Stephen Harper’s control over Canada’s media

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

Back during the days of Diefenbaker and Pearson, Prime Ministers essentially had only one person who handled media matters.

Today, according to the Hill Times' Laura Ryckewaert, there are an estimated 1,500 communications staffers working in ministers' offices and departments, including 87 in the Prime Minister's Office and Privy Council Office.

Veteran CTV reporter Craig Oliver Oliver said the job of these hundreds of staffers is "massaging a message" to get media to see a story the same way the government does.

"Highly paid people…hundreds of people. Their only job every day is try to manipulate a message," Oliver recently told CBC's 'The Current.'

"They want to influence what we're saying, the approach we take to a story…They want to have the story cast in a way they want."

In her article, Ryckewaert writes that while the growth in the communications bureaucracy didn't start with the Conservatives, Stephen Harper has certainly taken control over media to another level.

"Soon after Mr. Harper won power, the Prime Minister's staff started deciding which reporters could ask questions, skipping those they suspected weren't in the government's favour," she wrote.

"Media access to the Prime Minister and his caucus, in general, has become minimal, with MPs and ministers kept on a short, silent leash."

Harper has always had a prickly relationship with the media.

During the 2011 election campaign, Harper frustrated reporters by taking only five questions from reporters at each campaign stop: two in English, two in French, and one from local media.

In 2007, Calgary television journalist Lynn Raineault completed a Master's thesis that explored Prime Minister Stephen Harper's ongoing battles with the Parliamentary Press Gallery.

To her surprise, the Toronto Star reported she found that most of the Conservatives she interviewed believed Harper was his own worst enemy when it came to getting favourable media coverage.

They cited two main factors in the ongoing conflicts between the PMO and the press: Harper's deep-seated belief that journalists in the press gallery are ideologically opposed to Conservative governments; and Harper's character, which was described during various interviews as introverted, stubborn, impatient and controlling.