Is the flow of news tightening in Burlington?

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

March 28th, 2019



The Red Tape got a little sticky this morning.

During the address she gave to the Chamber of Commerce crowd on the State of the City, Mayor Marianne Meed Ward told the audience she was going to do something about the complaints she was hearing about problems at city hall.

In her address she said: “… the goal of the task force is to bring businesses together to talk about what’s working, what’s not working, where do you need our help, so that we can eliminate the obstacles to doing business. That’s the red tape part.

“This is about a very focused task. We want to bring people together, and by the summer, have this group give council, and the province where appropriate, advice on what we can do better.”

The announcement was positively received and the event was an announced – it was billed as Red Carpet – Red Tape – the first of several scheduled meetings took place early this morning at the Waterfront Hotel where about 90 people gathered around 10 to12 tables to address three issues:

What isn’t working; What is working – and what are your ideas.

I was in the room standing quietly in the corner taking pictures and listening to the proceedings when I was approached and told that I couldn’t be in the room because I wasn’t registered to attend.

The Gazette was aware the participants were asked to register so that the Mayor’s office could determine how many people were going to show up – they also wanted to cap the audience at 100 people.

The material we saw about the event said nothing about it being media free. We published several articles on the event which is usually a sign that we have taken an interest.

My conversation with Victoria Al-Samadi, the Mayor’s Chief of Communications & Strategic Advisor was interesting – if a little confusing. Her concern was that the business people in the room were not aware that media was going to be in there and she felt that participants would not be as fulsome in their comments as the Mayor wanted them to be if media was looking over their shoulders.

None of the participants said a word while we were in the room. They weren’t expected to talk – they were participating in conversations with colleagues at each table.

Marianne Meed Ward prides herself on her experience as a journalist – she was more of an editor and a columnist rather than a journalist chasing a story – but let us not quibble – the Mayor understands media and uses it very effectively.

The Communications advisor then slipped back into the room (at this point she and I were outside the room) to have a few words with the Mayor – returned and said that I could be in the room once the wrap up began. So the Mayor was Ok with keeping media out of the room. There goes the claim to being transparent.

The conversation with the communications advisor was polite but animated. She talked about having her announce that media would be in the room and they could approach us if they wished. Journalists don’t stand in a corner waiting for people to approach them.

I had some difficulty understanding why the Mayor’s staff felt they had to protect the business people from media.

In correspondence later in the day the Communications advisor said: “I think we can work together very collaboratively in the future and ensure that you have access to the events you would like to cover. As I said, my intention today was simply to ensure our attendees were informed so that they have all the information they need to decide how much they want to share, and the words they use to share it, regarding their own businesses while they were in the room.”

Journalists refer to this as “news filtering” that gets done to control the message. The Region of Halton has more than half a dozen communication advisors who send out media releases about things like the opening of a new traffic round about or that the Region has a better corporate credit rating than the United States.

Fluff for the most part.

The Mayor’s Communications advisor did assure us that we would get a copy of the summary of the material that was produced by each table and we trust that she will follow through.

There is a movement taking place around the world to limit the role media plays. It is rampant in the United States – hopefully Burlington will not take up the practice.

The Gazette is a member of the National News Media Council that advocates for strong local media.

Related news story:

Red Tape issues discussed.

Salt with Pepper is the thoughts, opinions and reflections of the Burlington Gazette publisher

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6 comments to Is the flow of news tightening in Burlington?

  • doug

    This has nothing to do with transperance, the attendies were not politicians. They are business speaks up and don’t need to see their name in newsprint as cry baby or some other term. Sorry the press isn’t needed at all events to show their biasses.

  • Steve

    I’m too am surprised that MMW would go in this direction. She must be getting some bad advise. The whole “people will be afraid to talk in front of the press” doesn’t wash with me.

  • Joe Gaetan

    As the attached article states every small business in Canada has a red tape story. I have one that cost me three months in expenses and lost business, while waiting to get a building permit to make some minor leasehold improvements. Lets hope this effort shines the light where it should be shone, because less red tape means more profitable businesses, means more business tax revenue. Done right perhaps Burlington could win the CFIB Red Scissor award in 2020.

  • Roger

    MMW – do as say not as I do – I may not agree with the take of the Gazette take on some of the news of the day – however this effort is being paid with taxpayer money – why not transparency

  • Mike Ettlewood

    I believe that our new mayor has a strong belief in and commitment to open and transparent deliberations. I also believe that she is not being particularly well-served by her senior staff who have never functioned in a public service position and really don’t understand that different dynamics are at play. I would put this down to a misstep rather than an indication of future direction. I sincerely hope so.

  • Fraser: aka D.Duck

    Transparency breeds Honesty which fosters Respect at all levels.

    MMW should never forget this.

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