November 2, 2012 – A few weeks back, I wrote a series of blogs that bemoaned the lack of investigative journalism in this province around the Muskrat Falls issue.
There was no shortage of information being pushed out there from both proponents and critics of the project, but how much was truth and how much was fact? Why wasn’t the media digging to get at all angles of the story? Why was the public so confused?
I was challenged on that claim by a Telegram columnist, a talk radio host and a blogger who said such claims were a “steaming pile of horsesh*t.”
Okay, I take it back. Maybe I shouldn’t have said “investigative” journalism. What I meant to say was good journalism. Because right now, pretty much all we have is the ‘he said, she said’ style of stenography, in which reporters collect a claim from one side, the countering viewpoint from another, and foist it upon us as news.
When I worked as a journalist at The Sunday Express, we called this “spit collecting.” We did not attend news conferences as a matter of policy (with a few exceptions) and rarely followed the media herd around town. Instead, we considered what was being released, ignored a lot of it and, on those stories that had merit, began calling anyone who might have knowledge about it. We curated the information and attempted to break the truth of the story. The result was good journalism.
That isn’t happening anymore. And I wouldn’t have bothered to make this point again, but for an excellent piece of journalism yesterday from CBC Halifax.
When the 2041 Energy group raised warning flags last week about water management rights and the potential for Hydro Quebec to control water flows to Muskrat Falls, we had another ‘he said, she said’ situation. Reporters ran to Nalcor for reaction. Nalcor assured us that an agreement was in place. And that was that. Some commentators even attacked 2041 Energy for not asking this question of Nalcor before going public, as if Nalcor is the gatekeeper of the truth.
Far from it, in fact. As this piece from Jerry West of CBC Halifax indicates, Nalcor is capable of spin doctoring as well.
Listen to this link. Pay careful attention to how the reporter works his sources to get at the truth. Note the discomfort in Gilbert Bennett’s voice when he is cornered on the key facts and forced to admit that Hydro Quebec “does have the ability to veto an agreement.”
Note that the reporter’s work was prompted by a call from the Nova Scotia energy department, who asked for a retraction of 2041 Energy’s claim that water management legal issues were unresolved. The resulting story was anything but a retraction.
This piece did not require an investigative unit with a large budget. It was turned around in one day by a solitary reporter.
The story reveals that Hydro Quebec does have veto power over the agreement reached between Nalcor and CFLCo. It also shows that Bern Coffey is correct; that legal questions are unresolved and we could be in for a significant and costly legal fight with Quebec.
It is the best seven minutes of reporting on Muskrat Falls that I’ve heard in a long time. Sadly, it was produced in Halifax, not St. John’s.
Imagine the journalism we’d see and hear if our media pursued issues with the same tenacity – not just occasionally but every day of the week.