Monday, March 18, 2013

Money and Public Officials

The controversy over public officials (both elected and unelected) in regards to money and privilege is an old story but a good one. There has been some piling on and some defending of the various offences. This is par for the course.

Politicians and public officials are custodians of taxpayer's money. Scrutiny should be expected.

The Canadian Taxpayer's Federation placed in its crosshairs the president of a local college. It is amazing what a freedom of information request can turn up. One Free Press columnist has said that the president should have known better in terms of the optics of buying golf shoes and expensing it. However, the same columnist also said that the CTF should have used journalistic efforts and asked for a response from the president.

My understanding is that the CTF asked the Red River Board for a response as they published. Does that count? Or does the response have to come before publishing?

The reason I ask is that the Free Press had an explosive story on privilege involving loading dock parking and the city's top official. It was revealed that he was not available for an interview and the story went ahead. Should the Free Press have waited? If there had been a response, would the story have been killed?

The Free Press sent a photographer to have picture evidence of the parking incident in February of this year. However, if you go back to June of 2012:

Who is this in June of 2012?
There is a pic there of a car and driver there that I thought was a certain city official.

I am not a journalist nor have the resources of one. I do call people asking for a response and in some cases I get one but I have also been brushed aside a lot times and in some cases outright lied to as revealed in documents received in someone else's freedom of information request. No hard feelings. I try but I don't have any power other than to write. I do care about accuracy and anyone who has read what I have written knows I try to be fair.

I do have an opinion about things and will continue to state it. I thought about publishing that parking picture when I saw it but I thought that the Free Press or CBC would have surely asked the question: Where are the mayor and councillors parking now that the Civic Parkade is closed? It took a while but the story came out.

I was on the phone many a time before the fire hall story came out trying to find out the disposition of the buildings. The real estate department probably got sick of hearing from me but it was where I first heard of the land swap. I didn't publish because I still didn't have all the pieces. And I may never gotten all the information because I am not a journalist.

It is tough being a journalist. I expect this is routine for them in trying to get information and not having access to it or being spun a tale or lied to. I have a lot of respect for the Free Press among other media in the city. This weekend alone I saw a great analysis of first round draft picks of the Winnipeg Jets compared to the rest of the league. In the same paper was terrific work on school division budgets. All that work came from a professional staff with intimate knowledge of the subject, good research and passion.

I know those stories came about because there was a dedicated professional staff writing and having experience and the power of their publication to get the information out.

There is a debate on Twitter about quality and circulation of print news.

Our family buys the Free Press and I pick up the Globe and Mail nearly every Saturday. The Sun and the Metro come free and in bulk to my work every day. I receive Maclean's every week and pick up a few magazines every month. I like quality and pay for it.

I know some people don't pay for content. They probably never will if they never have to.

But let's get back to whether the Canadian Taxpayer's Federation should have to wait for a response before publishing...

I think the answer is no. I don't consider the CTF to be a media group. They are an activist lobby group. They have asked for a response from Red River but I would no less expect them to wait to publish that I would have when Nick Ternette finally got the RCMP and CSIS security files on him after all those years.

The CTF and the late Nick Ternette made public their findings. They left the media to ask the questions.

The Free Press along with the rest of the news media have probably sold a lot of papers and got a lot of viewers and listeners as a result. There has been a lot of debate about what is fair and what is not for public officials in terms of money.

This is good.

Public officials should have their expenses vetted and then published. Government advertising should be vetted for political bias. Slush funds at all levels of government should be revealed and stomped on.

The elected and unelected officials ought not to worry about the information being out there or checked before approval. It makes for better governance. If the CTF wishes to make hay of some of those items, let them. I think the public is smart enough to know when criticism is warranted and unwarranted.

And if activists do make claims and publish them, the media should use their resources and staff to flesh out the story. Ask the tough questions and later in opinion pieces, come up with thoughts on the whole thing.

Last week was a good week for the media. News can break in many ways and this is one of them.

It is not for me to see how the media can monetize its product better. However, lobby groups, pollsters, activists and bloggers can be a good source of content for a professional journalist.

1 comment:

reedsolomon.matr1x at said...

The problem isn't that the price point is free. The problem is that's more than what their content is worth.