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Friday, November 17, 2006

A media heritage moment

From blogger Dissonance And Disrespect: Communication Breakdown, a look-see at a Globe article about PM commmunications director Sandra Buckler attempting to assess the communication skills of various ministers:

But the media has a vested interest in portraying the Harper government as keeping everybody within it muzzled--a variation on the old "hidden agenda" theme.

The Globe article does contain this somewhat balanced turnaround;

But one communications expert said yesterday that there may be merit in assessing the communications abilities of cabinet ministers and providing help to those whose skills are found to be lacking.

Now, having given a nod to journalistic balance, I do find this "may be merit in assessing" a little amusing. I'd say if one of your ministers is hopping through the halls of the House of Commons on one foot because the other is constantly stuck in his mouth, this is something you'd definitely want to assess and fix, if you can. And it does seem odd that the article takes what appears to be an initiative aimed at improving communication and turns it into a story about limiting communication. Galloway uses the word "secretly" twice but doesn't explain what was secret. Perhaps Buckler assured communications staff their assessments of their bosses would be kept confidential so their bosses couldn't hold it against them. Perhaps it was a Top Secret mission to ferret out butt kissers. Who knows? As for Disrespect's judgment about the article having the feel of the "hidden agenda" bs that the media assailed the Canadian public with over the last decade, it should be pointed out that this type of thing goes back much further than that. I refer you to Dr. J and Mr. K's Oct. 25 entry: New developments in autojournalism.

Here are some newspaper headlines which many readers will find familiar:

"PM tries to curb information flow…"
"Tories secretive despite promises"
"PM orders curb on ministry leaks"
"Civil servants’ gag rules to be released on Friday"
"Ottawa invokes secrecy rules on cabinet ministers’ flight"
"Gag on public employees loosened/PM says remarks must be on record"
"'Stick to channels in advising minister,' bureaucrats told”

They echo comments repeated today in the House of Commons suggesting that the Prime Minister and the government are not open to inquiry and not giving ready access to government information. Fairly common fare.

Too bad these headlines are more than 20 years old!

The theme of Conservative governments "keeping everybody within it muzzled" is a pretty standard MSN template. Let us celebrate our shared Canadian heritage.

Posted by Kevin Steel on November 17, 2006 in Media | Permalink


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I didn't read the blogger's analysis, but I read the article. Here is my analysis of your comments on it:

(1) "may be merit in assessing" - This line makes Galloway just look stupid because it is imediately followed by a quote that starts, "It only makes logical sense...." That's a fair bit stronger than saying it is POSSIBLE that there is merit.

(2) "Galloway uses the word 'secretly' twice but doesn't explain what was secret." - No. She uses it once and the word also appears in the headline which, as you should know, she almost certainly did not write. As for the "explaining", that seems pretty obvious by the context. What's to explain? CDs are being asked to provide information that she is saying will not be reported back to the ministers. She is telling them that it will be held in confidence. I think you are over reacting here.

(3) "And it does seem odd that the article takes what appears to be an initiative aimed at improving communication and turns it into a story about limiting communication." - Nope. That's not the story. The story is more broadly about relationships between CDs and ministers and between CDs and the PMO. It's a story about the goings on with people ususally behind the scenes. So their being consulted about PR skills, their frequency of firings, and their expressed frustrations with their jobs are all a part of that broader story. I see nothing in the story to make *me* think that the "hidden agenda" worry is being raised nor is there anything in the article that makes me think less well of the Harper government. I think you guys might be a bit over sensitive here.

Posted by: Mark Logan | 2006-11-17 9:13:49 AM

One more comment on the article:

"...Ms. Buckler, who has often been criticized for her less-than-amicable relationship with the national news media."

I laughed at that line. The criticism that has often come is, of course, a reference to the press being miffed at the rules for the press gallery. So the "often criticized" just floats there without attribution - Who is criticizing her? Conservative MPS? No? Cabinet ministers' communication directors? No? The press? Yes. Oh. Is that all? *YAWN* The dance of the petty reporters continues....

Posted by: Mark Logan | 2006-11-17 9:19:36 AM


Your criticism about the headline, I take. I simply wanted to point out it appeared twice. And to some degree I accept your assessment about over-reacting. However, I would have felt much easier about the article if I had found words like "in confidence" or "kept confidential" in there. Note that I provided an explanation in my post for why there might be a good reason for keeping the assessment confidential (so that it can't be used against the employee doing the assessment by the one being assessed). It seemed fairly obvious to me. And I wondered why something like this very possible and reasonable explanation was not in the story. Maybe there was another reason. The reader is left to guess at the secrecy. The word "secretly" to my ear implied something underhanded, base motives, etc. Nitpicking, yes. But, in line with your second comment, I admit that I am a petty reporter condemned to dance.

Posted by: Kevin Steel | 2006-11-17 10:12:19 AM


For clarification, the "petty reporter" comment was not aimed at you but at Galloway and the press gallery members making a meal out of Harper's approach with the media.

Also, I agree with your thoughts that "secretly" was not the right word to choose. But I guess where we might differ is you seem to wonder if this is some calculated attempt to subtlely inject bias. I, however, don't think Galloway is smart enough to do that, even if it was her desire. I think the poor choice of the word "secretly" just reflects her lack of ability as a writer (much as the "may be merit" line does).

Posted by: Mark Logan | 2006-11-17 12:00:09 PM

Mark, you make a good point about the circularity of reporters who frequently criticize Ms. Buckler for her less-than-amicable relationship with the national news media writing that Ms. Buckler has "often been criticized for her less-than-amicable relationship"...etc. In effect, they're reporting on their own reporting, and then excising themselves from the equation and turning it into "news" about the subject of their attack.

Posted by: EBD | 2006-11-17 1:00:41 PM


I'll clarify. No need for you to clarify. I self-identified myself as a "petty reporter condemned to dance" just to show I have some sympathy for all reporters, even ones I do not agree with.

Truth be told, I believe some--SOME, not all--of the perceived bias in the media during a change in government is simply due to an inability to cope with that change. New government comes in, and all a reporter's contacts in the old government are either swept away or, if in the bureacracy, have to adjust to the policies of that new government. And this takes time. So there's a year of grumbling while reporters figure out how to get around the new communication gatekeepers, and while the gatekeepers pick their favourites and try to understand who are their bosses' favourites. It ain't great, but it's human nature to pick favourites. This can be difficult for everybody. And if you used to get great quotes from opposition critics and suddenly those critics become the government, these formerly talkative folks tend to clam up and become cautious with their words because what they say as the government can impact lives. It's no longer really acceptable to just call them up at the last second on that old cell phone number to add a bit of witty punch to the story. You call the flack, and the flack has to check the schedule because Mr. Schmo from Podunkville is now the Minister of Bulls and Balls meeting with the august Counsel of the Whatever in Reykjavik... you get the idea.

Posted by: Kevin Steel | 2006-11-17 1:13:09 PM

With all the media and all the stuff that they say, about protecting human rights, no one has taken on the real fights.

The one I am cutting and pasting deserves reall attention.

Please read.

My day in court
By Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury November 14, 2006

As some of you are aware, Bangladesh is currently experiencing serious political problems, and on 13th November the entire country was under the 'Blockade' programs of a major political party. Naturally, there was no vehicle on the road, and in every other place, there was a large number of angry demonstrators chanting slogans.

I woke up in the early morning to prepare for the court. By 8:30 am., I was already on my way. And, there was nothing on the road, except some bicycles and rickshaws. I had to walk for around 3 kilometers, before I could somehow manage a rickshaw (distance between my residence and the court is above 20 kilomemeters). Then the rickshaw was stopped at one point, almost two kilometers away from the court, by police, who put barricades on roads. Then I had to walk again. By the time I was inside the court building, I was sweating. Till now, winter has not been very much experienced in Dhaka.

The Court picked up my case at 1:35 pm., and there was a hearing for around 10 minutes. The judge, Mohammed Momin Ullah, asked the Public Prosecutor to read the charge in front of me. He came and read, "By praising the Jews and Christians, by attempting to travel to Israel and by predicting the so-called rise of Islamist millitancy in the country and expressing such through writings inside the country and abroad, you have tried to damage the image and relations of Bangladesh with the outside world. For which, charges under section 295-A, 120-A, 124-A, 105-A and 108-A are brought against you. Are you guilty or not"? he asked.

I replied, "I am not guilty." By advocating inter-faith dialogue, supporting relations between Bangladesh and Israel, I have not done anything wrong. Regarding the existence of Islamist radicals in this country, the matter is already endorsed several times by country's press, leaders, administration and judiciary. Continuation of this false case will open the doors for JMB criminals, whose death penalty issue is now in the higher court, in getting legal benefit. I firmly stand on my position'. Then my lawyers told the court that they will challenge this decision to the higher court.

The angry judge, a radical, then asked the Public Prosecutor to call the witnesses on 22nd Janaury 2007.

What a 'great New Year gift' from the radical judge! Isn't it?

May I request you all to kindly consider the following points:

- The government should end all forms of harrassments on me

- The travel ban on Israel should be immediately withdrawn

- Israeli news media should have access to Bangladesh (presently Bangladesh does not permit appointment of representatives of any of the Israeli media),

- Bangladesh should immediately begin relations with Israel,

- Provocative sermons (instigating people towards scalled jihad and bloodshed) in mosques and madrassas against Jews and Christians should be banned,

- Demand immediate removal of radical judge Momin Ullah from the Metropolitan Session Judge's court, and sacked,

- Legal proceedings should be immediately drawn against him for his alliance with Islamist radicals,

- Government to ensure immediate security to me (police protection at my residence is not yet back, despite two letters to the President),

- Radical leader Mufti Noorani, who exploded a bomb in our office in July and the attackers belongs to BNP's cultural wing, should be immediately arrested,

- Cash US$ 3,000 and other valuables, which had been seized during my arrest should be immediately returned.

Thus my day in court.

Posted by: Lady | 2006-11-17 4:10:10 PM

Ref last comment.

Typical muslim culture. Eradicate the evil ideology.

And don't forget this is WWIII and this¨"judge" is one islamic jihadist fighting for his side.

I always read with attention post by Kevin Steel.
Keep up the good work.

Posted by: Rémi Houle | 2006-11-17 8:51:05 PM

" I see nothing in the story to make *me* think that the "hidden agenda" worry is being raised nor is there anything in the article that makes me think less well of the Harper government. "

This is how it begins.
I think Harper is starting to grow on you.

Posted by: h2o273kk9 | 2006-11-18 7:07:58 AM

The Canadian MSM have always invented some "theme" or "trait" to tag a PM and his cabinet with. With Chretien it was the " 'tit gar" image of a small town scrapper, with Martin they made him into a "the ditherer" because his aspirations to be PM made him the unfortunate party emporor who fiddled as the Liberal party burned, the Liber press took out their vengence on him....forever immortalized as "Mr. Dithers".... and now Harper bears the angst of the liberal MSM paparazzi with the tag of "silent Steve".

Now, the G&M may feign sophistication but these licentious high brows love to get down into the mudof political slander as much as the Star when it comes to the constant conditioning they hand out putting the "secrecy" persona on Harper...their innuendo is still rather transparent. Anyone else feel the hypocritical toxicity at this sublimunal slanderous game the MSM play yet they are the first to denounce the internet as a degenerate source of slanderous misinformation.

Posted by: Wlyonmackenzie | 2006-11-18 7:30:47 AM

"Anyone else feel the hypocritical toxicity at this sublimunal slanderous game the MSM play yet they are the first to denounce the internet as a degenerate source of slanderous misinformation."

Not just them. Their readers. Almost every day at the office. They ooze with superiority.

Posted by: h2o273kk9 | 2006-11-18 9:13:41 AM

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