“The press is the enemy.”
Infamously said by former US President Richard Nixon, and a sentiment that may be echoed by a number of councillors at Brampton City Hall.
At the May 31st council meeting, Councillor Gael Miles raised the ire of press both locally and provincially when she introduced a motion asking for all questions posed by the press to council be posted online on the City of Brampton website.
“Be it resolved, that copies of all media inquiries received by the Mayor, Members of Council and staff be posted to the City website, along with all responses provided.”
– ExCerpt from the proposed motion
At first glance, you might think it seems good. It protects councillors from potential misquotation and offers a level of transparency which allows the public to see responses free of bias or added opinion.
In bringing up the motion, councillor Miles focused on a recent article in The Brampton Guardian by Peter Criscione which highlights the lack of work by several councillors on the city’s transit file. Miles felt that the Guardian’s article unfairly targeted her for not providing comment when asked about her efforts to further the city’s transit agenda.
Some councillors in agreement with Miles, such as Councillor Palleschi, suggested those opposing the motion may have things to hide. Others such as Councillors Dhillon and Medeiros disagreed with the motion and questioned its implementation, motives, and whether it was even necessary given tools available for councillors to present their sides and responses to any given story.
Mayor Jeffery herself took to Twitter in support of the press, stating they should be able to report without interference by government. The mayor said:
“The freedom of the press is a key pillar of our democracy, regardless of whether or not we like what is being written.”
The implications are that this motion provides councillors such as Miles an avenue to slow down the flow of information to the public from local news outlets, and provides a potential avenue for councillors to stall answering key questions.
Implementation of the proposal also brings to mind concerns about who would be responsible for identifying questions posed to councillors, or if such a system would operate on a de-facto opt-in basis by staff.
It also raises important questions about who determines which questions are valid, how sources wishing to remain anonymous (such as whistleblowers within the city) handle dealings with the media, and whether council should even have the power to dictate what the public does and does not see.
With the number of media tools available to council from Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Reddit, and even the age-old ability to issue press releases, there seems an infinite number of constructive ways for councillors to engage with the public, clarify statements made in council, and answer public requests.
It’s no secret that Miles has been on the receiving end of serious allegations lately in the press, ones that she has managed to dodge so far. This context has some councillors questioning her motives of introducing a transparency bill, while herself remaining anything but.
While further transparency by the government has always been a staple of political platforms, the role of actually cleaning the windows to peer inside has always been the primary role of the press. Adding a new layer of bureaucracy between the press and the answers they need can only be seen as another attempt at slowing their ability to do so.
If Miles and the councillors supporting this motion really do feel victimized or silenced by the press, it may be high time council learned how to properly use the tools freely available to them. Indeed, a majority of city councillors–including some in favour of this motion for “transparency”–don’t even bother to use easy tools like Facebook and Twitter to engage with their constituency.
The press’s role is to hold a mirror up to council, but it may not be the mirror’s fault if some councillors aren’t happy with what they see.