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One out of three is not good enough

A couple of recent newspaper articles have rekindled The Ruxted Group’s distress regarding the level of professionalism in Canadian journalism.

Two specific articles stand out:

The first by Bruce Campion-Smith in the Toronto Star breathlessly reports that defence planners in National Defence Headquarters actually – wait for it - Plan! In this specific case they developed contingency plans to send a ‘six-pack’ of CF-18s to Afghanistan. Defence officials explained it was just a contingency plan but Mr. Campion-Smith was not deterred. He does report, at the end, that “The deployment, planned for sometime after May 2006, never took place and now seems to have been shelved indefinitely.” To which Ruxted replies: “Ho-hum. And this is ‘news’ because?”

The other by CTV News Staff is worse. It goes beyond reporting the non-news cribbed from an Access to Information request and puts the journalists in the role of stenographers – putting their by-line on NDP MP Dawn Black’s press release. Once again the great sin in NDHQ is that contingency planners make contingency plans. This is not news. It is one of the main reasons why there is a headquarters. Ms. Black and CTV News would be entitled to be horrified if NDHQ failed to plan.

In the report David Akin says, “the military is putting together a plan to keep Canada's soldiers in Afghanistan through 2011." That is incorrect; the military is putting together a plan in case the government decides to keep Canada’s soldiers in Afghanistan beyond 2009. Evidently the CTV news reporters cannot manage to remember the lecture in Poli Sci 101 where it was explained, using small words, that DND and the military do not decide on Canadian troop deployments; that’s the job of the government of the day. When the cabinet says “March!” the admirals and generals grab the dusty contingency plan off the shelf, update it, and (quietly) thank their planners for the extra work. DND is ‘planning’ to respond to a possible government decision – just as it is also planning to withdraw troops in 2009.

Ruxted has noted that some journalists and commentators have expressed surprise that they are mistrusted by most Canadians. These articles – a standard contingency plan copied, without analysis, from DND’s own papers, and the parroting of a politician’s press release – show why more than half of Canadians and, Ruxted contends, a much higher percentage of military people, do not trust journalists: their inherent laziness results in low standards of investigative reporting.

There are good reasons for Canadians to be confused and concerned about the Canadian mission in Afghanistan. Prime Minister Harper and Defence Minister O’Connor have failed to tell Canadians, clearly, concisely and persuasively, why young Canadians are killing and being killed in Afghanistan.

There are good reasons for Canadians to be concerned about the level of professionalism in National Defence Headquarters – amongst military officers, civil servants and political staffers. There are too many (publicly) crossed wires and inconsistent public statements. Defence Minister O’Connor does not appear to have a good, firm grip on the reins of his own leadership. It is reported – though Ruxted cannot confirm the reports – that the MND has tried to restrict the CDS’ access to the PM (and, presumably to the Privy Council Office). If and it’s a big 'if', that is the case then Ruxted contends that:

• The CDS, like Deputy Ministers, is appointed by the PM and must have unfettered (but carefully and skilfully used) access to him and to the ‘policy centre’ in the Privy Council Office; and

• It indicates a failure of leadership on the part of Minister O’Connor.

That is a story and The Ruxted Group commends Don Martin of the CanWest News Service for reporting on real news.

The problem is that in a brief period in mid February one ‘real’ story was overwhelmed by two poorly conceived and frivolous pieces. On balance Canadian journalism fails, again, to meet the low standards it sets for itself.


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