Whether you call it an effort to control the message — and, in turn, image — of politicians who already lie in the public’s bad books or a blatant refusal to own up to responsibilities of the position, it’s wrong and cowardly.
Within the provincial cabinet, there are only a few ministers who take the time to consistently speak on issues involving their cabinet business publicly. More hide behind communications staff and prepared statements that work their way through a handful of people before being presented to media.
In journalism, the issuing of a statement instead of an interview is the equivalent of cutting a basketball player off at the knees. A prepared statement does nothing but present one small side of an issue that is likely complicated by many factors, and a statement — for those politicians who haven’t quite figured it out — cannot carry on a conversation to get to the bottom of any issue or argument.
We all know the magnifying glass of public comments burns a lot brighter under the hot sun of social media, but this is no reason to exempt politicians from accountability in favour of only talking on issues where they may seem popular among the people.
This dodgeball only serves one purpose, of course: it’s an effort to get the politician off the hot seat so the chance of re-election shines brighter.
These statements, we can assume, are government’s way to deflecting the issue. But do they really work?
Does the public read that and assume that Christopher Mitchelmore was so busy with his constituency work that he couldn’t talk about what’s happening with the multi-million dollar Marble Mountain Resort? Or do most assume that he’s afraid to face the controversy surrounding the entity, despite being elected to make tough decisions?
Do the people assume Sherry Gambin-Walsh is too busy with pressing matters involving Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation, and the Status of Persons with Disabilities that she has no time to answer questions concerning the Corner Brook pool? Or does the electorate assume the answers people of the area seek are not a priority for her or her team?
Are Al Hawkins or Eddie Joyce or Perry Trimper or Jane Doe or John Hoe not in positions to answer questions from local reporters because of more pressing matters or do they not want to run the risk of being unpopular on divided subjects. The list goes on. And then it goes on some more.
The fact is people deserve to hear what those they elected have to say, and they certainly deserve more than what their spin teams offer to media, or what they themselves have someone post on Facebook.
To be fair, the topics of discussion usually dictate the level of response from some elected officials. If it’s testy, the response is often a short, vague statement, but if it’s light and fluffy, the interview is often granted. This doesn’t make it right, but it makes it easier for them.
Also, to be fair, there are politicians that will let their thoughts be known regardless, those who will fight any controversy head-on and run the risk of public scrutiny in doing so.
Local journalists rarely talk of having trouble reaching Gerry Byrnes or Steve Kent of the Conservatives, and there’s a healthy list of backbenchers that line up with them.
What’s important for all political types to realize is the job is not to concentrate on getting re-elected; it’s to govern and to do it wisely while keeping in mind the best interests of the people and their future.
If prepared emails are the way many elected officials want to do that, let’s put the names of the PR staff senders on the ballots.
Otherwise, let’s do what you promised in the election campaign: become the voice that would represent us — honestly, fiercely and without sheepishly hiding behind staff to do so.