Saturday, August 11, 2012

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Glen McGregor and Stephen Maher keep up their reporting on Robocon by noting that Elections Canada's trail seems to have gone cold with the use of an unsecured wifi connection to hide the identity of Pierre Poutine. But as Susan Delacourt points out, that fact only confirms that the Cons' election fraud seems to have been rather deliberately planned to escape detection.

- Meanwhile, Delacourt also laments the effect of "churnalism" in which the media serves largely as a conduit for government or business talking points:
Harper has not held a news conference around Parliament Hill since 2009 and has succeeded in drawing strict limits around media access to his government. “It’s not that he hates the media,” one Conservative MP said to me earlier this year. “It’s more that he has no respect for them.”

Why has this worked so well for Harper? Probably because the public buys the idea, frequently put forward by the Conservatives and their allies, that the media is little more than a delivery system for the “spin” the politicians like to spout.

Watching most of those MP panels on TV, or wading into the daily scrums in the foyer of the Commons, it’s hard to disagree with that assessment. That’s not debate we’re seeing — it’s just people reciting well-rehearsed lines, speaking past each other, and certainly not answering any questions.

In the print realm, meanwhile, politicians and their handlers are now fond of replying to media questions with sparse, fact-free emails, timed to arrive just before deadline, so there is no opportunity for follow-up or subsequent queries.

All of this has been rightly dubbed “churnalism” — the practice in which journalists simply take the PR material handed to them and churn it out to their readers or viewers.
Any solution, though, is going to have to address this issue of the “churn” and the spin. It won’t be easy. By any rough count, the growing number of communications professionals on Parliament Hill (about 1,500 in government alone, according to a Hill Times tally) vastly outpaces the ranks of the media (around 400 in the press gallery, and shrinking, it seems, monthly.)

The number that should focus the collective media mind, however, is that 78 per cent figure south of the border — all those people who now view political reporting in the same, dim light as they view the politicians.

And that may not be because the media is the enemy of politicians, but because it’s grown too accommodating to the spin and talking points.
- And on a related note, Peter O'Neil learns not to take the self-serving statements of dirty oil advocates at face value.

- Irene Mathyssen discusses why the Cons' push for privatized pensions doesn't figure to provide retirement security for Canadians:
The regulations surrounding the administration of PRPPs are yet to be established; but unless the cost of administration is low, and unless the pooled amount of investment is high -- which is unlikely given the non-mandatory nature of the plan -- PRPPs will not be any more relevant as a retirement savings option to Canadian workers than RRSPs. In other words, the banks will profit and workers will continue to struggle to make ends meet before and after retirement.

The voluntary nature of this savings plan is not the only drawback. PRPPs as a retirement savings vehicle function like RRSPs. They are taxed on withdrawal and affect net eligibility for Old Age Security (OAS). PRPPs and RRSPs only serve middle- to high-income earners (those averaging wages of $50,000 or more) at retirement. Workers making less actually run the risk having their income drop to below poverty levels at retirement because of the fact that their PRPP income is taxed and clawed back from OAS eligibility.
- Finally, Bob Hepburn documents the remarkable story of the McGuinty Libs releasing outdated and inaccurate data as an excuse to close Ontario Place just as it was in danger of proving a smashing success.

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