Wednesday, April 5, 2006

pecking order or bottom of the food chain

MP regrets column's contents
Salmon Arm Observer, Apr 05 2006

"I've had better days," was Colin Mayes' response Friday when contacted in his Ottawa office.

The Okanagan-Shuswap MP was feeling the spotlight of national media attention after comments in a column he submitted to newspapers in his riding were picked up nationally.

"Actually, quite frankly, that's a little bit about that I'm a little green around here. When I sent it to the local paper, I didn't expect it to go nationally. I was a little caught off guard."

Mayes subsequently issued a news release clarifying the comments in the column after being contacted by the Prime Minister's Office.

"It (the column) did come to the attention of our communications people. I sent them a copy of what I had said. Even though they understood the message, the fact was I had a poor choice of analogy."

Mayes said he wrote the column because he took exception to an article in a Vernon paper that criticized the new government's restrictions on media access.

Asked if he now feels a victim of the media restrictions he was defending, he said no.

"The government was not telling me not to say what I want to. On reviewing the information I wrote, I thought, 'yeah, I guess if somebody read this they might take it the wrong way.'"

Mayes' column stated: "What the Prime Minister has done is to inform the media that when he has something to say he will say it. The media has blatantly painted a picture that our government is not open and transparent. We were elected just two months ago to run the affairs of the country for the people, not to accommodate the media.

"May I remind the media that they are a vital part of democracy. Their role is to communicate to citizens and by doing so keep elected representatives accountable."

He went on to write that the public has been asking for more accountability from those who have the public trust.

"We have recently witnessed corporate accountants and corporate executives in handcuffs being held accountable for breaking public trust in the investment world."

He then stated the government's first order of business will be to introduce the Federal Accountability Act that will prosecute elected and senior public servants who break the public trust.

His concluding paragraph stated: "There is another group that has the public trust and that is the media. Not all media, politicians and business executives are bad. Boy, would the public get accurate and true information if a few reporters were hauled away to jail! Maybe it is time that we hauled off in handcuffs reporters that fabricate stories, or twist information and even falsely accuse citizens. We know this will never happen because the media would cry 'censorship,' 'authoritarian state,' and all would be aghast, but the truth is we need ethical leadership from the media too!"

During Friday's interview, Mayes said the jail comments were made tongue in cheek. "I made the comments of hauling off in handcuffs in jest. There's no way I believe that should be done. I wanted to make the point, we all have to be made accountable who have the public trust."

Asked about media access restrictions regarding cabinet, Mayes said: "The intent is not to shut cabinet down. It's just to communicate to the PMO office so he's aware what the announcements are, so he's not caught off guard."

He likened it to a "pecking order" of communications.

Mayes' news release clarifying his column stated: "I wish to retract without reservation the comments I made... I fully respect the freedom of the press. I regret my choice of words and the message that they conveyed. As I pointed out in the article, journalists and the media play a vital role in keeping elected representatives accountable. I look forward to building constructive working relationships with my local media."

Mayes said he'll be sticking to other issues and not discussing the media in future columns.

"There's no two ways about it, the fact I'm a little bit green and naive played a role in my judgment."

He added that he hopes he hasn't embarrassed any of his constituents.

"If I did, I apologize."