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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