Why governments need to fundamentally change the way they communicate with the public
In recent years, governments appear to have gone into lockdown when dealing with the media.
It's especially apparent at the federal level, where public servants—most notably scientists—are prohibited from speaking to reporters without first going through a cumbersome approval process.
Many reporters throw up their hands and end up calling academics or former civil servants, who often trash whatever the government happens to be doing.
In B.C., Gordon Campbell also adopted this approach after he became premier. Most media calls were shunted through communications people, many of whom were prohibited from being quoted.
Comments had to come from egotistical cabinet ministers, who couldn't bear the thought of anyone but them speaking on matters of public policy affecting their departments.
The City of Vancouver has followed suit, perhaps because the city manager, Penny Ballem, was schooled in this manner of communication when she was deputy minister of health.
As a journalist on deadline, I often called city staff people to include their comments in articles.
This is far less likely to occur now that I have to phone some faceless media line, leave the "focus" of my story, and sometimes deal with one or more calls before I actually get an answer.
The end result is that public servants become less connected to the community. Public faith in government is diminished.
I just endured more of this silliness in connection with a feature story on education that I've filed with the editors. The ministry will not receive nearly as many column inches as it might have had it provided someone to speak. And I'm guessing that the government will come across worse than would have been the case had it furnished a spokesperson.
By this time next year, B.C. will probably have a new regime in place. If Adrian Dix has any sense, he'll open things up and let our public servants speak more often on the record about the public policies they're implementing.
For too long, the provincial government has operated on the assumption that the media will pass along whatever it says, even when the material is unsourced.
Read any political column from Victoria and try to figure out who the sources really are. Then ask yourself why these sources always refuse to be named, no matter how innocuous the information might be.
I'm tired of this nonsense. And I'm guessing that the public is getting sick of it, too.
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.