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Pam Frampton: Media bashing, north of the border

Declared St. John's South-Mount Pearl MP elect Seamus O'Regan speaks to supporters.
St. John’s South-Mount Pearl MP Seamus O'Regan. — SaltWire Network

“A free press needs to be a respected press.” — Tom Stoppard, playwright

The Telegram and other SaltWire Network newspapers ran an editorial recently about freedom of the press, and how U.S. President Donald Trump’s constant haranguing of the media is influencing relationships between politicians and journalists in Canada.

 

The editorial referenced the strong anti-press vibe emanating from the government of Ontario Premier Doug Ford, and warned that Canadians should be vigilant about attempts to erode media freedoms.

But anti-media sentiment is also being expressed closer to home.

For instance, at the Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador convention in Gander on June 16, St. John’s South-Mount Pearl MP Seamus O’Regan — also the country’s Veterans Affairs minister — gave a speech in which he riffed on what he perceives as a vacuous media that is unable to wrap its collective head around much of substance.

O’Regan, being a former TV personality, knows all about what makes a good soundbite, which no doubt stands him in good stead as a politician. But he is being unfairly critical when he accuses the media of having no appetite for tackling difficult subjects if it isn’t “sexy” or “there’s no ribbon-cutting.”

O’Regan told the party faithful they will notice in their supper-hour news that there’s “a lot less about politics and a lot less about policy and more about the snow… and have you seen this puppy video?”

While the media may well seem to be as fond as cutesy videos some days as the people who post them on social media, that doesn’t mean we’ve stopped covering issues that inform the public.

O’Regan, being a former TV personality, knows all about what makes a good soundbite, which no doubt stands him in good stead as a politician. But he is being unfairly critical when he accuses the media of having no appetite for tackling difficult subjects if it isn’t “sexy” or “there’s no ribbon-cutting.”

The media doesn’t talk about politics as much, he suggested, “because it’s complex.”

That’s poppycock.

Any journalist worth his or her salt in this country could have any topic thrown at them in the run of a day and be expected to explain it to the rest of us, from bitcoin technology to cap and trade to the ethics of biomedicine and the complexities of criminal law.

In the past 12 months alone, The Telegram’s Ashley Fitzpatrick has written 50 stories on public policy — everything from the government’s anti-harassment strategy to Muskrat Falls to environmental assessments and the legalization of marijuana.

She’s written more than 150 stories on politics in that time.

And that’s only one reporter at one media outlet in one province writing about those two topics.

Our colleagues in TV, radio and in the press — in this province and others — are unstinting in their political coverage, as well.

O’Regan’s criticism might spring from the fact that he and the other six Liberal MPs from this province were referred to as the “silent seven” in terms of their response to fisheries issues by FISH-NL’s Ryan Cleary, but that sentiment has not been expressed by the media.

Something sure struck a nerve, because O’Regan was defiant in his defense of his colleagues, saying, “I’m not in the media much. I’ve kind of had enough. I’ve got too much to do. …We lay pretty low compared to federal/provincial relations in the past because we’re not at each other’s throats.”

He then cited two projects in Atlantic Canada that received significant federal funding — $100 million for the Core Science Building under construction at Memorial University in St. John’s and $150 million for the Atlantic Canadian Ocean Supercluster initiative in St. John’s and Halifax.

“This is big money,” O’Regan said. “A lot of it doesn’t get picked up in the media because there’s no conflict. … It’s not easy for the media to report.”

In fact, all major media outlets in Newfoundland and Labrador have reported on federal funding for both projects, and news outlets throughout Atlantic Canada have reported on the Ocean Supercluster.

So I’m not sure why O’Regan was shooting the messenger, but I guess it’s an easy target in a roomful of political partisans.

Of course, the media was there, as well. It’s not sexy, but — hey — it’s politics.

If politicians are inclined to attack journalism, they should at least stick to the facts.

They expect no less from us.

Pam Frampton is a columnist whose work is published in The Western Star and The Telegram. Email pamela.frampton@thetelegram.com. Twitter: pam_frampton

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