Editor’s Corner article

Are 'communication' and 'transparency' synonymous?
CHRIS MacLEAN  |  Sep 15, 2011

We understand and embrace the concept of opposition parties for their valuable role in making sure all options have been explored. Likewise, the media plays an incredibly important, albeit free-rein, oversight function. Now that it has a majority, will the federal government relax a bit or tighten its grip on what they like to call “communication” but what is actually “control of information”?

It is easy to see how we got here. In the wake of fallout from the Liberal’s sponsorship scandal, and in a simultaneous attempt to avoid embarrassment caused by the media inexperience of new Conservative MPs suddenly thrust in the limelight as the ruling minority, the government embraced the concept of hiring young “communications directors” and bestowing Gestapo-like control over what Ministers (or any other government representative) could or could not say – apparently, the best way to protect government is to not let it “say” anything. It’s hard to argue with this strategy since it has done very well on that specific goal of eliminating any possibility of scandal. What also resulted, however, was castration of the press. The mantra that everything the government does is “fair and transparent,” which is repeated ad nauseum at every possible opportunity, has come to foster feelings that, in fact, just the opposite is true

In just one shining example of overzealous control (and there are many) an April visit to the Kingston training facility and an interview arranged between FrontLine and MGen Fraser, Commander of Land Force Doctrine and Training ­Systems, for our June edition, was cancelled on April 1st due to the pending May election. Does anyone here think a short FrontLine ­feature on how the Army trains would put the federal election outcome at any risk whatsoever? However, there was no room for compromise, the visit was simply cancelled, by email.

I can assure you, these tactics do not lead to warm fuzzy feelings of trust and transparency among the press. We cannot do our job of informing Canadians about, in this case, their army and how it trains without honest two way communication. DND and the CF don’t counter erroneous info in the public domain, which means that, by not co-operating with the press, the information battle field will be left to less-informed viewpoints. Do we have to wonder then, why the media jumps on the military in an attempt to create a story when there really is nothing? Would a truly open dialogue reduce or increase the need to “dig for dirt”? Hard to say.

An example of “created” dirt are the cries of woe over military flights for the Minister of National Defence and the Chief of the Defence Staff. I can’t think of many stories that have been more wasteful (your tax dollars) of time spent responding to allegations that MND and the CDS are ­galavanting about the globe, enjoying holiday flights on the taxpayer’s dime! A point missed in all the ‘noise’ is that the nature of their jobs requires ‘front-line leadership.’ Military doctrine demands that ‘commanders’ go to where the troops are ‘to influence the battle.’ Senior government managers, on the other hand, are expected to exert control from their office in Ottawa. Let our defence leaders get on with the important work of building and supporting our Canadian Forces. And let’s stop hiding the big-ticket information so the media can do what it does best, report, both the good and the bad.
We all benefit from transparency.
© FrontLine Defence 2011