Monday, September 18, 2006

Pressing the issues

The Hill Times reports on the continued battle between PMO and the non-CanWest press gallery, where efforts from the press to work out an agreed solution have apparently been ignored by PMS:
The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail and The Canadian Press still haven't heard a word from the PMO on setting ground rules for access...

"Not to be belligerent, but to be consistent," she told The Hill Times in an email, explaining that in June, the managers of the Star, the Globe and Canadian Press approached the PMO to try to come up with a compromise. "[We want] to have an intelligent, responsible discussion about what new conditions the Harper government was trying to enforce. We were promised a discussion. It still hasn't happened. Collectively, I believe the three news organizations still have hopes for that intelligent, respectful discussion. It is out of respect for that process that we aren't changing course at present. We await a proper, professional reply."

Ms. Delacourt said this is important because "it's incumbent on journalists to question arbitrary measures. It's in the Globe's motto, printed on the editorial page every day: 'The subject who is truly loyal to the Chief Magistrate will neither advise nor submit to arbitrary measures.'"...

A call to the Prime Minister's Press Office was not returned and as of last week, the Press Gallery Executive still hadn't heard from the PMO on the issue of lists and access.
It's worth noting that the gallery's willingness to concede some ground comes despite anecdotal evidence that PMS has already taken steps toward cherry-picking questions - which can surely only become worse as more contentious issues arise. But even with the gallery willing to make unnecessary concessions, it doesn't look like Harper is the least bit interested in considering their interests enough to look for a compromise.

But then, as the article points out, the Cons' policy doesn't prevent the press from holding PMS accountable in any way - and indeed should encourage the kind of reporting which is bound to get far more results than merely waiting around for scripted lines from PMS himself:
"On the face of it, you might argue that the PMO is seeking to have an unfair control," Prof. Winn said. "But I can understand the democracy advocates who say the Prime Minister's Office shouldn't have the right to decide who asks him questions. But an accidental byproduct of the PMO's policy, if it were actually implemented, would motivate reporters to go study policy as opposed to just report on the theatrics of press conferences."

Prof. Winn said that there are many issues that reporters don't look at because they are simply focused on what people say...

Journalists should focus more on what governments do, Prof. Winn said. "Journalists who are most upset that the Prime Minister's Office would control who asked the questions seem to be very cynical about the truthfulness and integrity of politicians including the Prime Minister. But the logical consequence of true skepticism about the value of what a politician has to say would lead one to say I don't care what they say, I'm going to find out what's happening."
Of course, that end result would be a far greater victory for accountability than any return to the previous scrum system - particularly when most of the reporting on the Cons seems to be based on self-serving leaks rather than anything resembling investigative journalism.

Which isn't to say that open and fair access to the Con cabinet wouldn't also be an improvement. But there's still plenty going on worth covering - whether that means a greater focus on the opposition parties who don't see the media as an enemy, or on investigating matters which the Cons almost certainly won't want to talk about. And the more time the gallery spends covering those issues rather than repeating the Cons' talking points, the better informed the Canadian public will be.

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