Monday, October 15, 2007

The Shoe Store Project, or Conservative Media Control 2.0

By now the (very successful) attempts of the Harper government to control and cow the national press corps are old news, from the lists to ask questions to using the RCMP to chase the media out of public hotel lobbies. If you thought Harper’s recent press conference in the National Press Theatre was a sign of a thawing of the relationship between the PM and the press, think again: Harper is just getting warmed up:

The Prime Minister's Office, which has long had a rocky relationship with the national media, has been working on a secret project to build a new, government-controlled briefing room at the cost of $2 million, documents obtained by the Star show.

Long kept under wraps, the plan – codenamed the Shoe Store Project – is in the works by the Privy Council Office and the PMO to establish a new government-controlled media briefing centre near Langevin Block.

The yellow-brown building that now houses Stephen Harper and his senior staff would supplant the current National Press Theatre, just a block away.

The difference between the two? The National Press Theatre, the traditional venue for press conferences along with the smaller Charles Lynch room in the Centre Block, is ran by the non-partisan Parliamentary Press Gallery, which controls membership and who gets to ask questions. In Harper’s Shoe Box, Canada’s Ageing Government would decide who gets in, and who gets to ask questions. And to Harper, it seems that’s worth blowing $2 million of taxpayer monies.
The result would be a little fancier than the National Press Theatre and, most important, give the PMO a lot more control over who gets in and, quite possibly, what gets filmed and broadcast.

A hand-drawn sketch of the PM's renovated shoe store/press theatre indicates a space for "maybe permanently installed cameras with feeds to media."

That could put the news cameras in the hands of government-employed camera operators, not independent photojournalists employed by the television networks. It suggests the Prime Minister's communications people would send broadcast feeds to the TV networks for their use in reports, or as most politicians prefer, live-to-air broadcast.

I don’t expect the public to care although that’s unfortunate, as the subversion of the vital role an independent media plays in our democracy is certainly an issue worth caring about and the lack of interest speaks ill of the level of political engagement in the country,

One wonders though when the media will start caring, and just how much longer the national press corps is going to keep getting dumped on by the Conservatives and just pretend it smells like roses. As Scott Feschuk wrote today, talking about the huge unexpected Conservative surplus, you know the kind the Cons used to dump on the Liberals for having:
Harper must stare at the media horde and wonder to himself: what line of hooey won't these suckers swallow? Maybe tomorrow I'll send troops to Iraq and deny having denied having supported the invasion in the first place. Don't think he could pull it off? Remember that the press gallery routinely reports that Harper has achieved his five priorities from the 2006 election, even though wait times haven't been reduced, the promised 125,000 new child care spaces won't be achieved, the GST hasn't been cut to five per cent and Harper killed his own anti-crime legislation when he decided to prorogue Parliament. But, you know, apart from all that ...
UPDATE: Great column on this from's Kady O'Malley. Sadly, I suspect that among the press gallery her moxie will be a minority. I hope they prove me wring
If this double plus Machiavellian madness actually comes to some sort of fruition, and WeThePressGallery consider going along with it for so much as a nanosecond, we may as well just hand over our press passes, turn in our BlackBerries and move on, en masse, to some other profession; one, perhaps, not quite so essential to a functioning democracy.

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Gayle said...

"One wonders though when the media will start caring, and just how much longer the national press corps is going to keep getting dumped on by the Conservatives and just pretend it smells like roses."

In Alberta, Klein had complete control over the media. He would not speak with them unless they agreed not to go to the opposition until the next day, giving him one full day of coverage where the opposition was not heard from. The guy who was able to engineer this was named Rod Love (I heard he may be working for Harper but I am not sure).

I once mentioned this to a relative who was a reporter in a different province (since retired) and he could not believe the media would agree to this.

I guess the problem is if some media outlets agree, they all do because otherwise they would be scooped.

I do not care if the media want to report things according to their biases, but there is something wrong when they allow the government to control what information they receive and how they receive it. How could anyone agree to this set up and maintain they have integrity?

wilson said...

Is this a different location than the media war room reported on earlier in the Star?

Jay said...

Yes Wilson, it is a different one.

This time YOU are paying for it personally through your taxes instead of paying through your membership/donations. I guess Harper is entitled to his entitlements as well. Not many PM's get the perk of having his own propaganda based "war room" paid by the very people he intends to subvert. Not to mention personal primpers/psychics on Taxpayers dime, and lets not forget sending religious groups/ethnic groups gifts on our dime.

At what point Wilson does your so-called "principles" kick in and start demanding of Harper the same you demanded of the previous government with regard to abusing tax payers dollars, pandering/buying votes of minorities, and an uncontrolled cash flow/vote buyout to Quebec?

I would imagine they won't kick in as you are as unprincipled and muddled in your conservatism as Harper and the rest.

burlivespipe said...

Feschuk's brilliant and cuttingly funny, too.
I suggest reading Kady O'Malley's take on Harper's planned 'Cone of Silence', too...
She's got the fightin' spirit. Godda luv her.

900ft Jesus said...

People better get angry about this. We can't keep our freedom and rights if we are denied the truth upon which we can base informed decisions.

On top of twsiting the truth, this cowardly Steve is making us pay for the priviledge of being lied to since we are funding this obscenity.

Gayle said...

The people who should get mad are the media. They should refuse to cooperate.

900ft Jesus said...

gayle, I had that discussion this morning with a colleague. Harper would twist such an action and say the media is being partisan. I agree that they should not co-operate, but drawing up a new set of guidelines on what to do in such situations, and having all major media sources agree would help counter such claims from Steve, then go ahead and boycot the son-of-a-dung beetle.

Gayle said...

900 - Harper can twist all he wants. If the media simply say they want to continue to use the National Press Centre - the same venue Harper saw fit to visit a couple of weeks ago - it will be Harper who looks controlling and not the media who look partisan.

It is about time the media stood up to Harper.

900ft Jesus said...

you're right, gayle. Too many people and organizations dance around that little fit-prone child. Ignore him, if we won't be a good little boy.