There’s no such thing as bad press

Graphic by Phil Waheed.
Graphic by Phil Waheed.

Since Harper has been Prime Minister of Canada he’s been accused many times of having a lack of transparency in office; and his administration has often been called the most private government that Canada has ever seen. Despite various complaints demanding information, Harper hasn’t changed his ways.

This time, however, his actions have crossed the line.

The Toronto Star recently learned through an access-to-information request that the Harper administration has been working for over a year now on a government owned media organization worth over $2 million. The project was called the “Shoe Store Project”. According to the Star, the new centre may be located in a former shoe store in an Ottawa mall.

Harper going through with this project is a slap in the face to the democracy a country like Canada values so much. We, as a people, deserve to know the inner workings of our government. I believe the information coming from this media outlet, if it does go through, will be absolutely useless.

Harper’s government-controlled media centre is said to “put in place robust physical and information security measures to protect the prime minister and cabinet.” According to the Star it would also be able to give the government control over which journalists attend news conferences and to do their own filming, as well as provide the filming to journalists.

This is absolutely ridiculous when you think of the changes Harper has already made regarding media relations since his election in 2006. Considering he ran on a campaign based on an open and accountable government, this is wrong.

So what exactly is Harper’s problem? Why does he have such a shaky relationship with the media? According to Centre for Constitutional Studies, by managing what is said to the press “Harper is also able to manage communication between his government and the Canadian public, limiting the possibility that the media will run off in a direction that has little to do with the message that Mr. Harper wishes to send.” Oh please.

Needless to say, many journalists in this country have been extremely frustrated since Harper’s election. This new government-owned media centre will only go further to push Canada away from democracy. Sandra Buckler, the Prime Minister’s director of communication, said that “when the government has something to say, Canadians are going to hear it.” I don’t think I need to explain what’s wrong with that statement.

As citizens, we have the right to hear what goes on during Harper’s public addresses and be able to make our own conclusions on our government. Besides, no leader should have the right to control which questions are asked of him because he is accountable to all of us.

As journalists, it is our job to inform the people. However, our job becomes extremely difficult when our calls aren’t answered, when most of us are excluded from press conferences and when what the government says is controlled by an enormous team of image-management professionals.

“It’s a privilege to govern and our duty as the press in a free society is to pick and choose the issues that we cover…by restricting access to cabinet ministers, it amounts to restricting the issues that we can cover properly,” said Emmanuelle Latraverse, Radio-Canada reporter and Press Gallery president.

Harper has been on thin ice for a while concerning his relationship with the media. We journalists have one of the most important jobs— to inform the people. Obviously, with Harper in power, it’s nearing impossible. It’s time to demand change and get projects like the “Shoe Store” taken to the curb.


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