Former mayors, the late Scoop Lewry and Herb Taylor, would be appalled at the attitudes of city officials as they attempt to justify the contents and intent of the media section in the city’s proposed communications handbook.
Both Lewry and Taylor were the most transparent mayors of my many years of covering city hall and city council. In fact, if I missed a morning when I didn’t poke my head into their office, they called to make sure I was OK, and was there anything I needed from them.
When I did need information from them, they were always available, either at the office or at home (although it was seldom necessary to invade their supper hour.)
Other than a wallet-sized press card signed by the mayor and police chief, there was never a hint that we even needed that document in order to sit in council chambers, either on the public benches or at one of the three chairs provided for the media in the council chambers where I first began covering council.
Those chairs were so close to one row of aldermen and alderwomen that we could have reached out and touched them, and they had the same access. That made for some interesting conversations both before and after the meetings.
Photographers and camera operators were also free to work from a close vantage point without being told the floor of the chambers was off limits to the working media, unless a specific invitation was issued.
Then council chambers were renovated, suddenly the reporters were sent to perch like roosters far and away from the elected officials and department leaders. No longer was there a congenial atmosphere and suddenly it appeared that mayor and council were segregated from the unwashed, away from the probing questions and tape recorders and notebooks of media representatives.
And now, the spectre of accreditation has reared its head. If a reporter is hired by a media outlet that should be accreditation enough to cover city politics. What special qualifications does anyone at city hall have to rule that this reporter will receive accreditation while that one will be turned down?
If a columnist has written something unflattering about an elected official, you can bet your boots that that will result in a failed accreditation application. Will the photographer who regularly features the mayor or councillors with their smiling faces posed over a ribbon cutting receive more points than the photographer who takes photos of regular citizens and doesn’t fawn all over an elected person?
Will a reporter who has been denied accreditation be denied a seat among other citizens in council chambers or does accreditation only cover the perch at the top of the room? Will councillors get a vote on which reporter is to be voted off the island and will there be an appeal process?
Municipal government is the very grassroots of governance and should not be compared to provincial or federal policies about accreditation. I could be mistaken, but it might be easier to get a response from the premier or prime minister than from local officials, barring the communications manager who is being tasked with being the go-between, the buffer between those we have elected and the electorate.
We are indeed living in interesting times and I’m not sure Scoop Lewry and Herb Taylor would be impressed.
Joyce Walter can be reached at email@example.com
Editor’s note: The proposed communications policy was to be discussed at the Sept. 23 council meeting. This column was written prior to that meeting.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication.