[UPDATED] Unanswered questions for Harper

[Note: This post has been updated.] If Japan’s government has a complaint
with its too-chummy press gallery, a different problem plagues public
information in Canada, where the press gallery has a complaint with the

A prime example is in this Canadian Press report:
“Prime Minister Stephen Harper urged journalists to “shine light into
dark corners” of government affairs during a speech  … but wouldn’t
take questions from reporters covering the event.”

CP also
noted that Harper has not yet commented on allegations that top
government officials knew Afghans taken prisoner by Canadian soldiers
were tortured by Afghan forces, and added, “Since Mr. Harper came to
power, the schedule for cabinet meetings became shrouded in mystery,
requests for routine information can take days or sometimes ignored
altogether and delays in processing freedom-of-information requests has
grown markedly.”

“It’s been well over a year — maybe even two? — since Harper took
20 or 30 minutes worth of questions from the Ottawa-based media,” noted political reporter David Akin, blogging his thoughts
about how Stephen Harper does — and does not — make himself available
to answer journalists’ questions. Harper does make contact with the
press, noted Akin: with American cable television, and with local
reporters in Canadian cities he visits.

“But I think we’d be
better served if Harper took more questions from the Parliamentary
Press Gallery,” argued Akin. While all questions are good, he said, 
“we might learn a bit more about Harper if the PPG got to ask a few
more questions. That’s because PPG members tend to follow a narrative
or thread of a particular story over the long haul and will ask
questions based more on historical context than the questions he
receives from reporters where he’s travelling.  PPG members tend to
seek nuance and information that goes beyond the talking points …”

compiled a “Questions Scorecard” after accompanying Harper on a recent
trip. None of the journalists traveling on the same plane with Harper,
for a total air time of 47 hours, got to speak with him, noted Akin.
Over several days spent in Singapore and in India Harper took only
about a dozen questions.

Could “Questions Scorecards” become a new trend in Canadian journalism? As this J-Source piece
notes, the CBC’s Anna Maria Tremonti has begun a public “Request
Count,” logging the times her interview requests are turned down by
federal cabinet members.