Monday, August 28, 2006


CanWest provides an all-too-vivid example of media collaboration, caving completely to PMS' demand for government control over the list of reporters deemed worthy of access to Harper:
Any faint hope that the summer break might have cooled tensions between the press gallery and the Harper PMO was dashed after a hastily scheduled press conference on the softwood lumber agreement on Tuesday last week.

After showing up at the appointed time and place–the House of Commons foyer, not the National Press Theatre, which the PM has eschewed since the opening of the last session of Parliament–journalists found themselves waiting around for nearly 45 minutes. Eventually, Prime Minister Stephen Harper showed up to deliver a terse statement on the fate of the softwood agreement itself. Short version? It's going to the House for a vote, and yes, it's a confidence motion, so start planning your election coverage.

He then departed without taking a single question, despite the two microphones that had been set up by ever-optimistic gallery officials, and much to the non-surprise of the assembled media, who have come to expect little more when the PM meets with the press on the Hill.

The next day, however, CanWest newspaper coverage of the deal featured not one but two interviews with the Prime Minister, courtesy of the Vancouver Sun's Peter O'Neil and the Ottawa Citizen's Mark Kennedy.
And comically enough, CanWest is attempting to defend its actions by claiming that they reflect an attempt to hold PMS accountable, rather than a complete lack of a spine when confronted with unreasonable demands:
So does all this mean that CanWest is willing to go back on the list? Yes, albeit with some reluctance, Mr. Nott said.

"We're not particularly pleased at it being done this way, but we need to be able to hold the Prime Minister accountable for the actions of the government, and by staying off the list and not being able or willing to ask questions, we're not doing a service to our readers."...

"We're not doing this to be rogue," Mr. Nott told HOH. "But there didn't, and doesn't seem to be a resolution close at hand or in the works. We were willing to give it until the G8 [meetings in St. Petersburg, Russia], and then until the Washington visit, and now we're [21] days away from the House sitting, and no closer to a solution. Our readers deserve to have some accountability from the government, and as much as it is distasteful for us, I don't know how else we will get our questions answered."

He doesn't think much of the PM's decision to contact reporters by phone, rather than take questions in public, however.

"I don't think that would be ideal for CanWest, or that it would be the preferred system for anyone. Anybody who watches 24-hour news channels deserves to hear the Prime Minister be responsible in public, and picking up the phone and calling a reporter is not the same. But at least we got a question and an answer."
Of course, the simple answer would have been for CanWest to avoid giving into Harper's demands rather than valuing easy access to a scripted message over anything that could meaningfully be described as reporting. And Nott's whining after the fact does nothing to undo the damage from CanWest deciding without any justification that it needs Harper more than Harper needs the media.

The last thing Canadians needed was yet another reason to worry about its media becoming all the more tame. The question now is whether CanWest will be duly rewarded with the contempt of the press gallery and the Canadian public alike - or whether media complicity will be allowed to take another turn for the worse.

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