Monday September 01, 2014

EDITORIAL - Readers deserve local voice for government


The world of government is becoming at best more guarded, and at its worst plain secretive.

That should be cause for concern for all of us.

But many people may not realize what is happening, but we in media have to increasingly deal with the maze of bureaucracy being built to limit access to information.

There was a time not so long ago a journalists contact list was one focused on contacts within the city, and local region.

If we needed information on a bear attack in the Calder district (an example only), the conservation officer responsible for that area was the source of information.

The local CO of course was the person media would wish to talk to because they have local insights on the situation, in addition to the expertise associated with their position and experience.

Today, such a situation would have media making the call and finding themselves rerouted to someone in an office, most likely in the Minister’s office in Regina.

The person answering questions on the situation is likely to be someone who may never have seen a bear, nor ever been in the Calder area.

But they have been cleared to speak on behalf of the government.

The unfortunate part of that clearance is that the spokesperson will be a master at political bafflegab, which is to say they will talk, but manage to say little in terms of specifics. It is the language of vagueness, one of the things which over time has had the public tuning out more and more.

In political terms having the public not listening to what is going on may be seen to have its merits, but once someone tunes out on the political conversation, it is an easy next step to walk away from the polling stations. We see a decline in voters occurring, and there is no way a politician dedicated to his role can see that as a good thing.

But still the centralization of political comment from government continues.

Local crop conditions are analyzed in Regina and disseminated to the media.

A local highway bridge being replaced has someone far removed from the local work crew making any comment if one is sought by media.

The process is another disconnect between local voters and government, and leads to the question why?

Does government really worry that much about the people they have on the ground in the local area saying something which could cause MLAs that much embarrassment?

For a community newspaper the desire to speak to local people is paramount to what makes us unique. If we are forced to interview the same Regina-based government spokesperson as the big city dailies, what then are we offering our readers which is unique?

It is our role to tell the story of our city and region from the perspective of local people, including those employed by government, but work in the area.

It is also our job to take stories to a larger local readership.

When SaskTel holds a public meeting on a rate increase it may only attract a handful of people, but media is there to capture the main points of the discussion and take that story to our readership.

So when the federal and provincial governments join forces to host a meeting in the city to help business better understand the rules and regulations of hiring immigrant workers, we naturally sent a journalist to listen and then share the story with our readers.

You will, however notice that story is not in this week’s edition.

The reason, those in charge asked media to leave.

It is certain not every business who might benefit from additional information on immigrant workers was in attendance at the meeting. Our story could have reached others, and at least made them aware of key aspects of the session, and where to best access help.

But we were prevented from carrying out that role for a community, and are left to wonder what we could have reported our general readership could not know about, but invited business people could?

An old adage, one about perception being reality comes to mind in such situations.

Closing the doors to the media, pushing all comment to a select few ‘official spokespeople, and similar moves by government creates the perception government is wrapping itself in increased secrecy.

We all need to be diligent that does not become reality.



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