A free press for a free and democratic society

The role of journalism in Pallister’s Manitoba

Illustration by Gabrielle Funk

COVID-19 has been the ultimate test of leaders across the world. In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s popularity spiked during the first wave, although Ford has seen wavering support since. 

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, on the other hand, had a 32 per cent approval rating in December, the lowest among provincial leaders in Canada. As of late, Pallister has turned interviews around on reporters for asking questions about his failed policies and reporting on his questionable trips to Costa Rica prior to the pandemic.

However, it is not the role of the media to pat politicians on the back or create public policy. Media exists to report the news. When a situation is dire, when politicians behave irresponsibly, the news will reflect that, no matter what politicians do or do not want reporters to cover. 

In November, Pallister turned a question about his government’s pitiful pandemic response onto CBC reporter Rosemary Barton during a live show. 

Pallister has failed to support Manitobans by undercutting healthcare before the pandemic, offering little help to low-income Manitobans, save for a one-time $200 benefit for seniors and people with disabilities on social assistance, failing to protect Manitobans in long-term care and reopening the economy before it was safe to do so. 

These failures and oversights have been detrimental. The public deserves answers, which is why Barton questioned whether or not Pallister’s recovery plan was as successful as he says. The funding for her salary is partially paid by taxpayers, just like Pallister’s. His job is to make policy. Her job is to keep him accountable for it by asking questions and broadcasting his answers. 

In January, Pallister also questioned the integrity of Winnipeg Free Press reporter Larry Kusch for writing another story about Pallister’s time spent in Costa Rica during his term as premier. Pallister sidestepped a question about the health minister by blasting Kusch’s most recent coverage of Pallister’s Costa Rica vacations, even going so far as to say “I have to ask myself if that is professional journalism.”

But professional journalism involves asking difficult questions, especially when politicians want the issues to go away. 

Pallister seems to have a fundamental misunderstanding about the role that journalists play in the political sphere. Reporters are not here to pat politicians on the back or focus only on the positive. Newspapers aren’t a high-school yearbook, celebrating a dismal year with pictures of prom and the curling team. Good journalists aren’t just going to repeat talking points as dictated by governments. 

When elected officials make decisions that impact the lives of their constituents, it has to be reported in order to maintain a free and democratic society. Our situation is dire. People are dying. Our premier siphoned away funding from medical care. These decisions have cost more lives than we would have lost under a responsible government. These were all reported under a free press. If institutions cannot act with integrity on behalf of all Manitobans, their constituents need to know in order to demand change and vote according to behaviour, not just party lines.

Hannah Foulger is a disabled theatre artist and writer originally from the Haldimand tract in Cambridge, Ont.

Published in Volume 75, Number 19 of The Uniter (February 25, 2021)

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