Monday, May 21, 2007

Rally for Danny and local media

More than a few local commentators have remarked on the issue of Ryan Cleary, managing editor of the Independent, speaking to the Rally for Trust and Confidence (or Truth and Justice . . . or Stand Up For Newfoundland & Labrador. . . or Our Rightful Role in the Federal Budgetary Process . . . take your choice).

And well they should. His participation wasn't a spur of the moment, caught up in the emotion of the day, sort of thing. It was a premeditated, deliberate choice on his part to speak to the crowd and to be seen doing so.

He even printed his remarks in the Independent before he delivered them.

The media pile-on started almost immediately when CBC's noon show host Jim Furlong asked Cleary the tough question on the issue of compromising journalistic integrity. And when the tough questions start, the evasions begin: his response to the question of integrity was to evade the issue and instead drag other journalists (Cochrane and Wescott) into the fray with him.

Meeker on Media covered the issue and helpfully included the text of the Furlong/Cleary conversation. Then Bob Wakeham weighed in in his column in the Sunday Telegram and poxed all the Wescott, Cochrane and Cleary houses.

Now Mr. Cleary takes the time in this week's Independent to again wrap himself in the NL flag by claiming it's not about the Williams agenda, it's all about standing up for NL.

And that sounds reasonable and sensible on the face of it. Who could be opposed to that?

But the issue that eludes Mr. Cleary is that it's OK to have a NL agenda. Many media have agenda of all kinds, as he points out. That's not really the issue. The essential fact he misses is that there are many NL agendas of all kinds. Some are subsets of others, some are in agreement with others. And some are in conflict with others.

For example, the Confederation battles were all about distinct NL agendas for the future of this land. There were three different formal NL agendas in play during those debates: Confederation, Responsible Government and Economic Union. These agenda were not the same and they were in conflict with each other.

But all three had as their core idea that NL status quo had to be improved, and could be improved, albeit in wildly different directions.

Even today, there are many different NL agendas in play. Premier Williams' is just one and he has been largely successful in pushing all other points of view off the stage. Largely, but not entirely. There is no doubt in my mind that the public environment has become far more intolerant of political alternatives than we have seen for a long time. That, though, will change over time.

But regardless of how Premier Williams demonises those who try to put forward a point of view differing from his own as traitors and shameful and incompetent and treacherous and sell-outs, that does not change the fact that there have been, there are now and there will continue to be legitimate public policy and political alternatives for the future of this province which differ from his.

So what does that have to do with Mr. Cleary's decision to play a prominent role at the rally and how does that differ from Cochrane's and Wescott's actions?

Mr. Cleary has chosen the NL agenda of Premier Wiliams and backs it to the hilt.

And he goes further - his publication disparages or ignores other perfectly legitimate NL agendas which do not have at its core political nationalism, economic autarky and bitter historical grievance.

It's not enough to be proud of the province, says Mr. Cleary, you must be proud in exactly the same way as Premier Williams; his pride is the only legitimate form of pride.

By contrast, Cochrane and Wescott have tried to point out the costs of blindly following that path.

The fact that Mr. Cleary cannot make the distinction between a particular form of provincial pride and the general issue of provincial pride is what transforms him into a partisan.

Cochrane and Wescott fulfilled their journalistic responsibilities; the same cannot be said for Cleary.

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