Harper: puppet master extraordinaire

It all began on Monday when Stephen Harper refused to allow the media to be present when children from the Canadian Cancer Society gave him daffodils in his office. Then on Tuesday, Harper held his first unannounced cabinet meeting.

These changes are indicative of the controlling tactics Harper has begun to employ with the media. The Canadian Press reports that Harper will soon be denying photographers access to closed meetings between officials, opting to release in-house photos instead. He also plans on creating a list of media wishing to ask questions, from which he will choose reporters who will be permitted to ask questions, effectively deciding the issues he would like to discuss.

Media unions have decried these moves by Harper as a threat to Canadian democracy and rightly so. After running on a campaign of transparency in government, he is drawing the blinds altogether. Journalists will soon be forced to wait a floor below the cabinet room where meetings are being conducted and will have to literally chase after ministers to answer questions. Ministers are not Hollywood celebrities and journalists are not the paparazzi. The purpose of the media is to hold governments accountable. What Harper is doing is essentially evading that accountability, which does not bode well for his term as prime minister.

Harper is not only controlling his own exposure to the media but also that of his cabinet ministers. In order to control the Conservative message, ministers must be permitted—by him—to speak to the media.

“As representatives of Canadian journalists, we are alarmed at this tactic. It smacks of totalitarianism, not the democratic process we are used to in this country,” Peter Murdoch from the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union told the Canadian Press.

Stephen Harper’s disdain for the media has never been a secret, but his drastic measures against the press are reminiscent of the manipulative tactics of his counterpart south of the border. Harper is limiting the freedom of the press and censoring information to the Canadian public.

The Canadian Press reports that Harper’s director of communications, Sandra Buckler has said: “I don’t think the average Canadian cares as long as they know their government is being well run.” First of all, in the short time since he has been elected, Harper’s governance has already raised questions about his governance. Secondly, this assumption is baseless and paints Canadians as ignorant and uninformed. Canadians care about the details of how their tax dollars are being spent and how the nation is being governed. Similarly, cabinet ministers should not simply allow Harper to rule with an iron fist.

The media is not meant to be a government newsletter, and if Stephen Harper cannot handle the heat, he should get out of the kitchen.

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