Wednesday, November 07, 2007

 

Secrecy, spin-doctoring, and the 185 additional spin-doctors hired under Order-in-Council #656 on Sept. 12/06

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Disclosure: It's perhaps not necessary to tell astute readers that BC Mary holds the big news media largely responsible for the shortage of information on the B.C. Rail Case, on CN train wrecks, on the Big Story promised but never delivered by Vancouver Sun's managing editor, and in many other matters. It's a high duty on the news-world to provide the full, fair record upon which an informed society depends. And as I see it, that duty is oftentimes unfilfilled, disregarded, presstituted by today's corporate media.

A news medium responsible to society's need to know, in my view, would go after certain stories without waiting for the issues to explode.

But, as the following editorial points out, nothing exonerates the provincial government from its own guilty errors of omission. Or cover-up. For example, a good story would involve following up on the activities of the 185 additional government spin doctors hired only last year.

Therefore, with great respect, I post the following editorial from today's Vancouver Sun. One huge virtual bouquet of red roses to Stephen Hume, who wrote it and signed it, too. If only, if only ...
- BC Mary.


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AN UNHEALTHY CULTURE OF SECRECY AND SPIN-DOCTORING


Stephen Hume
Special to the Sun
Wednesday, November 07, 2007


Democracy can be plainly defined as government by collective consent of the governed. Consent requires free access to the information upon which those holding delegated authority base their decisions.

By definition, then, no genuine democracy conducts its affairs in secret. Yes, there are rare occasions when national security, fair judicial process, protection for vulnerable individuals and public safety may require temporary confidentiality.

But governments which routinely obstruct access to information regarding the reasons for -- and consequences of -- their administrative actions are frustrating public discussion of policy and its merits or failings.

If it's not possible for the public to engage in intelligent debate over what government is doing or not doing on its behalf, then it's not possible for those citizens to make informed decisions at the ballot box about who should govern.

Recent events in British Columbia point to an unhealthy political culture of secrecy, deception by omission, misleading half-truths, disingenuous dissimulation and sleazy spin-doctoring that grows on our provincial government like black mould.

For those who missed it, Lindsay Kines of the Victoria Times-Colonist requested a report completed last year assessing the province's program for intervening to assist sexually abused children. When Kines finally got the document -- he had to obtain it with a freedom of information request -- it had been censored, apparently on grounds that revealing the blacked-out bits would harm the financial or economic interests of a public body.

Kines, diligent reporter that he is, also obtained an uncensored copy of the report and was thus able to compare the two documents. What the comparison showed should be of enormous concern to every voter.

The censor had removed not comments that might expose individuals but those comments that reflected unfavorably upon the government's performance. In particular, the censor struck passages which showed that agencies helping sexually abused children felt, to use Kines's words, "neglected, isolated and short-changed by government" and were unanimous that the funding was insufficient. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Children and Family Development was spending $560,000 on a luxurious redesign of its executive offices.

The specifics are troubling enough. They automatically invite the question of what one should make of a government that appears to give higher priority to the comforts of its executives than it does to the well-being of sexually abused children supposedly under its protection. Not to mention the government's odious attempt to hide the unadorned facts of these self-evident priorities from the public that consents to the taxes that pay the bills.

But this story raises a bigger issue in a broader context. Almost a month ago, Colin Gabelmann, the former NDP cabinet minister who in 1992 led a drive for freedom of information legislation, told The Vancouver Sun his initiative had failed under successive governments.

Instead of fostering transparency and openness, Gabelmann said, funding to support freedom of information requests had been systematically reduced by both the NDP and the Liberals, while government officials and civil servants continue to "throttle" public access with interminable delays and onerous charges.

That assessment is amplified by information and privacy commissioner David Loukidelis's recent observation that government record-keeping is in disarray and that B.C. needs laws requiring public servants to document their deliberations, actions and decisions.

As I noted in a column last week, even our provincial archive is under-resourced and subject to a hare-brained policy of raising revenue for the Royal B.C. Museum, under whose jurisdiction it now falls, by charging the public for accessing and using records for which its taxes have already paid.

The archive descends to shabby part-time status even as the museum mounts glitzy -- and costly -- entertainment spectacles.

All this adds up to a collective abuse of the spirit and intent of legislation that was intended to foster a culture of transparency and openness

These stories of censorship, secrecy and the plight of the archive are evidence that government is less interested in empowering public discourse than it is in suffocating criticism. That amounts to an assault upon the democratic process itself. Thoughtful citizens permit it at their peril.

shume@islandnet.com

http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/news/editorial/story.html?id=9bcc78d8-9d41-4974-bb3a-af84d4aabdf2

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[e.mail Stephen with thanks, if you liked his column. - BC Mary]

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Comments:
About 2 seconds after the first Freedom of Information legislation passed in Canada, Privacy limitations ensued. And privacy applies to: civil servants. And who murdered 100,000,000 innocent persons in the 20th century? Civil servants.

What about the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms? Nine out of ten violations proven in court, are not used to exclude evidence because case law - made by the Crown lawyers and prosecutors who NOW monopolize Bench appointments - invoke "dimishment of the reputation of justice" as a sandbag for application. Where a citizen is up against government, our corrupt court services find for government in almost 100% of cases.
 
The government acts like it does because it can get away with it. It gets away with it primarily because the people who enjoy constitutionally protected rights to expose their dealings simply refuse to do their job.

In just about every legislative body in this country, the head of the government must face an aggressive press gallery immediately upon leaving the chamber. Not so in B.C., where our premier/King refuses to stop for such scrums. Instead, he hosts "secret scrums" in his office. The preem's office sets the tone, controls who gets in, and everything is done at the premier's whim.

Every other legislator in the province will stop for a media scrum except his excellency, Gordon the first.

If our press gallery had any guts at all, it would stand up to such an Imperious, controlling administration, and refuse to attend such scrums and would instead expect King Gordon to stop and face the media on their terms. Not our gallery, who are so cowed by his Excellency's minions that they go along, not understanding that King Gordon needs them more than they need him.

So yes, we can put the lion's share of the blame on the government itself, who are secretive bastards. But let's not diminish the scorn of an increasingly weak media corp who are so busy tugging at their forelocks that they forget that they actually could shed some light on this administration if they'd only put in a little effort.
 
And let us not excuse an increasingly oblivious public, who as long as they can do their bit to hasten the collapse of the eco-system by buying and operating a new high performance SUV, or flying around the world to obtain cheap medical, sexual or whatever type services, could actually care less. This time around "letting them eat cake" seems to be working just fine.

How does the old phrase go?
"I'm alright Jack!"

There are those who haven't benefited from the economic paradise presided over ( though not caused by) Gordo and Pee Wee Rambo, but they are too busy trying to survive. The rest are just hastening the demise of the planet as we know it and enjoying it too much to care about anything other than their own small scale greed and its satisfaction.
 
Re: The Fabulous 185.....

Given the most recent cutbacks in the newsroom at the VanSun, does this mean that there are now, officially, more flack-hacks than news-hacks in this province?

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Ross, given that at least half of the incredibly shrinking "newsroom" at Canned Waste is composed of "flack-hacks" also, I'd say the answer is a resounding -YEP!

Pat Cracker to Izzy:

"Sir, I shrank the "newsroom!"
 
kc--

Me still laughin'

Thanks.

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