Pot Attacks Kettle

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This government is a big fan of Friday media releases

Okay, Danny Williams has every right to be upset with Eastern Health. Information about new patients affected by this scandal just keeps seeping out.

However, I do take issue with Williamss hypocrisy, in attacking the health care corporation for something that his government does at its convenience.

After all, most of Williamss anger was directed at the way the information was released. Check this quote, from the cbc.ca/nl story:

(The patients) have a right to be told in a proper manner. There has to be proper disclosure; there has to be someone there to answer questions. It's not something you do at the tail end of a Friday afternoon.

I agree with that. However, the premier protests too much. On several occasions, his government has issued sensitive information on a Friday afternoon.

Earlier this year, the Department of Finance released its audited financial statements on Friday, January 30 at 4:00 pm.

In 2008, government issued a nasty release about a recall of contaminated chlorine used for treating drinking water. It was released at 5:45 pm on a Friday.

Also, this curious coincidence: not one, but two releases on the same touchy topic, issued months apart but in both cases on a Friday, at 5:45 pm and 9:15 pm respectively.

In February of last year, important information about the closure of TRailway bridges was issued at 6:10 pm on a Friday.

Then theres the release that proclaimed, quite hilariously, the provinces support for academic freedom, issued 4:00 pm Friday, August 1, 2008.

I am not the first to make this observation. In fact, credit for the links above goes to Wallace McLean and his funny, well-researched Labradore blog. When done here, follow the link he has posted several other examples.

I do question how the media handled this statement. Reporters and editors receive these releases first, and they are trained through experience to be cynical about the late Friday news release.

However, reporters took the premiers controversial comments and rushed them to air and print without question. Perhaps its easier to take a juicy quote like they should be shot and run with it, rather than challenge and provoke the premier.

If I had been a reporter at that scrum, I would have guffawed right in his face. I would have said, But premier, your government also issues sensitive news releases late on a Friday afternoon. It seems to be a common tactic for certain issues.

Of course, the premier would deny. And I would offer to come back with specific examples. But the deed would be done the premiers balloon would be deflated with cameras rolling and microphones recording.*

Yes, this would piss the premier off. I would likely be placed on some kind of blacklist. But I would still be able to attend scrums, and thats pretty much all you need these days one-on-one access to the premier happens infrequently anyway.

Please, media. Stop accepting the premiers big announcements and blatant hypocrisy at face value.

You owe it to the public. And you owe it to yourselves.

(*Clarification: I know this isnt easy. Early in my journalistic career, I would have been too shy to challenge the premier in this way. Such brazenness comes with age and experience. Which is why I am sharing here.)

Postscript: There is an excellent editorial in today's Telegram, which supports this view and makes some important additional points about the contradictions that exist, between what this government says and what it actually does.

This raises a valid question: why doesnt The Telegram nip some of these matters in the bud, before committing them to press?

I should point out that I have never worked for a newspaper or electronic outlet with daily and sometimes hourly deadlines (though I did work with The Sunday Express, a very good investigative weekly) and I appreciate that reporters are under pressure to turn around their stories quickly.

Often, there isnt time to second-guess official statements, and do the research necessary to contradict them. Sometimes, youve got to play the cards youre dealt, and rush the story to air or print.

However, journalists do have an obligation to get the facts right, even if it's a follow-up story in the next day's news cycle.

A wise person once said that journalists write the first rough draft of history.

In other words, spin, unchallenged, becomes historical fact.

This serves the interests of no one, with the exception of certain politicians.

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  • Megan
    July 27, 2010 - 14:53

    I don't buy the hourly deadline argument.

    If you have an hourly deadline, why would you rush crap to the 4:00 news if you could do it correctly at 5:00?

    Normal people don't care who got it out first; we only care about who did it best. Journalists are the only ones who care about who did it first.