Itís all too easy to dismiss Prime Minister Stephen Harperís recent claims of the media bias against him as irrational and domineering. After all, his question reform ideas and his recent actions come close to infringing on the freedom of the press, a principle most Canadians regard as vital to our democratic society. However, Harperís criticisms of the media should not be dismissed for this reason; a free press is only valuable to the public if it is as unbiased, well-informed, and balanced as possible.
Many attribute Harperís claim that the media are prejudiced against him to his controlling personality and inability to adjust to the spotlight role. But even given these characteristics, itís still possible Harperís claim holds some truth.
Most of the national media personnel in Ottawa, many of whom have university degrees, likely hold a moderate-left leniency characteristic of the educated middle class. This bias may not be overtly identifiable, but often can seep through in events covered or quotes selected for a story.
Many claim the harsh media scrutiny during the Liberal sponsorship scandal serves as adequate proof that the media donít favour the Liberals. However, the scandal was of such interest and significance that it would be beyond incompetent for the media to ignore it. The wide coverage of the event cannot be used to show fairness; rather, the smaller issues the press choose to expose or ignore would be a far better indication of bias.
Harperís media sensitivity is cited as the cause of his recent reactions, but is this necessarily a bad thing? The mediaís portrayal of Belinda Stronach when she arrived on the political scene was hardly justified, and the same goes for the jabs at Stephen Harper for his dress style or for shaking hands with his son.
Highly visible politicians must take bad press in stride. However, they should not be subjected to personal attacks, skewing of their intended messages, or consistently biased reporting.
Harperís plan to choose which reporters question him is faulty in that itís clearly intended to help the government avoid hard questions and pressure writers for favourable stories. However, his criticism of the media should not be brushed aside. Constant criticism is necessary in keeping not only our government accountable, but our press as well.