The Black Rod

The origin of the Usher of the Black Rod goes back to early fourteenth century England . Today, with no royal duties to perform, the Usher knocks on the doors of the House of Commons with the Black Rod at the start of Parliament to summon the members. The rod is a symbol for the authority of debate in the upper house. We of The Black Rod have adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

We are citizen journalists in Winnipeg. When not breaking exclusive stories, we analyze news coverage by the mainstream media and highlight bias, ignorance, incompetence, flawed logic, missed angles and, where warranted, good work. We serve as the only overall news monitors in the province of Manitoba. We do the same with politicians (who require even more monitoring.) EMAIL:

Monday, May 29, 2006

Free Press reporter wants a medal; The Aspers want a Newspaper

Everybody can use a good laugh by the weekend, but Winnipeg Free Press National Reporter Paul Samyn had us rolling on the floor with his open letter to readers on Sunday.

Samyn is a member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery which is openly at war with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

This week they decided to boycott a press conference on additional funding to Darfur by turning their backs on the P.M. and walking out en masse, Darfur be damned.

The FP's boy in Ottawa has been a happy soldier in the battle yet he can't shake a nagging suspicion that people are laughing at him. Putting on his best folksy airs, he asked his hometown audience to, maybe, show a little appreciation.

The War on Harper is a fight for the very soul of journalism, Samyn pleaded.

"...Harper only wants to talk to use if we first put our names on a list he controls. We don't want to give him that control over us."

Fight. Paul. Fight.
Fight the list. Fight the list, Paul.

"Don't look at our stand as a defence of media rights. Instead, see this as an issue of the media's responsibility to you, the reader."

Okay, we lost it here. He had us in stitches as soon as he put on the crown of responsibility.

The Crown of Responsibility on the head of a media hack is second only to Maxwell Smart under the Cone of Silence in our book.

And, of course, like a good comedian, Samyn saved the punchline for last:

"Since I am your proxy on Parliament Hill, tell me what you think we should do."

Ho Ho Ho.
Well, Paul, since you asked....

Stephen Harper was elected to represent Canadians in Parliament. You weren't. We don't care about the petty egos of the Parliamentary Press Gallery. You are not representing the people of this country by NOT doing your jobs. You claim our proxy? Get to work.

You're worried Harper won't call your name from his list?
Stop being such a fraidy cat.
Be a man.
Break from the pack.
Put you name on the list and see what happens.

At least then you'll know for sure and won't bore us with your conspiracy theories.

While the Press Gallery was having a group hug and feeling sorry for themselves, a couple of reporters slipped away from the whinefest and did some actual reporting. Maybe, Paul, you can ask them how they did it.

"Ministers scramble to make the next Top 5"
Allan Woods of Canwest News had an excellent story about the jockeying by government ministers to get their policies on the government's next Top 5 priorities list.

He talked to "Tory sources", "one aide to a Conservative Cabinet minister", "a number of high-ranking Conservatives", "one top Conservative", "one Tory strategist", "one Tory insider", and "another Conservative". That's called working your beat, Paul.

And there was "Tory MPs May Be Challenged For Spots" by Peter O'Neil, also of Canwest News. He broke the story that if the Conservative Party lifts the protection from sitting MPs to nomination challenges, religious conservatives are prepared to "target MPs they consider weak on (the) gay marriage issue."

He talked to Byng Giraud, B.C. national council member, Rev. Charles McVety of the Defend Marriage Coalition, Campaign Life Coalition spokesman Jim Hughes, and James Moore, MP for Port-Moody-Port Coquitlam.

Wow, while your were muling about Stephen Harper, a real reporter went out and wrote a story. How did he manage that? Oh, yeah, he asked people questions. No list. No whine.

Samyn has eked out a story or two when he's not fighting for freedom on Parliament Hill. His latest was on how the Conservatives haven't coughed up money (for a labour training deal) promised by the Liberals days before an election call. And the one before that was on how the Conservatives haven't coughed up money (for the Virology Lab) promised by the LIberals during the election campaign. Do you see a pattern?

Liberals (Belinda Stronach, Reg Alcock) promised millions (coincidentally at election time) because they're good. Conservatives (Stephen Harper, Stephen Fletcher) haven't spent it because they're bad.

This is standard operating procedure for Samyn. He had a "working relationship" with Alcock. He got "leaks" from the Alcock camp on Friday so they could run as "exclusive" stories on Saturday. Other media outlets would get the report, the study, the announcement, whatever on Saturday morning well after it was in print in the Free Press. So when he needs a story, now...well, where's that list of Liberal contacts?

How tough do you think Samyn's questions to the Liberals were? And he had to wait in line to ask. What a trooper.

Samyn pleads he's fighting for freedom, just like, you know, soldiers in Afghanistan. He fails to point out to "Dear Reader" that only one reporter has been prevented from asking a question on Parliament Hill --- when he was shouted down by the Parliamentary Press Gallery!

Reporters are being muzzled? It seems they are, the Parliamentary Press Gallery!

Sheila Copps, a member of the PPG, writes in her Sunday column that this week "media bureau chiefs got together to convince colleagues across Canada to join the parliamentary freeze-out of Harper."

Hmmm. There's a story there. Unfortunately, there doesn't appear to be a reporter on Parliament Hill, or an editor in any home town in Canada, who recognizes it.

Why hasn't one single reporter done a story about the orchestrated walkout at the Harper press conference. We don't mean the "officially approved" stories that ran in the MSM. We mean one where the reporters who walked out are identified by name and affiliation ( Who), with interviews with them (Why). With tough questions, like How did you vote in the election? Have Liberal or NDP MPs offered help? How can you report fairly on the Conservatives when you're show open contempt for the Prime Minister?

We'll hold our breath for that story.

In the meantime, "Canada's largest media union" has joined the fray. The Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP) has issued a statement calling for MPs to hold Harper "accountable" for gagging the media."It smacks of totalitarianism," said Peter Murdoch, secretary-treasurer.

The CEP endorsed the NDP in the last election, but we're sure they're not biased. CEP represents 26,000 members in the media including employees at Canada's private broadcasters such as CTV and Global, and brags that it's members have had "far fewer labor disputes" than the CBC.

Speaking of bias, the Globe and Mail has apparently agreed with The Black Rod that news stories about the War on Harper should carry a disclaimer. It's not as complete as we suggested, but its a start.

"He also made the point that The Globe is a politically independent paper, but happened to endorse Mr. Harper and the Conservatives in the last election."
' With a report from Gloria Galloway in Vancouver. She and Mr. Sallot are members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery. '


Winnipeg's other daily newspaper, The Winnipeg Sun, announced a changing of the guard this week.

Stephen Ripley, steps into the elephantine shoes of Bill Davidson as editor-in-chief. Mark Hamm becomes managing editor and Ted Wyman takes over from him at the helm of the sports department.

But take it from The Black Rod, gents, don't get too comfortable in those chairs.

When the Asper Freres deserted Winnipeg for Toronto they looked back with a fresh perspective. We had always believed they wanted the biggest fish in the newspaper pond for their media empire, which is to be centralized in a still-to-be-built media complex just off Portage and Main.

The sharing of stories between Canwest and the Free Press, the deal to print the National Post on FP presses....well, what were we to think. They were canoodling, even if there was no marriage ring.

But the bush telegraph says all bets are off.

The Aspers realized that Quebecor is a printing company that barely tolerates their newspapers as a necessary annoyance. And Quebecor has a struggling newspaper in Winnipeg ripe for an offer.

We're just saying...

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