Bite Your Tongue

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Another attempt to suppress government criticism?

Freedom of speech took another kick in the shins this week, on VOCM Open Line.

No, Open Line wasn’t at fault – it’s where I learned about the incident.

I had the program playing as background on Monday morning, while working at my desk. I missed the first part of this particular call, so I can’t say what the person’s issue was, though it sounded like a municipal complaint and there was a reference to Freshwater Beach. It seemed to be typical Open Line fodder.

The caller said he and his wife took their issue to the media recently, which did bring some attention to their cause.

But then he dropped a bombshell. After going to the media, the caller said his wife received a phone call from Jack Harrington, Executive Assistant to Health and Community Services Minister Jerome Kennedy, telling them to NOT talk to the media.

At this point, Randy Simms said “no names please,” though it was too late – Harrington’s name was out of the bag. I also turned on my tape recorder, to grab what remained of the conversation.

“I always thought we were free to speak on things that happen like this, and this is what this radio station is about. Why wouldn’t I call? If there’s nothing being done… That’s what this is about, to try to get something done…”

The caller said Harrington brought a message on Kennedy’s behalf: “The media do not scare us.”

He added that they had been working on getting their issue addressed for several months. “It’s only until (his wife) Bonnie called the media and the radio station that day that things started happening, that we’ve been getting calls back (from government).”

Callers to Open Line are anonymous, of course, so this may have been a prank call – though this person sounded perfectly real and legitimate to me. I invite him to  get in touch, at gmeeker(at)nl.rogers.com. I would like to chat some more about this incident.

In the meantime, I sent off an email on Monday, to Jack Harrington, asking for his side of the story. The complete text of that message is copied below. I sent it on Monday. Do you think I will receive a reply? 

 

Mr. Harrington,

This morning, on VOCM Open Line, a caller made a reference to you by name.

This caller was talking about a routine municipal complaint (I am not certain what the complaint was, but Freshwater Beach was mentioned). 

The caller said he complained about this matter publicly. This, he said, was followed in short order by a telephone call from you, stating that such complaints should not be expressed publicly.

Did you make this call? If so, why? Was it at the direction of the minister?

I look forward to your reply.

Geoff Meeker

This episode is of interest to me because it is NOT an isolated incident. I wrote last year about another caller, to VOCM’s Back Talk, who raised a startlingly similar allegation. Here is an excerpt from that entry:

I heard a bizarre call to Bill Rowe’s Backtalk yesterday afternoon, on VOCM.

A caller named Kevin was picking up on the Danny Williams/Open Line fiasco. He told of an experience he had some time ago, after submitting a letter to the editor to the Telegram.

After the piece was published, he received a call from an unidentified woman, asking if he was the Kevin who wrote the letter to The Telegram. Kevin confirmed he was. Moments later, he received a phone call from his MHA.

“He was telling me off for writing the letter,” Kevin said (and I am paraphrasing quotes from rough notes). “He was very intimidating and his voice was raised at first. It was like, ‘Look how well we’re doing. We’re doing this for you. How dare you complain about it?’ But I said, ‘I thought we had free speech in this country,’ and then he backed down and changed his tune. But I was shocked by it.”

This floored me. Since when did our members of the House of Assembly become thought police, calling members of the general public to tell them off for exercising their right to free expression?

 

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Recent comments

  • Geoff Meeker
    September 07, 2010 - 15:24

    Dean, your attempt to come across as calm and reasonable doesn't cut it with me. I think it's a load of bull droppings. You say there are "a number of reasons why some of us would like to keep our names private." Please list them. You are one of the thousands of people who support the premier. What are you afraid of? Surely you, of all people, are safe from his vengeance. I believe that, if we are going to make strong statements in public about any issue, we should have the balls to sign our names to it. You don't stand behind what you say. Therefore, what you say is a bilous cloud of gas, without merit or credibility. Sorry, that's just how it is.

  • David
    September 07, 2010 - 13:07

    There are a number of reasons why some of us would like to keep our names private and we are not all ''party hacks'' Geoff. I totally agree with ''Dean''. Each time I see your column with a titlle that relates to Danny Williams or his government I know exactly what is coming. It's obvious you don't like Williams and that's fine but you have no objectivity at all when it comes to writing about him. I don't agree with everything he says/does but I try to look at each decision with an objective eye. Take this as constructive criticism: get back to writing more about true media stories. Most of those I thoroughly enjoy. Again, I am just an average Joe, with no political affiliation, other than a brief involement with the Young Liberals many moons ago. Many people I talk to about your column feel the same so to assume any criticism on this issue is coming from a ''party hack'' is just wrong and probably reveals more about you than those commenting.

  • AJ
    September 06, 2010 - 17:34

    Hilarious, the blog post is about that SOB Danny Williams allegedly suppressing government criticism, and Geoff follows up on a piece of criticism by lamenting that he can't suppress it. Geoff spends a big portion of his time calling down Williams under the guise of writing about the media (like he did in the column he had at the Independent). Geoff takes the odd shot at the NDP too but nary a bad word about the Liberals. Why is that Geoff? Hmmmmm.

  • Shannon Reardon
    September 05, 2010 - 21:26

    Hear, hear, Geoff. Spineless sycophants. Sign you real, full names, cowards. Do we live in a free and democratic Canada, or a Mussolini-style fascist regime???

  • Geoff Meeker
    September 05, 2010 - 12:29

    Here we go... the anonymous trolls are going to start slagging me. The previous site design for The Telegram allowed me to moderate posts, so I could keep out the likes of "Dean". If I am going to sign my name to an opinion piece, I would expect others to do the same. Now, the minions who toil within the PC party - quite possibly on government payroll - will be permitted to attack me, without revealing their identities. Way to go, Telegram. I can tell "Dean" is a party hack by the nature of the attack, which is similar to that of Williams and his government. Rather than address in any way the substance of my point, he attempts to discredit me personally. What a crowd of hacks, trolls and gutless wonders.

  • Dean
    September 05, 2010 - 08:03

    The usual anti-Danny crap from Meeker. You should be writing for Ed Hollett, not the Telegram.

  • S
    September 03, 2010 - 10:31

    @ greg. . . not all of us.

  • Greg
    September 03, 2010 - 09:59

    All the polling indicates that the public endorses Danny Williams and his government's tactics by almost 80% in each polling cycle. Yet, they disdain justified criticism, they are not afraid to attack the electorate, and they are not afraid of the media response. It is bewildering at times. Perhaps, secretly, will all want to be dominated?