Canadian Prime Minister Harper attempts to muzzle the press


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

World Socialist Web Site

Canadian Prime Minister Harper attempts to muzzle the press
By Keith Jones
27 May 2006

Canada¹s new Conservative Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, is refusing to meet 
the country¹s national press.

Harper announced Wednesday that he will no longer give press conferences for the
parliamentary press gallery, after journalists balked at the attempts by the 
prime minister¹s office to dictate who can and cannot ask him questions.

On Tuesday many reporters walked out of a Harper press conference to protest his
handlers¹ demands that prior to such conferences they be given lists of who 
wants to question the prime minister so that they and Harper can choose 
journalists to be called upon for questions.

³We can¹t accept that the prime minister¹s office would decide who gets to ask 
questions,² declared Yves Malo, the president of the press gallery and a 
reporter for the French-language television network TVA. ³Does that mean that 
when there¹s a crisis they¹ll only call upon journalists they expect softball 
questions from?²

Harper subsequently justified his attempt to vet and muzzle the press corps‹an 
action patterned after steps taken by the Bush White House‹by charging the 
national media with anti-Conservative and pro-liberal bias. ³Unfortunately,² 
said Harper, ³the press gallery has taken the view that they are going to be the
opposition to the government.²

Harper added that henceforth he will be available only to regional media.

Harper¹s claims that the national press are out to undermine and defeat his 
government are, on the face of it, risible.

The media played a pivotal role in the Conservative election win, amplifying 
Harper¹s claims that the election was a referendum on Liberal corruption and 
dismissing as scare-mongering any serious scrutiny of the Conservatives¹ ties to
neo-conservative and Christian fundamentalists groups and the US Republican 
right. The editorial boards of the country¹s three most influential dailies‹the 
Globe and Mail, the National Post and La presse‹all urged their readers to elect
a Conservative government.

In the four months since the election, the media have continued to portray 
Harper and his Conservatives in a highly positive light. This has been most 
noticeable in the coverage of the Canadian Armed Forces¹ intervention in 
southern Afghanistan. The media, including the state-owned Canadian Broadcasting
Corporation (CBC-Radio Canada), have been cranking out stories about the heroism
and self-sacrifice of ³our men and women² in Afghanistan, with the aim of 
whipping up nationalist fervor in support of Canada¹s participation in overseas 
military interventions.

The Conservatives have placed Afghanistan at the top of their agenda‹last week 
they rammed through a major expansion of the CAF intervention in the Central 
Asian state‹with the aim of effecting a major shift in Canada¹s geopolitical and
military strategy. They want to make CAF participation in overseas 
counterinsurgency operations and wars a cornerstone of Canadian foreign policy. 
Harper has himself talked about expanding and re-arming the CAF to the point 
that the world¹s major powers take notice.

Dominated by such corporate conglomerates as Power Corporation and Canwest 
Global, Canada¹s media, like big business as a whole, has moved sharply to the 
right over the past two decades. It has championed ³free market-policies² that 
have led to a dramatic redivision of wealth in favor of the most privileged and 
increased economic insecurity for working people, while asserting the right of 
the great capitalist powers to bring ³order² to the world.

Although the Chrétien Liberal government scuttled plans for the CAF to join the 
2003 US-British invasion of Iraq at the eleventh-hour, both of Canada¹s national
newspapers, the Globe and the National Post, have strongly supported the illegal
conquest of Iraq and have continued to do so despite the exposure of the 
arguments invoked to justify the invasion‹weapons of mass destruction and ties 
to Al Qaeda‹as lies.

In recent months both the Globe and Post have thrown their weight behind the 
Bush administration¹s attempts to threaten and bully Iran over its nuclear 
program, issuing repeated warnings against the dangers of ³appeasing 
aggressors.² In furtherance of this campaign, the Post ran as its lead story May
19 an article that claimed that Iran, in a move reminiscent of Nazi Germany, had
passed a law forcing Jews to wear a yellow cloth-strip on their clothing. This 
week the Post had to admit the article was false, conceding that in its haste to
cast Teheran¹s government as Nazi-like it had failed to ³exercise sufficient 
caution and suspicion.²

That Harper, whilst benefiting from such a pliant and right-wing media, should 
portray himself as confronted by a hostile, ideologically driven, press corps is
most revealing.

No doubt, the actions of Harper and his handlers are in part simply an attempt 
to bully parliamentary reporters into giving the minority Conservative 
government more favorable coverage. While some reporters will respond by trying 
to curry favor with the government so as to gain the spotlight at future press 
conferences and privileged access to information, others will pull their punches
so as not to be accused of an anti-government bias.

But Harper¹s shrill denunciation of the ³liberal² media was clearly more than 
just posturing. Not only does it echo a standard neo-conservative refrain, 
Harper¹s anger and disdain for the press corps were palpable.

If Harper and his Conservatives feel under siege, it is because they are aware 
that there is only a narrow constituency for their agenda of militarism, close 
ties to the Bush administration, tax cuts for the rich, and dismantling of 
public and social services. Haunted by the specter of mass opposition, they 
instinctively turn to authoritarian methods of rule, using the powers of the 
executive to bypass parliament on issues such as Afghanistan, the Kyoto Accord 
and the gun registry, and seeking to bully and muzzle even the corporate media.

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