Trudeau, Truth and Blacklock's Reporter
If the Victoria Day long weekend in Canada is the unofficial start to the summer, then welcome to the first summer of life in a pandemic. Even though social distancing measures are still in place, it didn't seem like it when I ventured out over the weekend. I digress.
One of my memories from the pandemic will be the almost daily news conferences held by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the way he has answered questions, or more specifically, how he didn't answer them.
Cynics have called these briefings the "Trudeau Morning Show" because of the lack of accountability involved. That's no surprise considering who gets to ask questions and how those questions are answered.
The Trudeau Morning Show
Almost every weekday for over two months, Prime Minister Trudeau has walked through the front door of Rideau Cottage, down the stairs, greeted the assembled media and started one of his daily news conferences.
He begins by reading from a prepared script. Sometimes he gives Canadians a pep talk about the pandemic, but more often than not he’s handing out money to one group or another. Then he takes questions over a phone line from the media. Sometimes he answers reporter’s questions, but far too often if he doesn’t want to answer, or get into specifics, he’ll talk about something in general that doesn’t answer the question, hoping both the question and the reporter will go away.
If you have wondered which media outlet gets to ask those questions, so have I. I did some digging and the answer to that question is revealing.
Blacklock’s Reporter (more on it in a moment) poured over official transcripts of the 708 questions Trudeau faced between March 13 and May 5. It found CBC asked 167 questions, far more than any other media outlet. It's main competitors CTV and Global News were far behind. CTV got to ask 90 questions and Global got in 75. The Canadian Press, the national news service, also got 75.
Although these news conferences are organized by the non-partisan Privy Council, people working for the Liberal government decide who gets to ask questions, resulting in an imbalance in who gets to pose questions and what type of questions the PM faces.
Rebel News has filed a lawsuit against the Prime Minister’s office for not being allowed to ask questions at these news conferences. Lawyers for Rebel Media say its reporters called in 20 times, but never got to ask a question.
By the way, the same drill is followed for news conferences involving Dr. Theresa Tam, as favourtism is played there too.
Needing Different Voices to be Heard
Rebel Media isn’t the most popular news organization in the country. Its right-wing views aren’t shared by the majority of Canadians, however there’s a role in true journalism for alternate voices. These voices need to be heard.
As this is taking place, the Trudeau government has already decided who is getting millions in media bailouts. Will media viewpoints and the stories run be affected by all that government cash? Nobody knows for sure, but the old line “Always follow the money” seems to work well here. If your news outlet is getting government cash, will it ask the hard questions, or take a stand against what the government is doing? From early returns, it appears the answer is no.
Then there’s the Prime Minister’s statement that we don’t need the House of Commons to sit during the pandemic because he answers questions from the media every day and that keeps his government accountable.
He’s right, if he means answering questions from some media outlets carefully chosen by his aides. Of course, there are questions he refuses to answer too. Just a few days ago he was twice asked direct questions about financial support for Canada’s airline industry and he danced around them without giving a real answer. His cabinet ministers are often doing the same. I recently wrote this blog about an exchange on the CBC show Power & Politics.
Some media outlets have given up attending the “Trudeau Morning Show” because reporters should be journalists and not “note takers” for the government.
One of them is Blacklock’s Reporter, which is an independent online news service started around eight years ago by former Edmonton journalists and the husband and wife team of Holly Doan and Tom Korski. Full disclosure here – I hired Tom to work in the radio newsroom I ran in Edmonton in the mid-80’s. He covered the Alberta Legislature for several years and Holly worked as a reporter for CFRN TV and CBC in Edmonton, including two years at the Legislature, before going to the CTV Network.
Not a bad hire that Korski guy. 34 years later he's still in the business and he's the Editor of the hottest independent news outlet in Canada.
It wasn't easy though. Blacklock’s Reporter had to fight the Canadian Parliamentary Press Galley to get accredited as a media outlet in 2012. Today it does some of the best journalism in Canada with just a handful of people. Doan says they do it by covering bills, regulations, internal government reports, committee testimony and federal court rulings.. That’s good journalism. Who else does all that grunt work?
Unlike Rebel Media, Blacklock's Reporter is owned and operated by media veterans, has reporters who have worked in several provinces and is accredited by the Press Gallery. It also doesn't hold right wing views.
Earlier this spring, Blacklock's reported both the largest weekly and one-day surge in subscriptions in its history. In hard times people want facts. As all this is happening, Blacklock's court battle against the federal government for violating its paywall continues. Blacklock’s, by the way, is on the record against the government cash for media outlets and won’t accept any. I’m sure the government won’t be offering it.
If Holly and Tom hadn’t started Blacklock’s, journalism in Canada would be worse off, but I’m sure governments would be happier.
Those are reasons enough to allow different voices in journalism to be heard.
Photo credit: Canoe
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