Opinion

OUT ON A LIMB: It’s Wednesday morning, do you know what your government is doing?

Controlling the message, that’s the focus of government these days.

At a time when there’s an appetite in the public for controlling the voracious media over sensitivity issues, government is using that appetite to cloak its clampdown on information for political purposes.

We all know that there are media outlets that swoop down on a tragedy in order feed what is derisively called infotainment. I’d be the first to admit that sensitivity is sometimes lost in the face of feeding news show ratings.

But don’t wipe your hands clean of this scenario because you have to ask, what is it that fuels this beast? Do journalists crank out sensational news stories because they’re just insensitive boors? Or are they delivering what the public wants to view/read? Plenty of fodder there for a couple of columns, eh?

It’s not the focus of my theme today but let me just leave you with this: because we can track readers of our online content, we know that the most-read stories are those involving courts, police and accidents. The numbers are there to see.

But like I say, that’s not what I came to talk to you about. The downside to this discontent with the media is that governments use that to justify muzzling them, for any purpose.

A recent case I read from the Calgary Herald raised my hackles about the Harper government which has been long known to be hostile to information getting out to the public. Because like it or not, most people get their information about their government from the media.

So naturally, a lot of your tax dollars are being used to control what goes to the media.

Case in point, Parks Canada’s October, 2011 press conference to announce the creation of Sable Island as a national park reserve. Parks Canada was going to use this announcement to showcase its 100th anniversary. Great idea right? And who doesn’t love our national park system?

Well, apparently the Harper government doesn’t. The Canadian Press’ Dean Beeby outlined the railroading of Parks Canada’s big announcement by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s spin doctors.

Basically, they scoured all the media “products” (press releases, posters, backgrounders, etc.) for ways for the federal Liberals to take credit for Parks Canada’s works. Parks Canada references  “disappeared” from a backgrounder and were replaced with the Harper government.

Parks Canada officials were going to be on the podium for the announcement but were rejected by the Privy Council Office who also wanted the MC to be a politician. Parks Canada’s CEO had to sit in the audience!

Beeby wrote that “The original news release for the event had two paragraphs celebrating Parks Canada’s centennial and noting a recent award won by the agency from the World Wildlife Fund. All of this was purged from the final version, with no mention of Parks Canada except a reference to (Environment Minister Peter) Kent as the minister responsible for the agency.”

And all this was happening right up to the day before the event!

Now, this is nothing new. All governments do this kind of stuff. The provincial Liberals are just as bad and the NDP will be too, if they get in.

But they hope you won’t know about this or not care because we all know, the media needs to be reined in, right?

Everybody’s ready to pounce on our city council for raising our taxes but you wouldn’t likely know they were going to do that if it weren’t for the fact that local media have full access to budget deliberations. So you can thank your city for that.

Do you know what your federal and provincial government is doing?  Not if they have anything to say about it.

 

Alistair Taylor is editor of the Campbell River Mirror

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