How the NDP Tamed BC’s Media

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.

Harv Oberfeld

(Follow me @harveyoberfeld on Twitter for free First Alerts of all new postings. No spam, just alerts to new topics up for discussion.)

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14 Responses to How the NDP Tamed BC’s Media

  1. RIsaak says:

    The reality of any subsidy for media is as scary as it is unfortunately a reality. Legacy media outlets have done zero to adapt to current interests, their fluff laden “Entertainment Tonight” shows are too light on real news. Do reporters even investigate much anymore? The concept copy & paste journalism is beyond my logical realm. The skewed news due to editorial influence is real, the internet & folks like Bob Mackin have replaced Stale98 & Globull in my home.

    When you going back to work Harvey?

    (Response: Sorry, I’m retired! You list a litany of problems, but none of them should stop actual reporters from asking tough questions or standing up and speaking out against governments that impose a “One question and one follow-up” rule at press conferences. Our elected politicians and their bureaucrats must realize it’s PUBLIC money they spend …so placing limits like a half hour on taking questions is not acceptable! Stay there and take the questions …and the heat, when warranted! h.o)

  2. D. M. Johnston says:

    The NDP did not tame the media, they tamed themselves.

    When large corporations assembled the media in the early turn of the century, they wanted to rid themselves of pesky lawsuits and embarrassing questions for their political friends.

    In the 90’s I was a semi regular guest on both the Rafe Mair’s and Bill Good’s radio talk shows; I was interviews by all local television stations, including your self (must have been a slow news day) and only the Vancouver Sun ignored me, but not the reporters.

    When the orchestrated removal of Mair from “NW and from the first interview when he was with CJOR, I was “sent to Coventry”. TransLink orchestrated my removal from the media (when libel suits failed muster, friendly media managers stepped in and did their bidding) and I was black listed.

    Well I was not to be interviewed, or quoted and thus has it been for over 15 years.

    But……….. reporters and journalists do contact me for insight on transit matters and a far clearer picture emerges how our media kow-tows to politicians, corruption and other major scandals.

    I have been told lots by a varied number of reporter/journalists that all news items pertaining to transit and especially our SkyTrain light metro system, must be vetted by persons unknown back east and unless one falls off the track, the story is killed or so altered it does not resemble the original story. (As an aside, the Vancouver Sun does that with my letters to the editor)

    NO investigative reporting is to be done.

    The same was true with a lot of other major news stories, under the BC Liberals and the NDP have joined the club.

    Our mainstream news outlets are basically FOX Lite and unless orders from the top dictate, news stories are to be pablum for the masses.

    The casino/money laundering scandal is a good example until the stench was so great it had to be reported on. Most people I have talked too, wonder why it took the media so long to report on this, when it was common knowledge.

    Last night I finished a 20 minute poll commissioned by CKNW/Global Corrus on media habits, which I think is nothing more than head office wondering why their listener-ship is dying and trying to attach blame. No its Youtubes fault, No it is those pesky bloggists running around in underpants, No, No it is Facebook……and so on.

    Why watch the news? Why watch third rate shows? It is all pablum for the masses, but the masses are tiring of the product.

    Our news is one of backroom deals between bureaucrats, politicians and media executives. The News has become unnews.

    Breaking News – the mainstream media’s product is crap because we have nothing but Quislings in charge and the NDP are adept in handling media’s useful idiots.

    (Response: I’m sure those you refer to would deny your suggestions they blackballed you … and many of the people in charge back then have long moved on. In fact, a big part of the problem today, I believe, is the lack of experience of those in charge … and lack of direction/leadership from those above. h.o)

  3. Baker says:

    Johnston 1, Oberfeld 0.
    “BC’s media … once roaring lions and tigers,” became extinct long ago.

    Anyone paying attention for the last couple of decades, following Rafe Mair, Sean Holman, Dermid Travis, Laila Luile, Norm Farrell, The Narwhal and a host of other astute political bloggers and journalists, have been aware of the media being bought by the party in power.

    The NDP tamed no one, they just kept the status quo.

    Gordon Campbell was a consummate media puppet master, sucking in even opposing loyalists.

    Stephen Smart, Bill Tieleman, Jordan Bateman and HO’s own cousin Vinny, Jas Johal, are prime examples of journalists pimping themselves.

    The worst are the legislative reporters, for which there should be a maximum 5 year term limit.

    (Response: I have written previously that, in my personal career, I applied time limits on myself (8 years), even when management and viewers were apparently very happy with what I did. It can all get too easy, more difficult to become excited or outraged and you get too friendly with those you cover. I always tried to stand up for the readers/viewers and people I felt were being improperly treated. The result: very few politicians or bureaucrats liked me (except the ones who understood my real role and those who cared/leaked me info) and even at BCTV, I am now persona non grata, because I, and one other newsroom staffer, spoke out loudly against freebies offered by companies and others were willing to take; then I supported newsroom unionization; served for years as union vice-president; and finally, began speaking publicly years ago about the decline in journalistic standards in the industry. Yes, paid a price for all that … but would not change a thing and frankly I feel quite proud about it all. I doubt those who sold out our craft can say that. h.o)

  4. BMCQ says:

    Once again, an excellent essay and a really good analysis of the situation as it now stands .

    The first two comments above also explain a lot, although I disagree with a few points, especially the over political Fox News quip . Please consider the inaction of the MSNBC, WAPO, NYT, CNN, Twitter, and the rest during the Hunter/Joe Biden “Sh*t Show” during the months of Sept and Oct., what an attack on the Democratic Process .
    Do you think those and other media corps mentioned would have buried that story if the son happened to be Donald Trump Junior, Eric, Ivanka, of Tiffany ? No need to answer, I have an idea of what the truth is .

    Personally I find it hard to disagree with any of what Harvey points out, as I stated in the previous blog topic I wish to thank and congratulate Quinn and then palmer for their work on this, the population in general need to be made aware of and understand the lack of professionalism in much of the media and in fact the bias of much of the media .

    Just as important a question as Harvey has highlighted, please ask yourself this, would media allow say a Conservative federal Gov or a Provincial B.C. Liberal or Conservative Gov get away with what the Federal Liberals, the Provincial NDP, or Leftist Activist Municipal Governments get away with ?

    I doubt that very much, the media would be all over a Christy Clark gov, a Ford Gov a Federal Conservative Gov, etc. I challenge any of you to prove me wrong, the facts have been before our eyes and ears for years, it is undeniable .

    I would like to hear from someone like Harvey or Palmer or even Quinn to tell the “Great Unwashed” that the coverage by media for a Conservative type Gov might see a much more energetic critical media, on the other hand I think we know the answer to that question . Just the same, anyone willing to comment, that would be news in itself.

    My sincerest apologies for the brevity .

    Response: Actually, I’ve written before of how terrible it was under Harper/Conservatives to ask questions or even get basic information off camera: worse than anything I ever encountered under either of the Trudeaus, Chretien, Mulroney. It’s not a partisan issue: they ALL want to control the message and the media often have to fight for the answers by pushing and pushing, protesting against the government attempts to stifle transparency … and reporting on the battle to, so the public knows what is going on. That can bring about change! h.o)

  5. Horace B says:

    Government handouts to media would be dangerous, RIssak and Harvey, but as a thought experiment, what would it be like if the handouts to media were managed by the Opposition parties?
    Additionally, why do journalists think the primary source of news should be government scrums and interviews? Questions put to the opposition would provide much livelier news content than government sources. Negative stories might drive the members of government to get past their two question limit to present their side of the story.

    (Response: Since governments control the public’s money and pass laws affecting the public’s lives, there are lots of questions that should be asked ..and scrum, press conferences and interviews are often (between elections) the best way to pose those questions. And when reporters get their chance, they owe it to their readers, listeners and viewers to get to the truth … even if it requires asking the question over and over again when politicians/bureaucrats slip and slide. Under the current restrictions placed on the process by the NDP government, that has become impossible …ad rather than go along with it, the media should report on that, protest and keep up the pressure for real opportunities to push for real answers. ho)

  6. BMCQ says:

    I have been here since about August 2015 and YES I very much recall you saying that Harper was very difficult and avoided the press . My point made was actually this,
    “IMHO media would indeed ask the tough questions of Harper, Christy Clark, Ford, or any other centre right politician, questions they might not pursue with a PM Justin or NDP Premier Horgan or Dix .To be clear I did NOT state that Harper himself was forthcoming, I just stated that media would be tougher on a centre right politician than the Federal Libs or the B.C. NDP .

    I DO believe the issue itself is partisan but I DO believe that media show/play favouritism and are easier on the Federal Liberals and say the B.C. NDP .

    Here is something media should be asking the Canadian PM about, today we have learned that Canada in it’s wisdom booked all of it’s Pfizer Vaccine through Pfizer EU/Belgium, when the U.S. booked all of it’s Pfizer Vaccine through Pfizer, why might that be ? Why would Canada ignore the {fizer plant in Minnesota, why not acquire vaccine from that close North American location close to transportation routes ?

    The Pfizer Minnesota Plant will experience absolutely NO delays in shipment, absolutely NO interruption or delay, why did Canada not book through Pfizer Minnesota ?

    Will anyone in media ask the Canadian PM or the Procurement Minister that very simple question ? Or will it once again be “Crickets” ?

    (Response: Because President Donald Trump pressured and ordered (signed a decree?) that the US Pfizer plant reserve all supply for the US … and to hell with the rest of the world…. even America’s closest neighbour, trading partner and ally. h.o)

  7. 13 says:

    As mentioned in the prior blog Horgan singlehandedly created the Alberta controversy out of thin air. By doing so he steered the media away from over 1000 dead British Columbians. Maybe a hard nosed reporter might ask the following question
    ” Premier Horgan are you telling the people of BC that your government is going to use every tool in the tool box to stop Albertans from entering BC?” Hard nosed reporter would allow Horgan to spin like a top then follow up with” So your telling the people of BC that your government cares more about Albertans travel plans than the 4000 seniors that have perished on your watch?”

    No siree ! Our hard nosed media swallowed the bait hook line and sinker. Or maybe our media just doesnt give a damn

    (Response: You’re hired! It’s exactly that kind of cheek that reporters used to employ to draw a real response and real reaction from politicians … instead of self-praise of how well BC is doing, along with a long list of how many gloves, masks and rolls of toilet paper the government has successfully acquired since March. h.o)

  8. BMCQ says:

    Harvey – response to BMCQ

    I have no reason to doubt what you state about POTUS Trump restricting Pfizer USA
    distribution to USA first, I suppose if Pfizer was in Hamilton I would want 70 million doses to be distributed Canada wide first so that makes sense .

    Having said that and perhaps I missed it but I wonder why Global, Dix, and Dr. “B” made absolutely no mention of the fact that Xmas, New Year, and the rest of the Holiday Party Gathering season took place over the past three weeks and there was really no uptick in C – 19 cases, in fact it appears C – 19 cases in B.C. may be trending somewhat .

    I believe that news and trend should be mentioned by the Province and Health Authorities along with media .

    I have attached another informative and insightful Vancouver Sun Vaughn Palmer Column that many here might find interesting . I know not everyone subscribes to the Sun so here you go .

    https://vancouversun.com/opinion/columnists/vaughn-palmer-b-c-refuses-to-call-out-ottawa-after-vaccine-delay-announced .

    One last thing here . Some here and a few in media were critical of Premier Horgan and the NDP calling the uncalled for 2020 Fall B.C. Election and rightly so, I am quite sure that very selfish call contributed to the “Spike” in Covid cases we experienced during and after the campaign .

    Having said that I want to be on record as saying that the party I support the B.C. Liberals may have also called that election . I obviously do not know for sure but odds are ……………..

    (Response: Readers will know I have no problem criticizing the NDP when I feel it is warranted, but frankly I don’t believe the election had a major impact on Covid Fall numbers: they were UP all over the world, as people spent more time inside, closer together, with less ventilation. But I would like to see more questioning about how they screwed up by changing the original plan to hold back half of received vaccines so those who needed it most could be guaranteed their second dose as recommended by the manufacturers! h.o)

  9. NVG says:

    News Release

    19/01/21

    Update on Supplyof the Pfizer-Biontech Covid-19 Vaccine in Canada

    https://www.pfizer.ca/update-supply-pfizer-biontech-covid-19-vaccine-canada

    (Response: Thanks. h.o)

  10. Harry Lawson says:

    Harvey,

    The only thing that tamed the media is the media it’s self. The politicians saw the weakness and took advantage .

    (Response: Yes, and it’s time media management kicked ass with their own staff covering the news ..especially politics…to get BC back on track in the pursuit if TRUTH and hold politicians and bureaucrats feet to the fire …not just be satisfied with spin and a clip. h.o)

  11. 13 says:

    In the light of current developments it was hard to decide which current blog topic to post under
    Vaccine rollout and roulette
    or
    NDP controlling the media
    Either way Canada will receive zero doses of phizer and reduced doses until the European plant retools. This highlights two failures . Federally Trudeau is the goat Provincially the make more with less Horgan government will now get a chance to do more with nothing.
    Our media in Canada at both levels should be cruicifying both levels of government.
    Erin Otool should be screaming for Trudeaus head. Otool and Trudeau should be on the phone to Biden asking for phizer USA to fill the vaccine gap
    The media should be grilling and roasting. So far all ive heard heard from the media are excuses and explanations of how were going to be okay????
    Now our Federal government is going to police the internet so sooner or later we might not even get news via blogs.

    (Response: You are correct: “the media should be grilling and roasting’ both the federal and provincial governments. The feds failed Canadians by not negotiating and securing anywhere close to the amounts of earlier doses that other countries were able to obtain; the BC government failed its citizens by changing its protocol that originally called for half the doses to be held back so ALL those receiving the first dose could receive the second exactly as prescribed by Pfizer and Moderna. And the media should be demanding the politicians and health officials at BOTH levels of government answer for that! And expose them for screwing up. h.o)

  12. 13 says:

    More smoke and mirrors from magic man Horgan. Now you see it now you dont.
    Seniors dying every day in BC . Seems like the current number averages 12-15. This should be the only headline that Horgan should be concerned with. But he dodges this daily . The last bit of magic was an Alberta travel ban. Yesterday he put that trick back in his trunk and announced there will be no travel ban. So now will he address the problems in LTC homes (seniors dying). No today he has summoned his media to talk about the plan to immunize every last British Columbian. Will his media ask any pertinent questions? Dont hold your breath.
    Vaccine availability
    Vaccine waste
    When will we see the death toll in LTC homes end.
    What are you doing to stop the carnage in LTC homes
    Have you asked Trudeau why Canada has been shut out by phizer.
    Im listening to Horgans radio station and its 540 am and NDP spokesman G Macdonald is getting us ready for Horgans speech

  13. Gilbert says:

    Premier Horgan has a great relationship with the media. He probably has a lot of friendly journalists to write positive stories for him.

    If you’re a great premier, you don’t need to worry so much about controlling the message. The facts should speak for themselves. The premier is lucky that he has a loyal media and an ineffective opposition. It’s in large part the reason for his popularity.

    (Response: Read my Special Saturday blog tomorrow. h.o)

  14. 13 says:

    Ernst and Young report kept secret by the NDP. News worthy? They had the report before they called the election. Was it favorable ? No When did they give it to the watchdog for long term care? January 25 2021. Has the media grilled the NDP?
    If you consider Vaughn Palmer the media the answer is yes. Lead story on Global with Chris Gallius attempting to look serious? No way. Keith Baldry pounces? He rearranged the book shelf in his office
    So the NDP blunders its way through a pandemic with impunity. Never have we needed a media to kick a government in the ass more than now
    They claim that of the 1200 dead British Columbians only 700 from LTC homes.
    I assume they are lying , to cover up their indifference to seniors. They just dont care unless the senior happens to be First Nations

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