Canada: What Questions Get Asked?

The Toronto Star has an article about the free speech ramifications of the now shelved plan to build a new press centre in which the Prime Minister would get to choose which reports — which questions — would be asked. (The Liberals under Martin tried to do this too).

The background: Shortly after he was elected Prime Minister, Stephen Harper tried to change the rules for press conferences at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa, which is controlled by the press gallery. He insisted that his staff be allowed to choose which reporters could ask him questions, instead of the reporters themselves deciding.

… the Prime Minister’s Office asked civil servants to draw up a $2 million plan to renovate a vacant shoe store in downtown Ottawa into a new press conference centre, this one to be controlled by the Prime Minister. The plan has been shelved, at least for now.

This is the system used by the president of the United States – and many other countries. It is a bad one, and here’s why. The real issue is not who gets to ask questions, but what questions get asked. If Canada adopts the U.S. style, the Prime Minister will be able to call on friendly reporters and avoid reporters who ask difficult, necessary questions.

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