27 Feb Messaged up the ass – feedback
In response to my post on the Dexter government’s obsessive management of routine government communications, Bruce Wark writes:
When I arrived in Nova Scotia in October, 1986, as CBC Radio’s National Reporter for the Maritimes, I found the Nova Scotia government’s public relations system third rate. I had just come from six years covering the Ontario legislature and was used to dealing every day with a professional civil service and public relations officers who provided accurate information quickly and efficiently. In fact, I realized during my years at Queen’s Park that the Conservatives’ decision to create a professional (and de-politicized) civil service was one of the main reasons they held power continuously in Ontario for 42 years. Journalists and the public trusted government information.
The establishment of Communications Nova Scotia in 1996 represented a big step forward. Over the years, I have found CNS officers (many of them former journalists) to be efficient and trustworthy providing unbiased information even when they suspected that the journalist receiving it might be building a case against government policies. Ultimately, the public judges both those policies and the journalists who report on them. The basis for that public judgment has to be accurate and timely information untainted, as much as possible, by partisan government spin and filtered though professional communications officers who are not forced to run everything by a centralized political authority….
Governments which put obstacles in journalists’ way and try to spin them to death will eventually pay a price for their attempts to message reporters up the ass. The provincial NDP and the federal Alliance-Conservatives ignore this at their peril. Your commentary and Paul MacLeod’s reporting is an early warning to the neophyte, political boffins at NDP central.
This is a matter of degree. There’s nothing wrong with a government trying to insure consistency in the way it communicates with the public, but when this effort reaches the point where everything must to be cleared with a Central Committee, it’s unhealthy for a democracy.
The media shares some responsibility, given how reporters pounce on a politician or official who deviates even slightly from party or government line. In pouncing, reporters don the mantle of heretic-fighters and orthodoxy-enforcers, with the unwelcome effect of sanitizing political discourse.
As Michael Kinsley purportedly remarked, “A gaffe is when you tell the truth.” That is, it’s not a gaffe when a politician lies but when a politician unguardedly says what she really thinks. Neither the media nor the premier’s office should make it their business to punish such truthfulness.
After sending the words above to Contrarian, Wark’s indignation apparently continued to rise. At week’s end, he emailed the premier’s press secretary, saying:
[L]et me tell you straight up that this issue is not about media convenience or efficiency. It’s about the right to factual, public information from the civil service, untainted by partisan political spin.