December 1, 2018 1:25 pm

Roy Green: The whiff of the $600-million promise lingers

During Question Period on Monday, the opposition raised the question of whether a Liberal government bail-out package for struggling media could be construed as a way to influence the media in an election year.

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Over the past week-plus, there’s been much discussion, including on my program, about the Trudeau government’s declaration it will disperse some $600 million over the next five years to Canadian media organizations in dire straits financially.

Many, though not all, of my industry colleagues, have decried this as an engagement in headline-buying, or perhaps call it media management.

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The saddle has been on this burro for some time. Instead of a cheque, though, media management increasingly consists of side-stepping unpleasant yet relevant media questioning.

I have logged thousands of interviews. Most have been straightforward Q&A’s, others have qualified as confrontational. Some were outright verbal warfare.

Several come to mind — one, particularly.

Christopher Stephenson was a 12-year-old Ontario child abducted and murdered by Joseph Fredericks, a homicidal, sadistic pedophile who had been wrongly granted a pass from prison.

Seeking and determined to obtain answers, Christopher’s parents, Jim and Anna, engaged the services of lawyer Tim Danson to represent their family’s interests during the inquest into Christopher’s murder. They asked Ottawa to pay Mr. Danson’s fees.

The government of Brian Mulroney balked, though. Attorney General and Justice Minister Doug Lewis argued federal lawyers were quite capable of representing the Stephenson’s interests, as well as those of Ottawa.

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On one particular morning, Jim Stephenson and Tim Danson had spent an hour in-studio addressing the family’s concerns. Later in the day, a call from Lewis’ office expressed dissatisfaction with the manner in which I had allowed my guests to make their case.

The Attorney General wanted equal time in studio the next morning. Of course.

The questions began. The session quickly became confrontational. The Attorney General had no answers — Lewis was so unprepared he called Ottawa during commercial breaks seeking information. That was something I made listeners aware of.

It was what Doug Lewis did next, though, that set the bar. He returned the next day by phone, assuring Ottawa was wrong and that the federal government would indeed address the Stephenson’s legal fees for the inquest into Christopher’s death.

Tim Danson, it should be noted, had not sent the family even one invoice.

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Today, things are different. Increasingly, avoidance trumps challenge. Even people I’ve known and spoken to on air for years choose the path of least resistance. Interview avoidance.

I’ve interviewed Ontario Premier Doug Ford easily more than a dozen times. We would arrange interviews personally by text, sometimes with just a few hours notice. Now, though, interview requests are routinely ignored.  So much so I don’t bother asking any longer. Not so unusual, I’m told.

Justin Trudeau is the only prime minister of the last six who denies access entirely. Yes, I’m hard on Trudeau, but he earns it. Stephen Harper, Paul Martin, Jean Chretien, Brian Mulroney and Kim Campbell all agreed to interviews. They knew it would likely become bumpy, but they made themselves available.

Perhaps a matter of thicker skin, or greater self-confidence.

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Federal Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer has repeatedly agreed to be interviewed and not flinched at being pressed hard for answers. Too frequently, though, it appears politicians of all stripes assess the danger potential before agreeing to an interview.

Ultimately, this matter is not about any one media member. Our job is to probe and to represent the interests of our listeners, viewers and readers.

How can hundreds of millions of dollars on the table not at least create the impression this objective may be compromised?

Roy Green is the host of the Roy Green Show on the Global News Radio network.

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