Poll-padding shows contempt for the public
Last week's revelation that political parties stack phone-in radio shows with their supporters and pad online opinion polls to skew results was probably not a shock to anyone in the news business.
Pay attention to the talk-radio circuit and you will hear various government MHAs speaking from the same message track, just as they all parroted the same handful of derisive phrases when MHA Tom Osborne left the Tory fold.
And it's not that the Progressive Conservatives are the only ones doing it - no doubt all three mainstream provincial parties try to control the message to a certain extent, a practice that has its origins at least as far back as the Liberal era under Brian Tobin.
But it's the Tories, by virtue of their sheer number, who have the biggest propaganda machine, and Steve Bartlett's story in The Telegram revealed the kind of activities that are involved, in stark black and white.
"We are falling way behind on the CBC question," Mount Pearl South Tory MHA Paul Lane writes in one BlackBerry message sent to a raft of Tory foot soldiers.
"The computer is only allowing us to vote once. Obviously the opposition has found a way around this and we are also working on this."
This type of unethical behaviour carried out at the behest of elected politicians is repugnant on several levels.
First, MHAs and their operatives use BlackBerry PIN or peer-to-peer messaging to intentionally avoid the more tangible trails left by email. PINs are beyond the scope of access to information requests and offer politicos more security to communicate freely.
By using PIN messages to send directives about poll padding and other practices unworthy of people who call themselves "honourable," your elected politicians are hoping you won't find out what they're up to.
This whole thing shows a complete disregard for openness and transparency.
When Bartlett first reported about the government's message-managing campaign in The Telegram in January, Lane was quick to take to the VOCM airwaves to deny that any chicanery was afoot and to insist that Tory MHAs are only trying to communicate with the public about the government's activities and objectives.
"If you're on the government side and you think you're doing good things, it's important to let people know the good things you're doing," he told "Backtalk" host Paddy Daly.
Despite his protestation that he doesn't even know "how to manipulate on a computer," it's obvious from Lane's PIN cited earlier that he was doing his darndest to learn. (And it's not rocket science, folks.)
Of course, Lane should not be the scapegoat here, even if his enthusiasm for spin distinguishes him from his fellows - not that MHAs Steve Kent and Vaughn Granter are far behind.
What's absurd is elected officials' determination to pad polls in order to swing the results in favour of their party's policy, when the results have no scientific weight at all.
Media outlets use online polls and questions of the day to attract readers to their websites. We also use them in an attempt to get some general sense of how the public feels about an issue.
When it comes to participating in those polls, most folks abide by the honour system and vote just once - just as they only take one copy of a newspaper when they buy one from a vending box.
By voting multiple times to skew poll results, politicians and their staffers are thumbing their noses at members of the public who play by the rules, and are stripping away any shred of value that the polls might have had.
By rigging a poll's outcome, they're essentially putting their words in the mouths of the public.
They're carrying out campaigns of blatant deception, which is completely disrespectful to the people who put their trust in them.
Vote often. Call radio shows to repeat the party line. Shape the message. Try to fool the people.
That's what's happening, but don't expect to read that slogan on a campaign sign come the next election.
When the NDP was asked if it asks its members and supporters to call radio shows to repeat scripted messages, a spokeswoman told The Telegram, "I think people are aware of how false it sounds when people are saying the same thing, so we don't do it."
Apparently the governing party thinks we're all too stupid to notice.
"If you are to speak on a radio show, and you wish to speak about Muskrat Falls, then we will provide messaging ...," a government staffer wrote in a BlackBerry message to her fellow Tories.
And that's all just hunky-dory with the premier, who protested just a tad too much that "There's no story here" when asked about the issue in Corner Brook Wednesday.
"So, do we participate?" she said. "... You betcha. ... Anybody who has a political point of view that's important to them ... you find a way to express that."
Well, the last time I checked, politicians had many legitimate ways of expressing their points of view to the public - websites, Twitter feeds, Facebook, news releases, news conferences and media scrums.
There's absolutely no need to resort to this sort of ham-fisted skulduggery.
Do we expect better from our elected officials?
Pam Frampton is a columnist and The Telegram's associate managing editor. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: pam_frampton