Political Perspectives is produced by the students and faculty of Carleton University's School of Journalism and Communication, Canada's oldest journalism school.

JAN 2010

Interesting cabinet sidelight

Posted by ealboim under All

There seems to have been no attempt to keep the details of the cabinet suffle tight — just the opposite. The leaks to various reporters were all correct. There are two possible explanations:

 More media-staff links have developed over time that have created sufficient trust to allow staffers to talk with some assurance they won’t be caught.

 More likely, it was a conscious media strategy. There’s no better way to manage reporters than to feed them “exclusively” on information they really need to impress their bosses. Cabinet shuffles are a “test” in many news organizations of whether a reporter is “plugged in.” It s a low cost tradeoff for any PMO that pays back in spades. And clearly current circumstances suggest that cultivating media more assiduously is something the government needs to do. 

Elly Alboim is an Associate Professor of Journalism and former CBC TV Parliamentary Bureau Chief who spent many cabinet shuffle eves trying to get the next day’s line up.

JAN 2010


Posted by ealboim under All


With the New Year comes continuing discussion of prorogation. Ironically, in the vacuum of a parliamentary shut down, political coverage focuses on the decision to create the vacuum.

The weight of editorial, columnist and expert commentary has been surprising. And it is being largely self-generated by media. Opposition parties have not been the key drivers. In fact, they are both powerless and complicit. Without a continuing platform, their reaction has been marginalized to a one day story and viewed as predictable and self interested. There is no “news” to their protest. They are complicit because they too are consumed by tactics and positioning and are unable to convincingly discuss this at a level of principle. They can’t separate their view of parliamentary institutions and appropriate behaviour from their political requirements. 

There has been a significant change in media analysis though. A near consensus has emerged that this is increasingly about the PM’s disregard or contempt for parliament, national institutions and the traditional constraints on executive power. Media commentators are moving from the issue of a hidden agenda (which they reject) to the issue of Mr. Harper’s character and his apparent willingness to test the limits of acceptable government behaviour. There are common lists of evidence including two prorogations in a calendar year, phoning the last request in to the Governor General, shutting down committees, reneging on previous positions, not expressing national leadership on things like climate change and swine flu, publicly criticizing and firing regulators, agency heads and government officials, and ignoring accountability mechanisms. Many then layer in Canada’s changing image internationally.  Increasingly, commentary links ruthlessness and hyper partisanship to a character constellation that justifies cynical and manipulative actions that are fundamentally undermining respect for the system of government. That analysis may make all this dangerous for Harper over time.

Despite a flurry of Face Book activity, most evidence is that the public has become more and more disengaged and cannot be made to care. But if the basic media framing of Mr. Harper is changing, becomes the media conventional wisdom and justifies more consistent and aggressive commentary, the public view may change with it.  

It s hard to get a handle on the swirling currents but the prorogation decision may have crossed a bridge of some sort.   

Elly Alboim is an Associate Professor of Journalism at Carleton University and a former CBC Television Parliamentary Bureau Chief