Quote of the week
“[The media plays a] highly significant role in ‘priming’ public opinion and government and public policy.”
— Elly Alboim
For a significant part of my career I worked for CBC Radio as a current affairs producer and, eventually, a producer on Parliament Hill for the news department. I then joined the federal government as a head of communications.
Now, just about 20 years later, the changes that technology have brought to the news and government communications functions are truly staggering and make the roles I played then almost relics of a bygone era.
There was a time when reporters played a significant “gatekeeper” role when it came to government information: at its simplest, most announcements were made through the media, because that was the most effective way for politicians to reach Canadians.
This gave journalists, and the media, a fair amount of influence in both determining what stories got coverage and in the unfolding of public policy debates.
This world has been turned upside down by social media. No longer do politicians need journalists to get their messages out: the PMO, for example, has its own Twitter feed it uses to send out announcements to anyone who subscribes.
Why then would you need newspapers, television and reporters to tell you what the government is thinking and doing if you can get it right from the PM’s office?
The implications on the media industry are significant: fewer reporters and thus less ability to assess policy critically, smaller newspapers, and even a prediction that in ten years TV newscasts will have gone the way of the dodo.
So, what does all this mean for the Westminster system of government? Does the disintermediation of news have an impact on the democratic process, the ability to hold the minister to account? Is it significant that a Cabinet minister can tweet the desired outcome of a confidential Cabinet discussion before the event?
These issues – and others related to the impact of technology on our system of government, service delivery, policy development and democracy itself – will be discussed at an Ottawa forum being held January 28 and 29 in Ottawa.
You will want to attend; find out more at www.digital-governance.ca.