Thursday, March 12, 2009

A broken spin cycle, I hope

I have a tendency to refer - only half-jokingly - to people working in public relations and media relations as those on the "dark side." It just sounds scary; like they're trying to create and sell their own reality to the public, instead of just telling their side of the story.

Maybe the spin in Alberta is worrisome to me because after living in Ontario and Manitoba, both places that have changed ruling parties since the Internet came into our lives, I can't understand how there's anyone else to blame except people in the current government. The latest stories out of Alberta Environment are especially troubling.

First, we learn from the CBC nobody at Alberta Environment mentioned Suncor and two of its contractors were facing charges for allegedly dumping untreated waste into the Athabasca River, and fudging the facts about it - and - they were charged more than one year ago. Minister Rob Renner says it's not their style to say anything before a company has its day in court.

That's scary because maybe those speaking for the government feel there's been enough negative publicity about the
oil tar oil sands and they'll speak only when spoken to.

It's not as scary if those around the Minister knew nothing about the charges and this was back in the enforcement section. Wait, my bad, that may be scarier.

Then, the day after, CTV goes off on a dig of their own and finds Suncor is facing more charges nobody trumpeted in a government news release. That came shortly after the Environment Minister and the Premier said things were going to be open, honest and transparent. Oh, after this one. Probably?

This is scary if nobody bothered to do damage control and prepare for more reporters to run energy company names through court databases the day after a fairly big story. Heck, there might have even been some muted adoration for the appearance of a new approach from Alberta Environment if they had made this public on their own after questions about court case #1.

You can certainly leave things to the courts and you can make reporters work for the story without news releases. You can't, however, try to show everyone you're serious about being green after one incident, then hide behind the court process when nobody has pictures of oily ducks to call you out on your
connections to the energy industry environmental record.

The public has a right to know if their government is taking action for alleged abuses. You'd think that would be something to trumpet.

Now after these stories, people in the Alberta government appear to either be hiding something(s) or not having any idea what's happening between various areas of even the same ministry.

Ultimately, I'm not sure what I would prefer; that this has been about disconnect or straight up deceit. We're equally screwed in both scenarios, but one can be fixed (theoretically) with communication and clear governmental processes.


Elle Bee... said...

It's important to note that PR people can only do so much -- especially in governments. So much gets messed up in the politics, that PR people aren't allowed to do what they would like to do. As in any organization, PR people can advise all they want, but at the end of the day it's the big guys who make the decisions.

Jeff said...

True enough.
It's a scary thought to think those in charge (ministers) would not want to talk about something like these charges.
It shouldn't be up to PR staff or enforcement staff or anybody else to leak something to the media (which isn't the case here), it should all be part of an open debate.
And reporters should always be digging, which is the case here.

Lina said...

I absolutely GUARENTEE you that ministries have major communication issues within their own ministries - and the problem is EXPONENTIAL between Ministries. I work for a not-for-profit and we have to lobby three different Ministies. To put it lightly, it's hell. And don't even get me started on the Health Ministry that's still trying to re-organize... communications are atrocious