Not you! Your organization is terrible! Donald Trump speaking to CNN reporter at his recent press conference
KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – When you’re a journalist and the people you report on don’t talk to you, your job becomes much harder. How will you get the facts and understand what motivates the people you’re writing about?
This is the unfortunate situation Sydney journalist Mary Campbell finds herself in. Campbell, who runs the news site the Cape Breton Spectator, devotes a lot of her time to covering municipal politics in CBRM.
Now Christina Lamey, the person in charge of Cape Breton Regional Municipality’s communications and media relations, is not responding to questions Campbell submits. When asked why, Lamey raised her perceived lack of “fair and balanced” coverage, Campbell tells the Nova Scotia Advocate.
“It’s fairly serious. When I ask the federal government or the province questions, I always get a response. Not necessarily an in depth or helpful answer, but I do get a response,” says Campbell.
“I report. I don’t think the PR person for the mayor gets to be the arbiter of what is journalism and what is not,” Campbell says.
The reason Lamey is unhappy with Campbell’s work may well be related to Campbell’s critical coverage of decisions made by mayor Cecil Clarke and some members of CBRM Council.
But Campbell is far from alone in the criticism that mayor Clarke’s dealings at times are not sufficiently transparent. Several councillors recently took to the media to claim that they felt bullied when they complained about receiving insufficient information.
In an email to the Nova Scotia Advocate Lamey writes, “I began by expressing that her approach is in bad faith. Mary’s writing usually contains commentary that is disdainful toward others in our community. I expressed to her that fairness and balance would be welcome. By her reaction, I don’t think we see eye-to-eye on that.”
Lamey also writes that the mayor is available after council meetings, events, etc. for questions. “Providing additional commentary or quotes for her blog is at our discretion.”
Earlier Lamey had refused to add Campbell to a distribution list for CBRM press releases, Campbell says, and she had to appeal to councillors for help in rectifying that situation.
Much of this is related to Lamey’s position, which is unusual in the municipal context here in Nova Scotia.
The folks responsible for communication with the press in HRM and elsewhere tend to be municipal employees who are non-partisan about the issues at hand. But Lamey, a former communications director of the provincial Progressive Conservative caucus, is a political appointee, handpicked by mayor Clarke after he was first elected in 2012.
That said, the Cape Breton Post quoted Clarke at that time as emphasizing that Lamey “will not act as a spokesperson to speak on behalf of the mayor or council. Instead, she will work to ensure media have access to all elected officials when needed.”
Well, as it turns out not all media. Just those media Lamey deems “fair and balanced.”
How can I cover both sides when one side doesn’t want to talk to me?
“I can’t imagine there is a politician anywhere in the world who believes news coverage he or she receives is fair and balanced,” Campbell observes.
“Lamey says that she wants fair and balanced, but how can I cover both sides when one side doesn’t want to talk to me? I don’t want to have to guess what they’re thinking and what they’re doing.
“I’d happily print their answers. I am not going to twist them. I will report accurately, that’s what I do. But as a reporter the situation is untenable. As a reporter I need to have access to information from the community I am reporting on.”
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