By Grant Ainsley | Tips | [comments] | Posted [date]
I chuckled last week when I saw a comment on Twitter. Somebody wrote, for somebody who speaks to the media as often as Justin Trudeau does, he's not very good at it. True statement.
The reality today is though, Trudeau doesn't have to be good because he can provide whatever answer he wants. Reporters are muzzled by having to ask one question over the phone at far too many news conferences. This is happening across the country, including here in Alberta.
It has led to frustration and things got a little nasty at a recent news conference involving Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro.
Tyler Shandro Gets Testy
For months, reporters have been asking questions over the phone at most news Alberta government news conferences involving politicians and the Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw. Journalists are restricted to one question and if the official you’re asking the question to dodges it and refuses to answer, there’s not much you can do.
Reporters are frustrated by this because their bosses and even members of the public ask why they didn’t ask certain questions to make the government accountable. On some occasions they have, but answers have been like pulling teeth.
Things got a little testy between Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro and reporters last Thursday, when a CTV Calgary reporter Kevin Nimmock re-asked a question that Shandro had basically just refused to provide an answer to. You can take a look at what happened if you skip ahead to the 23:18 mark on the YouTube video
Insert narrators voice here “No, he didn’t answer the first question and didn’t really answer it the second time either, despite the shots he took at the reporter".
Less than 24 hours later, Shandro joined Premier Jason Kenney in announcing the vaccination plan reporters wanted information on.
"The Trudeau Show"
The same thing happens at those “news conferences” Justin Trudeau does. You know the ones where he comes out of that cottage he’s been in for the past year, reads a prepared statement with added drama in his voice, and then takes questions from the media over the phone.
He does take questions, but he doesn’t always answer them. After listening to questions from reporters, he thinks for a moment and then provides what sounds like a really good answer, give or take three or four “ahhhs” “umms” and “errrs” thrown in, but then you realize he didn’t answer the question. It’s all fluff.
Too bad for the reporter because they’re only allowed to ask one question and then they cut off, so they can’t ask the PM to provide an answer to their question, or a follow-up. Trudeau knows this. It’s not a news conference it’s the Trudeau Show.
Reporters are also upset because it appears there’s no way of knowing who gets to ask a question on any given day. They think favourites are being played by the government and even if that’s not happening, reporters have no way of challenging Trudeau if he chooses not to answer their question.
At a traditional news conference, they could ask a follow-up question and not allow Trudeau off the hook, but that doesn’t happen these days. When any government takes questions from the media over the phone, the government controls who asks the questions and politicians don’t have to answer questions they don’t like, because it’s off to the next poor frustrated member of the media who is just trying to do their job.
Muzzling the Media
It’s the same thing in the US. A CBS reporter was on CNN last week explaining how she wasn’t able to ask a follow-up question to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo because she got her mic cut off during a news conference over Zoom. She had been demanding updated numbers on nursing home deaths and asking tough questions.
I’m pretty sure various governments like the current system of reporters being forced to ask their questions over the phone or internet. They can choose who gets to ask a question every day, only allow them to ask one and best for all, if the politician or public official doesn’t want to answer, they don’t have to.
There will be some people who watch the news conferences live and shake their heads at how people like Trudeau avoid questions, but those people are in the minority. Besides, most people don’t know about all the challenges the media faces these days trying to get the truth. That’s one reason I’m writing this blog.
I don’t know how the Alberta government can justify keeping reporters away from news conferences in the name of safety, when the same government has forced children, teachers and other staff to go back to crowded classrooms for months. The weather is warm enough at times now to allow news conferences to safely be held outside. They won’t be.
I will say this, and some people won’t like to hear it, but Premier Kenney hasn’t ducked any questions. He’s tried to answer every one I’ve seen and last Friday had to put up with a number of ring wing conspiracy theory-related questions being thrown at him by Corus radio show host Danielle Smith on her last broadcast.
In most cases though, the sad outcome of this is that politicians are not forced to be held accountable by the media. Also because of COVID, there have been fewer opportunities for opposition politicians to take them to task in Parliament and provincial legislatures.
As long as government keeps playing this over the phone shell game, I wish every media outlet would refuse to carry any information from one of these sad excuses for news conferences. The truth often isn’t being told anyway.
Image credit: Blair Gable / Reuters
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