Harper issuing Gag Orders? View From the Hill by Keith Beardsley – Cornwall Ontario – June 8, 2010

Cornwall ON – It’s quite amusing to see the media response to a so called “gag order” issued by PMO.

This email told MPs not to discuss home mortgages with two reporters working on a story.

Why the media shock and outrage? It reminds me of the feigned indignation of MPs in Question Period. Since 2006 the media have been complaining about PMO message control, so what is new about them doing it this time?

To begin with, after the row over Helena Guergis’s mortgage, one would think every MP and public office holder would have enough brains to double check that they were compliant with the disclosure rules.

Every party exercises media control over MPs in some manner. The most common way being through talk points or suggested media lines. Most MPs will stick to them simply because they want to be good team players and that’s the route to political advancement.

It’s also easier for any party in power to control their respective MPS because the rewards that can be offered to their MPs are so much greater. These can include anything from being Chairs of committees to becoming a Parliamentary Secretary or even a minister.

Opposition parties have a different carrot to offer their MPs. This takes the form of high profile critic posts handed out by the Leader or a key position in the shadow cabinet.

MPs who continually violate these unwritten rules soon find themselves relegated to a minor role or moved to the back benches well out of camera range in the House of Commons. This is one reason so many media reports quote anonymous MPs as they know the consequence of speaking out.

Of course this can all breakdown when there is a weak leader or when different factions in a party go to war with each other over a policy issue or leadership issues. Watch for this to happen as the Liberals implode over Ignatief’s leadership in the coming weeks and months.

Keith Beardsley is a senior strategist for True North Public Affairs in Ottawa, as well as a blogger and political analyst. He can often be found running or cycling on his favorite bike trails.

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