Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Discrimination or Political Pandering: What's Up with Closed Door Ethnic Media News Conferences?

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Premier Christy Clark, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and BC NDP leader Adrian Dix all do them, and they're wrong.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper - ibagli photo
Bill Tieleman 24 Hours Vancouver / TheTyee column

Tuesday January 28, 2014
By Bill Tieleman
"We pride ourselves on being a transparent organization, open to all -- potential members, curious onlookers, researchers et al." 
Is it discrimination to hold ethnic media only news conferences where English-language journalists are deliberately excluded, or just political pandering?
Vancouver is one of the world's most integrated and diverse cities, yet we still see ethnic media segregation. Why do some ethnic media get invites, while others seen to be more critical in their coverage are excluded?
Do so-called mainstream media perpetuate the need for politicians to meet separately with ethnic journalists, because issues concerning their communities simply aren't news to English-language television, radio, print and Internet outlets?
Tough questions, all prompted by 24 Hours Vancouver's Jeremy Nuttall, who broke the national story that Prime Minister Stephen Harper held a secret and lengthy news conference in Vancouver this month -- but only for invited ethnic media.
Nuttall also obtained an audiotape that spilled the beans. It showed that Harper actually made news at the conference, denouncing some employers for their "outright abuse" of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program his government has been under fire for and made amendments to.
Harper rarely holds news conferences for journalists, preferring photo opportunities with no questions. But he was very happy to do so in front of what he presumably believed was a friendly crowd: invitation-only ethnic media.
Clark, too
B.C. Premier Christy Clark is no different, holding an Asian media only news conference last week that was crashed by 10 English-language media outlets after 24 Hours Vancouver publicized it.
Clark's communication director Ben Chin told media he didn't "think" the ethnic-only events would change in the future.
New Democrat leader Adrian Dix also held an Asian media "newser" this month, but allowed 24 Hours Vancouver to attend when a request was made.
Even Toronto's cracker of a mayor Rob Ford met ethnic media editors last week, hours before a drunken appearance where he slurred Jamaican patois in a fast food restaurant and was caught on video.
Open the doors
This is all wrong.
These exclusive conferences are about politicians attempting to pander to particular communities outside the scrutiny of other media, sometimes sending very different messages than the ones English-language mainstream media receive from the same party.
It also can be insulting to ethnic journalists, who are as ethical and challenging to politicians as any other media, sometimes more so.
I confess to personally helping organize ethnic media only news conferences for premier Clark -- but it was Glen Clark, not Christy, and way back in 1996 when I was communications director for the premier.
In fact, the key staff government person who dealt with ethnic media then is now BC Liberal multiculturalism cabinet minister Teresa Wat.
Ethnic media only news conferences weren't controversial at the time, but one would hope that 18 years later more progress would have been made and separate events wouldn't be necessary. They are increasingly anachronistic and controversial.

So here's a radical suggestion for politicians in 2014: be totally transparent. Invite all media regardless of ethnicity or language to attend news conferences on whatever the topic, and let them decide if they want to attend.



Anonymous said...

Tempest in a teapot. Some ethnic media interactions require translation of the both the question and the answer. That makes it impractical if not impossible for some in the ethnic media to fully participate in a regular press conference or scrum. Is it such a big deal that a politician - or anyone else for that matter - participate in the occasional ethnic only press event? Answer: no.

Because, you know, EVERY other media opportunity EVERY other day of the year is open to everyone.

DPL said...

A media event should be open to all, it would only common sense for a group that English is not their first language to ensure that people who can speak the other language to attend. May be a bit complicated but possible. That way nobody can say they were excluded.

Anonymous said...

Would make a busy time for translators.

Also verrrry interesting that 24 Hours Vancouver was invited by Bill to an Adrian Dix media event. Considering Bill contributes to 24 Hours Vancouver as a columnist. Verrrry interesting there.

Bill Tieleman said...

Sorry Anon 18:54 but I never invited 24 Hours Vancouver to any event - but nice try. Better luck next time.

Anonymous said...

Well it was interesting that 24 Hours was invited to Dix's ethnic news. Both Dix and 24 Hours were obviously aware of your columns in 24 Hours Bill. It doesn't take much to see the optics as to why an English language metro newspaper was invited to an ethnic press event.

The interlink between Dix and you and 24 Hours and you is very much evident.

Nice try on the spin of the wheel. Maybe next time the spin will earn the showcase.

Anonymous said...

I can't square Harpo's ethnic divide and conquer outreach with defunding ESL at Camosun for example. The good Steve giveth and taketh. I can only hope that the middle - left can merge so Harpo doesn't split the left, like Chrétien successfully split the right before him. He is such an odious man, racing to the bottom, waiting for the rapture. Blue before expert.