The Harper government’s efforts to control the flow of information have “grown into a genuine and widespread threat to the public’s right to know,” says an open letter signed by the presidents of the Canadian Association of Journalists, the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec, the Parliamentary Press Gallery and several provincial press galleries.
The letter cites increased restrictions on who can speak to the media, publicity shots by government photographers replacing news photographers’ access to events, and lengthening delays in responding to access to information requests as examples of how the government is stifling the free flow of information.
“Under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the flow of information out of Ottawa has slowed to a trickle,” says the letter. “Cabinet ministers and civil servants are muzzled. Access to Information requests are stalled and stymied by political interference. Genuine transparency is replaced by slick propaganda and spin designed to manipulate public opinion.”
A Canadian Press report notes that reporters seeking comment from government officials are often given only prepared “quotes” written by junior staffers.
Reporters discussed the issues at the Canadian Association of Journalists conference in Montreal last month. The open letter asks journalists to “stand together and push back by refusing to accept vague email responses to substantive questions that require an interview with a cabinet minister or a senior civil servant. We are also asking journalists to stop running hand-out photos and video clips.”
The letter also asks editors to devote the necessary time and money to dig beyond stage-managed press conferences and get the real story.
“In order to have a genuine debate about matters of national interest,” the letter concludes, “people need information. In order for citizens to be involved and engaged and make smart choices at voting time, they need information. It’s time we got some.”