It’s no secret there have been tensions between members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery and many of the political figures they cover.
More than a few fundraising emails the Conservatives have sent out have accused the “left-wing media” of slanting their coverage in favour of one party or another.
Some in the party have gone as far as to suggest that the best solution is to circumvent the media altogether.
The underlying tensions between the two sides came to the forefront at a recent Conservative campaign stop in Toronto with prime minister Stephen Harper.
A CBC reporter trying to ask a question about the ongoing Mike Duffy trial in Ottawa was heckled by some supporters in the crowd, who demanded she ask a question about the announcement instead. Harper had just recommitted to bringing back the “life means life” bill, which would set automatic life sentences for certain crimes.
The bill failed to pass through Parliament before the election.
“Ask a question on the topic at hand,” one individual is heard shouting in video from the event, before being silenced by Harper.
The situation would later escalate in the hallway with another man accusing a CTV reporter of cheating on her tax returns — a federal crime.
The Conservative campaign immediately apologized for the man’s deplorable behaviour.
Still, the exchanges speak volumes about the perception some individuals have about the media and its societal role.
Every journalist has a personal reason for deciding to pursue journalism as a career.
For some, it is a field that satisfies their curiosity. Others have said they like telling stories, while more than a few colleagues have said they entered the profession because they wanted to hold those in power to account.
Demands from party supporters that journalists ask questions only on the topic at hand would be a dangerous precedent, if enforced.
It’s a journalist’s responsibility to determine the newsworthiness of an announcement compared to the other issues of the day.
Such newsworthiness is determined based on a variety of factors, including who is involved and whether the public should know about the issue.
When reporters are allowed to ask the prime minister only three questions in total, a repeat announcement of legislation already presented to the House of Commons will not take priority. This is particularly the case when an ongoing trial in Ottawa has raised serious questions about Harper’s inner circle and the culture in the prime minister’s office.
Harper has chosen to stick to his talking points and has dodged more than a few questions on the issue.
This despite mounting evidence, spurred by emails released as court evidence, that show the story being told to the public by Harper and his inner circle are shaky at best.
Until straight answers are given, the questions will keep coming. That’s part of the job of being a journalist: to ask the tough questions people may not want to answer.
The situation that unfolded in Toronto should be taken as a warning.
It raises serious questions about whether journalists are currently able to do their jobs and the role journalism plays in society.
As those in agriculture know, exchanges between politicians and reporters aren’t the only source of tensions.
There have long been complaints about the mainstream media’s perception of agriculture.
The issue has been raised repeatedly at conferences and in discussions with stakeholders.
But it’s one thing to ask reporters to research an issue before they file their stories, it is quite another to expect reporters to advocate on behalf of an industry.
That’s what communication departments are for.
Reporters must be free to ask the questions they feel need to be posed.
The subject of those questions must not be limited to the topic at hand.
It’s the job we’re expected to do.