Is there a media bias against governments?


ThinkTHUNDER BAY – Editorial – Is there a media bias against governments? The lament in many conservative circles, and over at Sun News Network are that the main stream media is biased against conservatives. Over the past several months, looking at web statistics on NetNewsledger, it seems that perhaps what is really going on are that editorials that present views that are against what the government are doing generate more reads than articles that are praising an incumbent government. That of course does not hold as fact for only the federal Conservatives, it is also evident within the Ontario Liberal government too.

The reality is, government leaders, like ordinary Canadians don’t like to be the subject of criticism. Do you? Either do they.

However, maybe instead of looking for a bias, what may really be happening is a representation of a direct relationship between voting numbers and the government’s share of the overall vote.

At the federal level, the Conservatives have a majority government and garnered 39 percent of the total vote. The argument from the opposition is that six out of ten voters didn’t support the government. That then makes sense that media editorials that headline issues with the incumbent government are likely to be more popular with six out of ten people.

In Ontario at the provincial level, the McGuinty Government received 37 percent of the votes. Once again six out of ten people voted for a different party. The same ratio of readers of news editorials as the federal results are likely to be interested in more critical commentary.

Further, moves by the government are more likely to make news, and generate editorial comment than moves by the opposition parties. A statement or policy move by the Prime Minister or the Premier will likely end up happening. The moves of the government will likely be enacted in law, while the opposition can only make suggestions.

During the marathon session on the budget, there were about 800 proposed amendments to the budget, the government voted down all of those amendments. In a majority government that is the right of the government, but it is also highly unlikely that all of the amendments proposed were unworthy of consideration. Opposition MPs have observed that many government MPs were engrossed in their Ipads and laptops, in some cases watching movies online and standing to vote down each and every amendment. That move likely will result in parliamentary reporters making critical commentary in their reporting.

The other issue, perhaps is that under the tightly controlled communications strategy of the federal Conservatives it is hard for individual MPs to comment on issues. The word is most commentary is vetted through the Prime Minister’s office. That fact can be witnessed in the way comments made by MPs across the country are fairly similar, and when an individual MP speaks in a public forum and says something that does not fit to the ‘party line’ that the offending MP, usually a backbench MP is quick to issue a retraction.

Both the public, and the media are not so blind as to not see this pattern. The federal Conservatives often seem to be, and then appear frequently to seem thin-skinned when they are the subject of critical commentary.

In Ontario there is a similar pattern one can see in Question Period. Premier Dalton McGuinty often defers questions on really controversial issues to the Minister of the related department. The Premier seems to prefer making positive announcements, and once faced with contradictions in his deeds when compared to his words, he drops the issue and moves on. It is likely a matter of personal style.

At the federal level, likely the matter is again one of personal style of the Prime Minister. Controlling the message and not having either candidates or MPs speaking out of turn has been a problem in the past for the Conservatives. That has resulted in such a tight scripting of the messages, and in such a tight leash on MPs that the calls of ‘hidden agenda’ have remained in the public consciousness. That is likely because when an individual candidate or MP has spoken off the cuff, the headlines have made the government look bad.

The reality is if the matter were not so tightly scripted, and the controls were loosened, it is likely that years ago the issue would have died.

However the trouble with trying to tightly control everything in a caucus likely leads to more problems than it does to more opportunities. The creativity and talents of individual elected members to engage with their constituents is, when tightly restricted the same process that led to the downfall of the federal Progressive Conservatives. It seems something that the Prime Minister and his hand-picked circle of trusted advisers have forgotten.

It is also likely, over time to lead to more problems for the federal Conservatives.

It might not be a ‘media bias’ it might be that people can see when the emperor is wearing no clothes.

James Murray
Chief Content Officer

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