Guest Commentary

Rex Murphy

Blacklock’s v. Press Gallery

“It is an honour and a privilege.” How often have you heard that worn carpet of a formulation in public speeches, a dead phrase signaling a dull talk. I wish to revive it, to bring it back to actual meaning.

It is an honour and a privilege to be allowed to enter the pages of Blacklock’s and throw a few words out about Blacklock’s armed police eviction from the ever-so-choice, universally admired college of journalistic brilliance and courage, thrower of great annual dinners, the Ottawa Press Gallery.

Dear Holly (I presume to address one of its chiefs and founders): What foul doings has Blacklock’s been up to that the guardians of Canadian democracy, the Press Gallery, summon an armed constable to evict Tom Korski, a co-founder and reporter for Blacklock’s from the Press Gallery nest?

The Holly here is Holly Doan, indefatigable and independent, tireless witness of committee hearings, to her credit a non-guest on the endless and vacuous big TV political panels, a grant-less, unsubsidized, self-starting, self-employed, real journalist.

She exists, as does the full Blacklock’s, only on the strength and thoroughness of her reportage and public support by way of subscription.

Blacklock’s requires a relatively high fee for its services and it is to the credit of so many of the Canadian public that they see that fee as no obstacle. They see it as very much worth it because they know that Blacklock’s follows no agenda, never plays the “activist” game on favoured issues, works the parliamentary beat, says what is the case, and has an adult understanding of journalism.

All in all, Blacklock’s is seen as pristinely independent.

Blacklock’s actually reports on things, one of which ‘things’ is how much or how many of the Ottawa Press Gallery receive money from the government they are reporting on.  What a dread line of inquiry this must be to a complacent Gallery.

Blacklocks — Holly Doan, Tom Korski – have you no collegiality?

Do you not know that “getting along” is so much more important than the real task at hand? Staying comfortable and at ease with the powers you are reporting on, enjoying the social transactions of Ottawa’s political reporting Siamese symbiosis. From outside it sure looks like reporters and politicians and prominent lobbyists are too close to each other, chummy in fact, a set if you will — a view solidified by the knowledge the government has extended close to half a billion dollars to Canada’s media.

To ask embarrassing questions of the membership of a club (this would be the Ottawa Press Gallery) whose only task is (supposed to be) asking hard questions of the government which is richly subsidizing so many of them. What an impertinence. Call the cops. Shut their office. Out with them.

It puts the “faux” in “faux pas,” marks you as a malcontent and therefore a person and a news agency that must be removed by a heavy-shouldered police presence from the sanctified chamber of Canada’s thickest coagulation of professional regurgitators of the press releases of the day.

Surely it is relevant to the Canadian public to know some of its media are receiving hundreds of millions of dollars from the government. And surely media, who above all are about inquiry and disclosure, about transparency and revelation, cannot on journalistic principle and the ethics of every newsroom object to being asked about how much money it gets, whether being greatly funded by the government it presumably is there to oversee and report on impairs its integrity, blurs its objectivity and leads to much diminished trust in the news and those who report it.

On this last point alone the public, or certainly much of it, views government funding of the press (he who pays the piper etcetera) as at the very least unwise and inescapably a joining of hands that should never be joined.

If Blacklock’s with its celebrated diligence in the matter of following parliamentary committees, seeking out relevant documents and filing Access To Information requests is seeking to clarify and detail that financial relationship, the proper response should be three cheers from the Press Gallery and not a summons to kick Blacklock’s out of the sanctum.

Finally, Blacklock’s has veteran reporters, has earned quite impressive standing with the public, is cited with the greatest frequency by other reporters and media outlets, has broken many stories and has done all that on its own, supported only by its subscribers. It is a model reporting institution.

The Press Gallery should repent in public for the ouster, maybe do a walk of penitence down Parliament Hill and then look a little closer at Blacklock’s ethic and work style with a view to learning what real reporting is.

Meantime, Blacklock’s charges on.  Fight this.

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