18 February 2013

In the press scrum

Sometimes, having a press pass means I get to see great operaspoke around in urban gardens, or meet donkeys who live in cathedrals.  Other times, it means the "hurry up and wait" of an official political press conference.

That is what happened a couple weeks ago, when I went on assignment to a photo op with Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper (PM).

I initially hesitated to post this, because I don't want to come off too sarcastically. It wouldn't look good for a local English-language newspaper's reporter to be too snarky.  On the other hand, Harper's rigid scripted way in which he deals with the press is a well-known point of contention within and outside the media.

Photo op 1: Harper (center) with Mayor of 
Quebec City and Bonhomme Carnaval, mascot 
of the annual winter carnival in Quebec City.

The rules were essentially this:
  1. Arrive ~45 minutes before the PM.
  2. No journalists and no questions allowed - photographers and videographers only.
  3. Stay behind the line - a barrier far enough away to prevent overhearing anything PM says, but close enough to get a photo you can crop.
  4. Hop in a bus, and go to a second, undisclosed location for a second, equally controlled photo op.
Photo op 2 - on the ferry as it idled
mid-river: Harper (right) with the mayor of
Lévis (center) and the lone Conservative
rep from Quebec (left).
Being kind of new to the political coverage angle, and admittedly idealistic, the whole experience was very interesting.  Kind of amusing, too.  We spent around three hours taking pictures of . . . well, people we couldn't hear, talking about who knows what.  Were they speaking in French?  Probably.  Might they have been speaking in English?  Doubtful, but possible.

Following the two photo shoots, press releases were sent out saying what the PM said and did.*  Good thing, as we couldn't hear any of it, though we photographers were the only people present.  Aside from the press herders (PR staff) and security personnel, that is.  

In contrast, the Quebec Premier refused to participate.  Evidently, she prefers a free press environment.  As you can imagine, this caught the media's attention.  

I've discussed all this with a range of folks, and the general consensus is that most government communication with the media (North America and abroad) is fairly carefully scripted.  The sense seems to be that some government entities simply do a better job of appearing candid than others.  

I can't speak to that, but my ultimate conclusion is that I wish so-called democratic leaders would interact more openly with the press.  Without a truly free exchange of information between government agencies and the public, how can we expect informed citizen involvement in governance?

*Note, the press release was prepared in advance, as evidenced by the error re who accompanied the PM for the first photo op.


Ann said...

Hummm.... you certainly are getting some unique experiences. 

Rachel said...

Humphfff!!  Love your posts...vicariously enjoying your experiences in Quebec, and slowly learning French on my MP3.  Kisses, hugs, blessings to you both.  Stay warm!

Jennie said...

Loved this-forwarded it to our local reporter..........:)))))))))

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