Wednesday, November 12, 2014

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE FOURTH ESTATE

I am getting a little tired of biting my tongue. A few months of playing it safe has only made me more bitter and disillusioned with the status quo and those positioned to replace it. 

I truly believe with every ounce of conviction in my body that the fourth estate, particularly the CBC, is the best avenue for providing honest, independent,  unbiased checks ( all of the relevant details) on issues that are important to us.

A few posts back, I mentioned that I had few regrets resulting from anything published on P&P.  One of those regrets was a post dated June 07th, 2012 in which I was critical of an editorial written by journalist/publisher/political hack Craig Westcott. 


Craig was bemoaning the impact that his ongoing criticism of the Provincial Government was having on attracting provincial advertising to his papers. “At times it has been pretty lonely carrying on this enterprise in the face of the province’s biggest advertiser, namely the provincial government, singling me out and limiting the income I make to feed and cloth my children”

He suggested that the population his papers serviced were paying a price because the government was not purchasing space in his papers to broadcast information as they did in the provinces other papers. 

I took the position that you make your bed, you lay in it. There was an an issue of journalistic integrity - he had run for office as a Harper Conservative and subsequently was the Communications Director for the NL Opposition Liberals for a spell. 

I felt that perhaps he should not go complaining that he was blacklisted - particularly if you are the author of  your own misfortune.  There is some truth to that but should any private business or individual face economic sanctions for expressing a contrary opinion in a democratic country? In particular, should public advertising funds in a democratic state be withheld because the P.C/Liberal/NDP government does not like you?

The answer is no. Decisions on advertising should be made on circulation, reach & costs - not on editorial slant.  Some business people were afraid to advertise in his papers because they feared it would reflect badly on them because Westcott's disdain for Premier Williams was very public.  

Be assured Craig is far from the only individual that has been blacklisted in this province for having an opinion that runs contrary to the prevailing political winds.  He is not the only journalist to feel the wrath of a Premier or a premier's cadre of "professional" communications staff.  

Any attempt to "blacklist" reporters should be unacceptable to the media and the public. When Danny Williams was Premier I wrote articles that were published on P&P and in newspapers challenging the misuse of public power, particularly when it came to sanctioning members of the media.

For example, when Randy Simms committed the "sin of daring to piss on the Premier's Parade" by asking some fairly sensible and timely questions with regards to the not so bright spots in the provincial economy. Another time was when an irritated Williams told  his communications director to “Make sure he gets cuts off!" referring to CBC Ace reporter David Cochrane. Current St. John's South - Mt. Pearl MP, the former The Independent publisher Ryan Cleary spoke of his time in the freezer.

Those are just a few of the many examples of media harassment that I have heard of over the past few years. 

You might also recall The Telegram's Russell Wangerski's column regarding anonymous letters to the editor and people's legitimate fears regarding employment under the current regime.

As person who lets it all hang out there, I know there is a price to having an opinion, being an advocate and challenging the federal and provincial governments. Ironically, I once lost a job because I defended Westcott in the reply section of this very blog. I was told that it was something that the government might not like and it could reflect badly on them if I worked there, That is a story for another time.


Is it fair that one can not expect to find employment in senior roles in the government or the private sector, if you are going to upset our rulers. It is a small town and the power that be or want to be do not hesitate to express their displeasure with your employers.

I can remember how much the Liberal's used to hate Craig's comments when they were in government. The feelings of animosity existed well into the first year or so of opposition. It would appear that all politicians have thin skins and only like critical opinions when they are directed at their foes.

You can take Craig  or leave him! Love him or hate him! Read him or ignore him -  but there is no denying that he continues to deliver hard hitting commentary, the likes of which we do not often get in the local media. 

The media is supposed to act as a check and balance on the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. The media is supposed to prevent the emergence of a government that is so powerful that it can trample on our rights.

This is a democracy, we should not be afraid to vote with our feet or our words. Certainly we should not be forced into poverty or relocation for legitimate and honest criticism.

1 comment:

nhynes said...

I absolutely agree with the importance of the fourth estate. I also turn to CBC for the most fact-based news coverage. However, I caution the presumption that the CBC has the ultimate freedom to provide "honest, independent, unbiased checks (all of the relevant details) on issues that are important to us". It is a state owned/sponsored enterprise and as such, I am sure they have to be very careful about the way in which they portray "the state" and which facts they choose to highlight.