The practice of stacking' the phone lines of local talk radio programs with political operatives is deeply-rooted in this province, though the parties are not likely to acknowledge it.
During the election, there were more than a few callers to VOCM's Open Line, Backtalk and Nightline who made points that sounded suspiciously scripted'. A few even admitted, when challenged by the host, that they were working on a candidate's campaign team.
The political parties will not admit to this practice, but it is widely accepted that a network of party supporters is in place and ready to call the talk radio programs on cue, using key messages supplied by someone within the party (or government, as the case may be).
The practice is not illegal, of course. Political party members are also entitled to free speech. But listeners should be wary of the motivations of callers, and if they notice an odd sameness in what some people are saying, that probably is not a coincidence.
This is also happening at the federal level. Blogger Ed Hollett drew my attention to an article at the Toronto Star's web site, highlighting a web site which encourages federal Conservative supporters to get on the phones and talk up their party. I have copied the full text of the article below.
This practice was started back when Brian Tobin was premier, and has continued ever since. There is no question that Danny Williams recognizes the power of local talk radio on days when he is not available to media, he still finds time to call Open Line if there is a hot issue at play.
Since we now have a history of this going back about 10 years, there must be a lot of people out there with some knowledge of how it works. Perhaps they are now retired from active party involvement, and wouldn't mind talking about how callers are recruited and fed information. If so, please drop me a note, either in the comments section or directly, through an email.
Tories offering supporters spin tips
Website has numbers of call-in shows and primer on what to say
Oct 16, 2007 04:30 Am
OTTAWAThe federal Conservatives are offering rank-and-file supporters electronic tip sheets to push the party message in the media.
On issues from Arctic sovereignty, health, the environment and law and order, party backers can log on to the official Tory website to get a list of contacts for local newspapers and call-in shows to push the right-wing message.
"Tired of hearing the vested interests of the Liberals and the special interests of the NDP get their messages out via the media?" reads the website. "Call in to a show yourself and fight back with the facts!"
In the last election, Liberals were outed for writing letters to newspapers critical of Conservative policy without identifying themselves as party operatives.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, then the opposition leader, condemned the practice at the time.
"What I can say is that it doesn't surprise me the Liberals are doing that," he said on Dec. 8, 2005. "I suspect for most of the Liberal campaign if it isn't groups that are linked to the government or linked to the party, I think they'll have a lot of trouble finding anybody to support some of their policies."
The Tory program, called "myCampaign," asks supporters to enter their postal code and a policy area of interest. A sample query using crime and the Star's postal code offers six call-in shows with the time slot and telephone number and a list of Conservative initiatives that are contrasted with the Liberal, NDP and Bloc Québécois records.
While the government has made efforts to get tough on crime, investing money in police officers and a new drug strategy, it says the Liberals "voted to weaken another tough anti-crime bill so that people who burn down your house or steal your car may serve their sentences at home instead of in jail."
The new strategy also counsels Tory callers to turn down the radio once they get on the air, speak slowly and be ready for a provocative, interruptive host.
"Stay conversational do your best to have a conversation with the talk show host instead of just reading your notes on the radio."