Premier John Horgan was clearly in control. Like a circus ringmaster in a potentially risky situation, surrounded by some fairly big cats, Horgan deftly dodged and maneuvered, avoided any serious mistakes and 35 minutes later, emerged totally unscathed from his first press conference of the year.
BC’s media … once roaring lions and tigers sometimes feared and always respected by municipal, provincial and federal politicians as well as top bureaucrats … were pussycats at Horgan’s hands.
Not a growl, not a jab with a claw … and certainly not a roar that would have drawn anyone watching straight up in their seats, let alone to their feet!
The Premier was clearly in control.
However, that had not been the case just a few days earlier when Health Minister Adrian Dix was a guest on CBC Radio’s Early Edition, interviewed by host Stephen Quinn.
Quinn’s background includes eight-years as CBC’s civic affairs reporter; he has won several Radio Television News Digital Association Awards; captured a Webster Award; and, has 24 years experience as a reporter in BC.
Quinn asked the Health Minister whether the government had done sufficient contact tracing within senior’s care homes “to pinpoint how the spread is happening.”
Perhaps thinking he was dealing with the BC media he usually talks to … Dix delivered a response … but not a real answer. Or at least not one that satisfied Quinn.
An old-time BC media type … Quinn would not allow Dix to slip, slide and attempt to avoid the question. Over and over again, he went after the Health Minister … UNTIL he did get the real answer to his question.
Vaughn Palmer of the Vancouver Sun found Quinn’s persistent questioning, refusal to accept a response … but not an answer … so unusual he wrote a full column on it: https://vancouversun.com/opinion/columnists/vaughn-palmer-dix-ducks-and-covers-before-fessing-up-on-care-home-covid-outbreaks.
Now think about that.
What USED TO BE the norm in BC media questioning of politicians has become such RARE exception that the Dean of BC’s Political Columnists wrote a column about it.
Quinn’s persistent questioning, his push for a REAL answer … not just a clip, any clip … his pursuit of the REAL truth and his refusal to let the Minister get away with puffery and spin was reassuring.
I feel vindicated … again!
Because THAT’S EXACTLY what I have been decrying, ranting and mourning about on this blog for years … the decline in BC of REAL journalism as a craft, as a calling and as a responsibility to go after the REAL truth, the FULL truth … and not just be satisfied with ANY government “response” to questions … or worse yet, just be a cheerleader for government announcements, actions and excuses.
Tough questioning of politicians and bureaucrats used to be the norm in BC, by reporters in all forms of media. Not any more.
And we’re not talking about just Press Conferences or Briefings: the level of questioning of politicians at all levels has deteriorated in most extended interviews, on radio talk shows, at townhall meetings as well.
Maybe going soft is the only way they can convince political leaders and officials to participate: no doubt many used to avoid such appearances (except just before elections) because the questions were too tough.
But the public interest is not being served in BC with such a tame media. Because what we are now getting so often are RESPONSES, PLATITUDES and SPIN, not FULL ANSWERS on REAL ISSUES.
Transparency has been diminished.
And it’s not just the fault of too-easily compliant, complacent journalists/reporters: as I’ve said before, too many weak newsroom managers/bosses have allowed the deterioration to keep getting worse. And those who still understand and believe in real reporting … are overwhelmed or ignored.
Things MUST change … for the better.
And a good START would be for the Legislative Press Gallery to call out the Premier, the Health Minister and any other Ministers for the way they are stage-managing their Press Briefings and Press Conferences.
The FIX is in to make it very difficult for reporters to do what Quinn did … unless they all decide to band together one day to go after a particular issue or question … to get REAL answers, REAL details.
The way it works now, reporters are warned right at the beginning of each session they will each get only one question and one follow-up. So, under the current setup … compared with the way Press Conferences used to be conducted … it has become impossible for any reporter to persist, to really go after or to challenge any Ministers or Officials responses or spin.
In fact, because each media is usually recognized only once, due to very tight time/question restrictions the NDP government has imposed, reporters who do get recognized often have to use their “follow-up” to pose a completely different question for a colleague working on an entirely different story. So the Minister or Official can get away with spin, more spin, more slip sliding …with no chance for the reporter to challenge or persist.
And then there’s the issue of WHO actually gets to ask questions: a faceless, nameless government bureaucrat off camera chooses which reporter can ask the next question.
That is a very dangerous aberration from the system in play during the years when I covered the Legislature … including two years as Press Gallery President … when a Gallery Executive member got to decide/announce who would pose the questions.
And there was no “only one follow-up” rule. Each reporter could actually go after the Minister or Official and have at least a bit of an exchange … holding their feet to the fire! Today, under the NDP controls, there’s barely time to light a match.
The current system clearly gives far too much power to the government to decide who gets to ask questions, doesn’t permit any serious digging and rewards those who are safe, friendly and accept/repeat government rhetoric far too easily.
I wonder if someone like me, who would push and challenge and call out spin and platitudes would even get recognized to ask questions these days? Probably not very often!
And I’m sure many former Mayors, Premiers, Prime Ministers or even Public Officials who used to face REAL questioning, REAL challenges, REAL pressure, REAL heat at Press Conferences and Briefings must envy how the NDP in power have tamed the BC media … and have achieved their current control of the narrative and manipulation/restrictions on the press.
Without so much as a peep of protest!
Except from me … and the persistence of Stephen Quinn.
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