Sunday, February 17, 2008

Canadian government's media gag order

While we blogged yesterday about media repression in Afghanistan, today our topic is our own government's media control stategy. From David Pugliese's blog:

As you might recall the Harper government brought in the new process around November 2007; media questions about some of the more mundane issues (such as local base questions and the like) are still handled as usual by CF public affairs officers but responses to media questions on any sensitive issue (procurement, infrastructure, military audits, equipment, Afghanistan….essentially almost everything) must be first approved by the Prime Minister’s Office or the Privy Council Office. Those written response lines are then transmitted in email form to the journalist.

Previously, DND officials and military officers (and not PCO/PMO bureaucrats) were the ones who oversaw media relations for the CF/DND and journalists would be offered interviews with military officers who were subject matter experts on various issues. This was one of the reasons why the CF was viewed as having one of the best media relations policy in the government since they could give highly detailed responses with short notice. But interviews with subject matter experts are extremely rare these days as they are not usually allowed by the Prime Minister’s Office.

This new process follows the model that Foreign Affairs and CIDA use in dealing with the media (that model is also the main reason those two agencies are usually seen by journalists as being the worst in the federal government in regards to responding to media queries). DND and the CF are not the only ones to be saddled with the gag order. Just last week, Environment Canada scientists were told by the Harper government that they would be supplied with PMO/PCO approved “response lines” to read to journalists during interviews. ...

Josee Touchette, DND’s assistant deputy minister for public affairs, is on the record stating that there has been no change in the policy whatsoever regarding media inquiries. But even her own public affairs officers roll their eyeballs on that laughable claim.

Sharon Hobson, the respected Canadian correspondent for Jane’s Defence publications as well as the Canadian Naval Review has recently weighed in on the topic of the Conservative gag order and has written a fascinating article on the decline and fall of Canadian Forces public affairs. ... (link)

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