Column: Chipping away at democracy

We hear it all the time: too much sugar is bad for us. And yet, we continue to be spoon-fed sugary messages from Harper’s office.

We hear it all the time: too much sugar is bad for us.

And yet, we continue to be spoon-fed the sugary messages that are coming out of, or rather being filtered from, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office in Ottawa.

We’ve heard time again that he is controlling the message, keeping a tight rein on journalists by limiting the flow of information, and polishing up what little is released publicly.

Just hearing the words ‘federal scientists’ might prompt you to automatically think ‘gag order.’

Oh, we lament, what is the government trying to hide?

Oh, we cry, our own government is eroding our democratic right to freedom of speech.

I don’t have to tell you the harm caused by elected officials in their relentless campaign to control the message, as well as the medium through which it is delivered.

The flow of information is being funnelled and strained more than ever before because of our digital world, which should, in fact, be offering more freedoms of expression.

Instead, thanks to today’s technology, there are more ways to spin information – from press releases shelled out by public bodies to the 140-character blurbs sent out over the Twitterverse – into messages that ooze sunshine and lollipops.

On a positive note, social media channels are being turned to more often as an information-gathering tool. They’re a treasure trove of public opinions, photos and eyewitness statements that can be farmed, within reason, by journalists.

But these channels – Facebook, Twitter and YouTube – are also being used to funnel polished-within-an-inch-of-their-life messages from governments at all levels, as well as other public and private entities.

Those channels are being used to deliver a sugar-coated message to journalists and the public. That pill might be sweet on the outside, but the message is still tough to swallow when it’s that sugary.

Gone are the days when announcements were relayed to media sources over the phone, through snail mail and via fax.

Today’s government-issued statements are delivered in a steady, non-stop electronic stream, meant to foster the appearance of open communication and transparency. But it feels like an illusion, one that runs the risk of alienating an already weary public.

The fingers of blame for the gradual erosion of democratic rights shouldn’t only be pointed at Harper.

This delicate fabric of rights is also being shredded by a persistence among provincial government communications staff, to provide ‘background’ information on a variety of topics, but refuse to be directly quoted.

There is only one spokesperson, they say, and that is the minister of each government department.

I’ve even received background information from a government communications staffer who simply cut, pasted and emailed a story to me that was written by a journalist from another media outlet.

Journalists are also under regular pressure from non-government sources who ask to read drafts of articles in which they are quoted, prior to publication.

Regardless of the reason – nervousness about being misquoted, or being associated with incorrect facts or portrayed in a negative light – I think it’s critical that the public know they are reading an unfiltered, balanced news story.

Imagine if every article you read in a newspaper was first vetted by the people who are quoted in the story. The story would, in essence, be a sanitized press release. And we get enough of those as it is.

This is a fast-paced electronic age, one in which the output of information from a bevy of sources is one-sided.

As such, it’s becoming increasingly important for the public to have access to content that isn’t simply processed sunshine and lollipop statements.

Sugar in moderation is okay, but too much and it can come back to bite us one day. That day may already be here.

Erin McCracken is a reporter with the Victoria News.

emccracken@vicnews.com

Just Posted

Highlands group invites provincial leaders to a panel opposing local mining application

The public forum begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Highlands Community Hall, 729 Finlayson Arm Rd.

Chinese Culture to light up 2019 Victoria Day Parade

Groups hopes Greater Victorians ‘view the culture, embrace the friendship’

Struggling Victoria adoption agency elects new board that intends to keep it open

The previous board announced that Choices would close May 31

Uplands Park champion to earn provincial award

B.C. Community Award for Margaret Lidkea coincides with Sunday’s volunteer celebration

Car fire backs up traffic southbound on Highway 1

View Royal Fire Rescue douses fire, no injuries reported

VIDEO: Killer whales hunt for seals in Vancouver harbour

Bigg’s killer whales feed on marine mammals like seals, sea lions, dolphins and even other whales

Wanted by Crime Stoppers

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

POLL: Do you think the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris should be rebuilt?

Images of one of the word’s most iconic landmarks were seared into… Continue reading

B.C.’s waving granny gets incredible send-off from school kids

Tinney Davidson has been waving at students on their way to school for over 11 years, but is moving in a month

Island-born Snowbirds pilot enjoying homecoming in skies over Comox

Logan Reid once stood clinging onto the fence outside the Comox Air… Continue reading

Attack on student in Courtenay ‘way more than bullying’, says mom

A Comox Valley mother said “it was way more than bullying” at… Continue reading

Vancouver man, 19, charged in human trafficking case involving teen girl

The 16-year-old girl was reported missing and later discovered in Vancouver

Blaine, Wash. inn owner, charged with smuggling people into B.C., granted bail

Robert Joseph Boule ordered to turn away anyone indicating a plan to enter Canada illegally

Most Read