There’s a standoff playing out between the Prime Minister and the media. Their delicate relationship has been well documented since Stephen Harper first became PM. The narrative shows no signs of slowing down.
The latest instalment in the standoff played out yesterday. Media were advised that only camera operators would be allowed in to record an address by the PM to his caucus to kick off the day of the Throne Speech. This did not sit well with the media who collectively decided if reporters would not be allowed in to cover the speech and ask questions of the PM after it was delivered, they would boycott the event. [UPDATE 11:25amET: Thank you to blog post by Sun Media’s national bureau chief David Akin in which he notes “…the PMO was looking to pick a fight with the Parliamentary Press Gallery to help with fundraising and to rally the Conservative base.“] Sun Media was the only organization to send a camera.
Not missing a beat, the PMO live-tweeted the speech — 39 tweets in all which drew a lot of criticism. This effort resulted in the PM’s second most active day on Twitter. His most active was July 15 when he issued 51 tweets announcing his cabinet appointments. His third most active day was January 28 when his office documented a “day in the life” of the PM in 28 tweets.
The PMO also published a video of yesterday’s caucus speech.
So who won?
Some might say the PMO scored a victory by short-circuiting the media and getting his remarks directly into the wild where Canadians would discover them through an emanation outward from the most active participants in the online chatter. There is definitely merit in that. However, the PM is not the most social guy within the norms of digital culture. That means most people who aren’t onside with him either ignore him or take the opportunities to fire salvos at him online. As of 7amET today, the video of the speech posted by the PMO had been viewed 7,201 times. I would argue that’s a little on the low side particularly since that same video wasn’t played by the media networks (save Sun).
Research my company FullDuplex.ca conducted (see below for more information) in partnership with Abacus Data and MediaStyle reveals that online information and interaction has a significant, and likely growing, role in shaping Canadian opinions. In fact, 41% of Canadians indicate their opinion has been shaped by something they saw online.
Online has a greater reach than the 41% would indicate, though. Our research and experience also show that what happens within the political chatter online often ends up in the news coverage Canadians consume on television, in print and on the radio. Journalists who cover the political and public affairs beat watch the online chatter and frequently refer to it, draw on it or even get directed by it in their coverage of political issues. That means what happens online is, at the very least, helping to shape the story getting to Canadians.
There’s even more. Programs like CBC’s Power and Politics integrate online chatter into their programming. The PnP team follows the #cdnpoli hashtag and encourages their audience to tweet directly to Evan Solomon during the program and invite viewers to participate in a fresh poll conducted during each two-hour program.
There is some media coverage of the speech today filed under the heading Tories decry ‘new low’ for media after standoff over reporters’ access to Harper speech.
UPDATED 11:30amET… When I first published this post, I closed with “Personally, I think the PMO suffered a flesh wound in this battle.” However, David Akin’s aforementioned post describes what happened as a strategic fundraising move by the PMO which depended on the media playing in to their hand and boycotting the event. Which means, it would appear, the media absorbed the flesh wound.
How Canadian opinions are shaped by online information and interactions
You can download a copy of our Online Opinion Shaping Survey: How do Canadians engage politically with social media? and sign up for a half-day seminar during which David Colleto, Ian Capstick and I will expand on our findings and offer guidance on shaping Canadian opinions at OpinionShaping.ca.