Political transparency would silence media criticism

Plain Rhetoric
By Bill McQuarrie
December 6, 2016 - 5:00am

KAMLOOPS — There’s an easy way to silence the press.

Almost all politicians will at some point in their career blame the media for the ills that are befalling them. With raised voice and fingers pointing, they cry out about unfair coverage, biased reporting and slanted editorials.  

Those who find criticism difficult, cry foul more often or at least louder than those with thicker skins. They complain aloud about the brazen effrontery of those in the press who challenge or question their actions and judgement.

Yet a politician holds within his or her grasp the ability to easily silence the press. It’s called transparency.

Almost all who run for office do so on the keywords of “openness and transparency.” The norm is to portray the incumbent or opposing party as anything but transparent. This is quickly followed by a solemn promise of sweeping changes based on the public’s right to unfettered access.  

Of course once elected, transparency immediately morphs into a kind of selective opacity that eventually degrades into complete secrecy. And for a politician not ready to leave office, secrecy is usually the express bus to a shortened political career.

Imagine for a moment, what would happen if government was actually open and transparent. It is the lack of openness that quite often provides me with endless choices for column topics. It is secrecy that provides those first warning signals that something may not be right. It is the fog of political spin, that opacity I mentioned earlier, that creates distrust.

If those we elected kept that promise of transparency, I and many other pundits would have little to write about. More importantly, the public would have no cause for distrust, as everything that happens is out in the open for all to see.

I’m not so naive as to suggest there is not a role for secrecy in government. There are contracts, negotiations and privacy issues where the details must remain secret until they are concluded. That’s a given. However, transparency would accommodate acknowledging the existence of, and updating the public on, those issues that must remain temporarily secret.  

For instance: Informing the public in a timely manner with an update explaining that progress is or isn’t being made does not harm negotiations. Advising that most key items have or have not been resolved. Forecasting a timetable and steps required to conclude the process. Explaining that stakeholders are being kept up to date and are actively facilitating a process that will hopefully lead to cooperative and beneficial conclusion.  

Specific details are not required. All that is needed is a progress update and confirmation that once completed, a full disclosure will be provided.

To ignore such basic courtesies and respect to those who elected you invites suspicion and distrust.  

If you take the time to look at failed political careers, most come about as a result of the abuse or at least the taking for granted of political power and authority. Pierre Trudeau, Brian Mulroney, Stephen Harper and Gordon Campbell are just a few who decided they were smarter and more important than the citizens who elected them.  

Secrecy became paramount as they came to believe their constituents could not be trusted with or were even capable of understanding the truth. Using the authority of their office, they took on those who dared to challenge their knowledge and their authority. Get mad, get even and get careless. Blame the press, blame outside global influences, blame the opposition, tout conspiracy theories but never would they acknowledge or accept personal responsibility. Perhaps that is why they all came to be known as ex-prime ministers and premiers.

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