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Veteran journalist under fire for asking question of prime minister


 

OTTAWA – Stephen Harper’s office appears poised to prevent a veteran TV cameraman from travelling with the prime minister this week because he asked an impromptu question at a media event.

The TV networks are fighting back, insisting that they, not the Prime Minister’s Office, should decide who to assign to cover Harper when he travels abroad.

CTV journalist Dave Ellis asked Harper for a comment last week about charges laid against then-Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro.

Harper was at a roundtable with a group of businesspeople in New York City, and had not taken any questions from media travelling with him over two days.

Prior to the event, reporters and photographers were told they were not to ask questions of the prime minister.

Harper is set to leave Thursday morning for a seven-day trip to Malaysia and Indonesia, and CTV had Ellis accredited to work on the assignment as a pool cameraman.

But following Ellis’s New York assignment, CTV says it was told by the PMO that Ellis would not be allowed on Harper’s plane, even though he had earlier been approved for the trip.

CTV News spokesman Matthew Garrow said Wednesday the network has nevertheless decided to send Ellis to the Ottawa airport to try to board the prime minister’s plane with other journalists, and that other networks are backing that decision.

“Dave will be at the airport, and we’ll see what happens from there,” Garrow said.

All media pay full price for their transportation and lodging when travelling with the prime minister.

A spokesman for the prime minister said CTV will be allowed to travel with Harper, but would not say specifically whether Ellis will be turned away, despite repeated requests for clarification.

“No accredited Canadian media outlet is prevented from joining us for the upcoming trip to the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation Summit,” said Jason MacDonald in an email.

“To suggest otherwise is absolutely false.”

Other network members of the travelling TV pool have indicated they support the CTV decision to send a cameraman who may be turned away.

“To us, it’s a very slippery slope to let the prime minister decide who gets on that plane and who doesn’t,” said one member of the pool who didn’t want to be identified.

“That’s why we are comfortable with CTV insisting that Dave gets to go. It’s a question of principle.”

In recent years, the three main networks — CBC, CTV and Global — have pooled resources on prime ministerial trips in order to cut costs.

Each network sends its own reporter but takes turns sending camera operators, editors and technicians. And each time, the network responsible for the pool decides which people to send, without interference from their competitors.

In the U.K, and Australia, there are no restrictions on asking prime ministers questions during photo ops where reporters are present.

When Harper came to power in 2006, he initiated stricter rules prohibiting journalists from posing questions at photo ops, both in Canada and abroad.

When pressing news breaks, those rules have occasionally been broken.

It’s also not the first time that the PMO has tried to dictate who can or cannot travel with the prime minister.

Canadian Press reporter Alex Panetta was told by former Harper communications staff in 2006 he would not be able to board a plane with Harper for a clandestine trip to Afghanistan after Panetta wrote that the PM was to make the visit.

Panetta ended up going on the trip — and having a private chat with Harper about politics and hockey on a return flight from Pakistan.

Last Thursday, Ellis asked one question shortly after hearing that Del Mastro had been charged by Elections Canada with several offences related to the 2008 federal election campaign.

“Any comment today, sir, about Dean Del Mastro being charged?” he asked as the photo op was ending.

The prime minister didn’t respond to the question and all of the journalists taking part were shuffled out of the room without incident.

Del Mastro, the MP for Peterborough, Ont., is facing four charges in connection with allegations that he exceeded his campaign spending limit and filed a false accounting of the expenses incurred to win office.

While the accusations have not been proven in court, Del Mastro resigned from the Conservative caucus and was stripped of his duties as a parliamentary secretary.

The charges are a fresh ethics embarrassment for Harper as he struggles to move beyond the Senate expenses scandal in time for a fall sitting of Parliament that begins in two weeks.


 
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Veteran journalist under fire for asking question of prime minister

  1. Well there’s a solution to this, but it involves journalists working together to defend freedom of the press.

  2. if harper dosnt answer questions from the media, then don’t waste money on paying for reporters to go off in some distant land on junkets to make him(harper) look good. I know reporters have an an obligation to report news, but this is disrespectful to all media. mr harper must relies, you cant cherry who can show up at your photo opps. this is Canada not some totalitarian state. at least it wasn’t until you harper showed up.

    • correction: realize.

  3. So will the Ottawa media elites Wells, Coyne, Solomon? Akin, CP, etc rally to support CTV on this? There could be a total boycott eh?

    • Not a boycott….pitching the Canadian subservience and the ‘new rules’ out the window, and all of them asking him heavy pointed questions.

      • Good luck with that. Heavy police presence at these gatherings I think. And he’s not afraid to use them.

        Even Ron Reagan in the US allowed questions to be shouted, but he would pretend he was deaf. Maybe it wasn’t an act.

        • If Harp was inclined to use police on reporters who ask questions in this country…..well, the whole world is watching.

          • Well there’s been some pretty thugish behaviour toward attendees at some of his rallies as I recall. But you are right reporters are different.
            I was thinking the media might get some concessions before it got that far.
            Anyway it appears it’s now over, although the control and limit on media questions in general I assume continues.

  4. I don’t see this as a freedom of the press issue. As I understand the situation it’s Harper’s plane and journalists are allowed to travel on it. I assume that there is nothing to stop CTV sending Ellis on some other flight and meeting the rest of the journalists at the destination. This would obviously be inconvenient, but I think there is a big difference between Harper trying to dictate who gets to work for the CTV versus him dictating who gets to travel on his (presumably official government) plane.

    Having said all this I think the decision sounds very petty but I think CTV are over-reacting here.

    • It’s Harper’s plane – wow, I didn’t know he was that wealthy!

      • *sigh* The plane that Harper flies on, the official jet used by the federal government to transport the prime minister. I erroneously assumed that nobody reading “Harper’s plane” would believe that I thought he owned the plane. Obviously I was wrong.

        • The point is, the plane is provided for Harper’s use courtesy of the Canadian taxpayer. Barring any legitimate security concerns with any of the personnel assigned by the media, he or his office should have no say as to what journalists are assigned by the media to take spots allocated on the flight. Calling it ‘Harper’s Plane’ basically conveys a sense of entitlement (and it would be wrong for any PM).

          He (the PM) may be getting a free ride, but that doesn’t mean he should get a ‘free ride’ !

        • *sigh* Don’t you want to hear harper answer questions now and then? I do. We have no QP because of summer followed by prorogation. And, at least during elections, not sure about the rest of the time — media outlets PAY to have their journalists travel on the TAXPAYER’S plane, which is used to transport the pm.

          • And to mtl_bcer — so can I fly on it since I’m a Canadian taxpayer (assuming I pay)?

            Speaking personally I’m not that interested in hearing Harper answer questions nor do I think banning a journalist from his official (taxpayer funded) means of transport is an attack on the freedom of the press (although I do think it’s petty and vindictive).

            I’m much more concerned with the appalling record that Canada has in terms of access to government information than whether or not someone gets to yell embarrassing but pretty pointless questions at the PM.

          • Fair enough, but I think the journos yell out because of their frustration; their job is to ask questions and report answers, on our behalves, not the PM’s.

          • I’m not disagreeing with this. What I do disagree with is saying that this is violating the freedom of the press, or claiming that it is a “slippery slope” to some undefined calamity (since the quotation didn’t mention what it was a slippery slope to).

          • can you fly on it?

            Don’t know how you surmised that, unless you are the prime minster.

          • I was suggesting that if it is the taxpayer’s plane then I should be able to fly on it as well.

          • Good luck with that, I said it was provided by the taxpayers in order to transport the Prime Minister. You will just have to satisfy yourself with being allowed to sit on a bench (if any are available) in a Federal government building, If you’re really lucky you might even be able to ride an elevator or escalator.

          • No it means that if he has a plane supplied by Canadians that is large enough to carry reporters to important meetings and events for the purpose of gathering news he should use it for that. Otherwise we can get him a two-seater with room for him and the pilot, or better still he can travel on a commercial airline.

          • No you can’t….unless you join the military. Then you may get a chance to.

    • Good! Maybe they’re finally finding a backbone after all these years.

  5. Media organizations in Canada should ask themselves why they are so docile that only 1 reporter asked a question at that photo opportunity. It’s an embarrassment that everyone else was prepared to go on that trip and take the canned photos and essentially act as the prime minister’s publicist.

  6. Li’l steves ministry of truth search for enemies goes on ! Keep the mile-high club free of questions .

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