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Monday, May 29, 2006

Whose story is it? The PM's or the Press Gallery's?

(Cross-posted from Burkean Canuck).
Okay, first, a little about media relations. When someone would call to speak to the elected official, I'd ask the following boiler-plate questions:

  1. What's your deadline for getting a comment?   
  2. On what issue are you calling?   
  3. What is the story you're writing?  What "angle" are you taking on the issue?   

  Why the third question?  The story was already written before the reporter called. She's just looking for that pithy quote to make a certain point or to represent a certain point of view she's reporting in the story.

Say, for example, the reporter is writing a story about the Kyoto Protocol. The reporter may not even have decided what the thrust of the story is to be, but has quite likely been directed by his assignment editor what story to write . . . pro-Kyoto and anti-Conservative Government.

So, when the Parliamentary Press Gallery (PPG) gets ticked off that the Prime Minister isn't making himself available for scrums quite as regularly as they might like, or the PM's press flacks are making major announcements outside the National Press Theatre or the Charles Lynch theatre so PM press flacks can set the ground rules for questions, it's not about freedom of the press or any other such highfalutin notions.

The Prime Minister has insisted on making major announcements of national and international import in the House of Commons, and -- in case you didn't happen to notice -- insisted on an embargo of any reporting on the Auditor General's report till its tabling in the House of Commons. When the Prime Minister's predecessors would make major announcements, they were quite likely to schedule time in the National Press Theatre so the other party leaders would not have opportunity to respond to what the Standing Orders term "a ministerial statement" as they are entitled in the Commons. By so doing, the Prime Minister is restoring to the House of Commons and Parliament its proper role and dignity as the nation's premier "talking chamber."  That's what Parliament -- <<parlement>> -- is for, after all.

At least since closed-circuit television was introduced into the Commons, the Press Gallery at the north end of the chamber above the Speaker's chair has been virtually empty except during question period, the Budget, addresses such as the Australian prime minister's, and certain other occasions of note. The members of the gallery generally only pay much attention to the House during question period and, once the party leader's have asked their questions, they head to the foyer of the chamber to scrum the Prime Minister and the other party leaders.

Not to report the news so much as to get those nice, pithy quotes that "fit" their stories. It's not so much a matter of the New York Times's maxim, "All the news that's fit to print," as it is, "All the news that fits what we want to print" . . . all the news that fits our story.

It's not about freedom of the press.  It's not even about the news.

Posted by Russ Kuykendall on May 29, 2006 in Canadian Politics, Media | Permalink


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Re: Question #3: Reporters have been known to lie about the angle they are planning.

Did anyone see CTV's question period yesterday? One reporter claimed Nichola Goddard's dad's comments about keeping media out of the return ceremony at Trenton was intended as a slap against Harper's press conference policy.

And Joel-Denis Bellevance, often too honest for his own good, made a veiled threat about the media's coverage of Harper during the next campaign.

Posted by: Joan Tintor | 2006-05-29 1:35:46 PM

So, you are saying that we're being fed more BS by the media complaining???

No wonder there's another smog alert in Toronto.

Posted by: weastener | 2006-05-29 1:42:32 PM

What is the point of a smog alert anyway? Should the people in the region collectively hold their breath or should they simply make a mental shuffle to the Left?

Posted by: Speller | 2006-05-29 5:06:15 PM

Although it's great to have the public press gallery and media,sometimes these days they act like they were elected to run Canada and not the government.

Posted by: Larry | 2006-05-30 2:12:47 AM

I caught the tail end of "Question Period" which in fact I detest to hear that ancient and biased
personality Oliver state that he and Taber plus the notorious gossip Duffy will turn the next (new ) Liberal Leader into a "Missiah" - having those three on side is like a long term relationship with Typhoid Mary. The next Liberal leader I predict will be Mr. Ignatieff MP who knows he will have a tough time unseating Harper and his band of bumpkins. Fact is, Canadians like
and respect Harper (a winning combination). Cheers!

Posted by: Jack Macleod | 2006-05-30 2:16:23 AM

Friend of mine in Toronto the formerly good and a professional advertising agency flack, used to refer to the "parliamentry press gallery" as "the whores on the hill" - that was thirty plus years ago, alas nothing has changed. They even have Taber answering questions live in the Globe and Chain Today, about "politics". Cheers

Posted by: Jack Macleod | 2006-05-31 10:59:25 AM

The Globe and Mail and their CTV flunkies continue to attempt to undermine Canadian Forces serving in Afghanistan by creating a controversy over the definition of and application of the provisions of the Geneva Convention when dealing with "the Taliban" and other terrorists and professional murderers in Afghanistan. The entire process is of course directed against the
Harper Government, but focused on Canadian soldiers serving in Harm's Way in a complex military committment. The Globe and CTV are already recognized in Israel as anti-Israeli and anti-semetic for their support of the PLO.

Posted by: Jack Macleod | 2006-05-31 5:15:18 PM

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