Friday, November 14, 2008

The Media Lockdown in Winnipeg

That sign above is the sign that popped up this morning to greet reporters, in case we forgot during our night’s sleep that we’re not allowed to witness the true Conservative party – their grass roots.

Yes, the media has been shut out, as many of you you are all aware. The media is none too pleased about being it though, as this was also a shock to them. Yesterday the media filling room was packed, and today it seems less so. I swear some reporters just didn’t bother to show up this morning. I hear from Dawg that one reporter complained to Harper this morning that the media accessibility is similar to that of Beijing and Moscow, and Harper’s reaction was “so???”. One reporter even acknowledged that things have gotten so bad, that the bloggers have resulted into interviewing each other! It’s no wonder Liberal leadership news has gotten so much attention here. This should be a weekend of Tory news, you’d think the Tories would welcome that and welcome any news away from the potential next leader of the Liberals, but no…

What blows my mind is that this is a bad pattern from the Conservative side: during the recent campaign, some days Harper would not take any questions at all from the media. He had one media availability a day, sometimes none. And when he did talk to them he was extremely picky about questions. Contrast that to the media’s accessibility to the Liberals: media avails at least twice a day, free range on questions. And even through all that, I would argue that the media still favoured the Tories. This is the same government that years ago, the Toronto Star uncovered that they wanted to erect a multi-million dollar war style media room to replace the press theatre to attempt to control (or influence) the media.

It’s odd though because as I write this, delegates have been walking into the media room and even raiding our one perk – soft drinks. It seems they can go everywhere, do anything. We media may complain about our accessibility, or lack thereof, but at least we respect it our boundaries.

We have basically been life with no idea what is going on here. We are just waiting here hoping someone will tell us that “A Tory MP is going to walk by the doors, maybe you can get some questions”, in which the response will be the standard Tory press release. A Tory staffer came into the media room and said, “If you want Tony, he’s out there, go quickly to get him”. Tony sees us all coming and his eyes widen. We’re not going to run him over. He seems a bit flattered but he doesn’t have time for us, he’s late for a fancy reception. “Call my press secretary, she’ll arrange something”. A few moments later, Peter Mckay walks out to actually take some questions (maybe he was told to go out because he can he was told we’re bit annoyed at the bones we’re getting). I’ll have more on his “insightful” scrum later.

You have to be creative here, you have to aggressive to get some scoops and interviews with the people who know what is going in on the inside. I think the blogger’s here are at an disadvantage. All the big time reporters have contacts on the inside, and the name recognition to attract the odd interview (though it does seem that even the delegates are avoiding the press and are refusing to speak to reporters. I asked one delegate to show me the contact of his delegate pack, and he refused!).

Reporters are accustomed to rules and working around them. Most still like the traditional writing of pieces. I even just found out that the media have been getting a few tid bits from the PMO’s Press secretary. I’ve asked to be put on that list. But bloggers like writing off the cuff, and giving details of what’s being said and done. Blogs are to report from the ground directly out, with no filters. Well now we got more than filter going on here.

I went to a hospitality suite last night, which was hosted by the Canadian Private Copying Collective. I thought this was going to be THE hospitality suite of the weekend, considering who its being put on by and their support of the controversial Bill C-61. They were thrilled to have a media person attend their event, and I was happy to hear from them. They must have thought there was no media at this convention. By the Conservatives keeping us separate, these groups that are here and are even welcomed by the party, aren’t getting the publicity they want. And they should get it, both sides. The Copying Collective put on an expensive suite, and the media are no doubt paying a very pretty penny to be able to “cover” this event. Such groups are here helping to support the convention because they want to meet not only individuals, but the media to give their perspectives and get into a debate. After the convention ends, I’ll discuss a little what I discussed with the reps from the Copying collective, but I did find it extremely ironic that while this is the group that wants to ban the idea of copying music (free music) they gave out several artist’s CD’s to those who visited the suite, and I was glad to meet the artist of ONE of those CD’s. And of course their opponents in this debate don’t have the riches to put on such events to give their side either.

While we’re supposed to be having access to tomorrow’s floor debates, I hope that’s not all we have access to tomorrow. And I do hope that while we can’t attend the “serious” part of the convention, that they’ll at least let us attend the celebration with Paul Brandt. But hey, if I ever wanted to know what it would be like if I were to professionally take up journalism, I can only assume that these are the types of things I would be looking forward to right???

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Skinny Dipper said...

Not only is Harper trying to control the media. He is controlling the Conservative Party members. He wants all his members to show up at the public sessions and clap in unison. I will bet that if there are any questions on the general floor, there won't be any about abortion, capital punishment, or jailing young offenders. All the questions will be about the economy. These questions will seem scripted.

As for the Liberals, whoever becomes the leader, he (or she) will need to excellent oratory skills like Obama in order to persuade his Liberal followers to believe in him. At the same time, he will need to demonstrate that he can listen to his followers in public and be held accountable for his actions. Obama ran what appeared like an open-source campaign where his supporters contributed to his campaign and were able to speak on his behalf without his permission. If the Liberals want to win the next election, they need to demonstrate a sense of openness. Don't immitate Harper's Conservative closed-door media-access tactics.

Brad Dillman said...

In fact, they don't stop at the cabinet, the MPs or even the Conservative party. They've gone after scientists (here: ) and other figures too. There's even a site: