Thursday, December 10, 2009

Harper Wants Two Million Dollars to Enter Canada's Weirdest Video Contest

Stephen Harper has definitely been the most expensive prime minister to maintain, what with his enormous security team, $ 400.00 haircuts and full time image consultant, but his new request puts him over the top.

Not satisfied with the PMO writing their own copy and taking their own photos, they now want to also provide their own video for news coverage.

So why do we need a media at all? I say we keep the media and dump the prime minister.

Taxpayers on hook for $1.7-million as PMO rolls out video
Bruce Cheadle
Ottawa — The Canadian Press
December 08, 2009

Taxpayers are being asked to pay an extra $1.7-million this fiscal year to help bolster Stephen Harper's communications support services – just as the Prime Minister's Office begins distributing government videos of Harper to the news media.

Supplementary estimates tabled last month by the Privy Council Office, the Prime Minister's bureaucratic back office, boosted internal operational spending by almost $7.3-million for 2009-10. That's on top of existing budgets.

Included in that total is $700,650 for 6.5 new positions “providing communications advice, service and support to the prime minister.”

There's also an extra $1-million for “events” preparation, including “broadcast sound, lighting and recording services, costs of transporting equipment, travel, overtime, office and logistical support...”

According to information provided to Liberal MP Martha Hall-Findlay, by PCO, $270,000 of the total is overtime pay owed to harried technical support staff, including videographers.

The Privy Council Office already has an archive of more than 300 videos of Mr. Harper dating back to his first months in office, according to an Access to Information request by The Canadian Press.

The video archive list includes everything from a Harper message to CTV anchor Lloyd Robertson on Oct. 27, 2006, to a speech at a Conservative Party barbecue in August of 2008 and the Prime Minister's historic address last Dec. 4 after his precedent-setting prorogation of Parliament in the face of a confidence crisis.

In the last two weeks, the PCO started sending news organizations links to new videos in the same way the PMO has routinely distributed photos shot by Mr. Harper's official photographer.

The photos, and now the videos, have sparked a debate over media access and when the use of government-produced and approved images may be appropriate in an independent news media.

“It's not access,” said Chris Waddell, who holds the Carty chair in business and financial journalism at Ottawa's Carleton University.

“Access is an opportunity to ask questions and an opportunity to engage in independent work according to journalistic principles. What they're giving you is public relations.”

Dimitri Soudas, the Prime Minister's spokesman, says there is no difference between a press release and a photo or video release.

“It's another form of communication with the media,” Mr. Soudas said in an interview.

Sometimes they say a picture is worth a thousand words.” Video releases are just the next step.

“The media can't have it both ways,” Mr. Soudas recently told CBC.

“They can't criticize us for not providing enough information, and then criticize us for providing too much information.”

Mr. Harper's extremely busy fall travel schedule – with successive trips to Singapore, India, Trinidad and Tobago, China and South Korea, with Copenhagen on deck – has run PCO technicians to the breaking point.

In an appearance last month before the government operations committee, Marilyn MacPherson, the assistant deputy minister at PCO's corporate services branch, said the prime minister's tour group is comprised of only 13 individuals, who work in smaller groups that are constantly “leap-frogging” each other to successive events.

“They are the ones who actually set up the stage, put up the drapes, do all the recording, make sure the TelePrompTer works – always trying to put the very professional face on our prime minister when he is acting as the head of our government,” she told the committee.

Reporters who have travelled with prime ministers past and present know the long hours logged by the infallibly helpful and good-humoured technical support staff of the Privy Council Office.

Where once these technicians focused on ensuring news media had access to broadcast quality audio feeds of the prime minister for speeches and formal news conferences, they now handle professional lighting and video services as well – and on a much broader range of events.

The Harper PMO prefers tightly scripted, immaculately staged public events that include limited or zero interplay between the prime minister and reporters. With cash-strapped news organizations being asked to pay up to $7,000 to put a reporter on a prime ministerial tour for a week, the combination of limited access and high price is causing some newsrooms to opt out.

That makes the government-provided photos and video all the more alluring to some media outlets, especially smaller ones – and all the more unsettling to critics of media manipulation.

“It's endemic in a world where the media is not willing or able to pay for going out and doing the coverage itself,” Prof. Waddell said.

“The Prime Minister's Office can put all this stuff out. The key question is: What are the journalistic standards being applied by the people who are taking it?”

Occasionally, the Privy Council technicians get some outside assistance.

Last June's showy, invite-only delivery of the Conservative report on the Economic Action Plan in Cambridge, Ont., included a bill of $30,000 for private-sector audio-visual and staging help. The Prime Minister did not take any questions from the news media at the event.

Videos of Mr. Harper at that June 11 “town hall” are among the 317 listed in a PCO archive obtained by The Canadian Press that runs from April 20, 2006, to Oct. 16, 2009.

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