10-year-old Winnipegger Maria Aragon -- who so wowed Lady Gaga on YouTube that she was asked to perform on stage with the pop star -- but quite another to then turn around and treat its reporters with contempt.
We've got some news for you.
They're not stupid. They're not necessarily the enemy. They don't appreciate being treated like putzs. And nor do they deserve being roped off like cattle.
And, believe it or not, they don't like dragging their weary butts through a daily assortment of time zones -- and paying $10Gs a pop for the privilege -- any more than you do.
But at least they're making an effort.
And you're not.
Today, the Canadian Association of Journalists has posted an open letter.
A few weeks ago, many journalists nodded knowingly at this Tweet by Canadian Press reporter Jennifer Ditchburn.
“My Friday giggle… a spokesperson who emails me “on background” and then says: I can’t answer your question.”
It’s a bit of gallows humour about a problem that began as a minor annoyance for reporters working on Parliament Hill in Ottawa and has grown into a genuine and widespread threat to the public’s right to know.
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.
The letter details the stage-managed photo ops, the muzzling of civil servants, the nightmare of access to information.
Call to action:
Reporters have been loath to complain about this problem. But this needs to change. This is not about deteriorating working conditions for journalists. It’s about the deterioration of democracy itself.
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.
Finally, we are asking editors to devote the time and money it takes to dig beyond the stage-managed press conferences to get to the real story.
This is not about ideology or partisanship on the part of journalists. Journalists aren’t looking to judge the policies of the Conservative government. Rather, we want to ensure the public has enough information to judge for themselves.
Journalists are your proxies. At our best, we ask the questions you might ask if you had a few minutes with your prime minister or with Environment Canada’s top climatologist. When we can’t get basic information, we can’t hold your government to account on your behalf. In order to have a genuine debate about matters of national interest, people need information. In order for citizens to be involved and engaged and make smart choices at voting time, they need information. It’s time we got some.
They're groping for those gonaddy thingies. I pray it's not too late for Canadian democracy as we knew it.
BONUS: Go read Sixth Estate for another example of White Feather journalism.