Friday March 10, 2017

Does public trust suffer when journalists cross over to work in politics?

From L to R: Bruce Cheadle, formerly with the Canadian Press, is now director of communications for the president of the treasury board, Scott Brison; Laurie Graham of CTV is now principal secretary to Nova Scotia premier, Stephen McNeil; and David Taylor, formerly with CTV National News, now works for Liberal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould.

From L to R: Bruce Cheadle, formerly with the Canadian Press, is now director of communications for the president of the treasury board, Scott Brison; Laurie Graham of CTV is now principal secretary to Nova Scotia premier, Stephen McNeil; and David Taylor, formerly with CTV National News, now works for Liberal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould. (Twitter)

Listen 22:09

Read story transcript

Since the Liberal government took power in October 2015, at least half-a-dozen prominent journalists have moved from jobs in media to jobs inside the corridors of power. 

Some have taken positions as communications directors for cabinet ministers; others as policy advisors, or with posts directly inside the Prime Minister's Office.

The latest hire was former National Post columnist Michael Den Tandt in February — Twitter exploded.

Paul Adams, an associate professor and Parliament Hill reporter for The Globe and Mail, finds the response to Den Tandt's new position an overreaction.

"If you look for examples south of the border, you see lots of journalists who move back and forth between the media and government," he tells The Current's Friday host Marcia Young.

"I think in doing so they actually enrich both their skills that reporters have in terms of analysis, in terms of writing, in terms of understanding the media landscape, that they can bring to government."

James Fitz-Morris

James Fitz-Morris was a CBC Parliamentary Bureau reporter and now works as a director of communications for Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Carolyn Bennett. (CBC)

Adams suggests it's not a bad idea for people who have spent time in the government to come back into the media.

"I wouldn't want to see the press corps completely filled with people who were former government people but I think that they bring knowledge to the press corps which is valuable."

He argues no one seems to protest when reporters leave the industry to work in business, lobbying, or for NGOs.

"These are all also institutions that they cover," Adam says.

"Where are they supposed to go? Sell shoes or go into the monastery? I'm not sure that would be good for the religious institutions."

Michel Cormier, executive director for news and current affairs at the CBC's French-language service, Radio-Canada tells Young, leaving media for politics means the door is closed as a journalist.

"It's always very difficult for a news organization when this happens because then people say 'Well, they were tainted all along.' It's always a very difficult situation for us."

Cormier says it comes down to credibility: "How can you be objective if you actually toed a party line for a number of years?"

"I think it's even more, you know, serious these days ... when the trust in the media and public institutions is at a historic low," he adds.

"I think it is legitimate for people to want to do this. It's fine if you want to serve in that capacity but once you've crossed that threshold I think it's very difficult to come back."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post — including hearing from a person who went from a government job to work in the media.

This segment was produced by The Current's Kristin Nelson and Samira Mohyeddin.