“Little like a marriage” – MP, reporter have different views on nature of relationship between media, politicians

By Cassidy Jones

Jan. 26, 2017

Politicians and the media need each other.

At least that’s what P.E.I. MP Sean Casey told students at Holland College during his presentation on Jan. 23.

A common misconception about MPs is that they only work when they’re in Ottawa, and often the media don’t understand that, Casey said.

“My job in P.E.I. is to go where the people are and talk with them.”

One day a month, he spends his day knocking on doors, he said.

“I find it really important and appreciated to get out there.”

And when he finds something that the people want the government to know, Casey takes it with him to Ottawa, he said.

“I land it on the lap of someone who can do something about it.”

And sometimes that means standing up in the House of Commons, he said.

As for his relationship with the media, Casey carries along a card with him that he received after becoming an MP and completing his media training.

On the card is a list of nine or so beginnings to sentences, which is how an MP is instructed to answer a question from a journalist.

Teresa Wright, the Guardian’s chief political reporter, laughed when she heard about this card.

She always knew that politicians were sent to media training, Wright said.

“But to know they carry around crib notes in their wallets is something else.”

When it comes to question period in the House of Commons, Casey and Wright have differing opinions.

Nothing gets done in question period, Casey said.

“It’s theatre.”

Teresa Wright takes issue with that.

“That’s why the public has been becoming more cynical towards the government.”

Question period is the chance for the Opposition to get the answers, Wright said.

“How much better would it be if they gave real answers to these questions?”

When you’re on the government side, it’s your job to be accountable to the Opposition and to Canadians, she said.

“Politicians in power want to take credit. And the Opposition wants to criticize.”

And when it comes to working with the media, the Opposition tends to work with them a lot more, Wright said.

“We’re critical for them.”

The relationship between the media and the government is a lot like a marriage, Sean Casey said.

“You need each other but you don’t always get along.”

But politicians need the media a lot more than the media needs them, Wright said.

“They want to be able to get their message out. We’re critical for them.”

But sometimes, the news value doesn’t include a politicians quote, Wright said.

Late in 2016, P.E.I. government announced that they were looking at putting money towards buying new buses for the Stratford, Charlottetown and Cornwall loop.

However, when the budget was announced, it was clear that the only buses that Trius Transport could afford would be used buses.

Casey said the public was angry with the government, saying they were treating Islanders poorly and “screwing them over”.

The Guardian published an editorial on the story, but did not ask any politicians for a comment.

Casey wasn’t happy and wrote a letter to Wright, asking why she hadn’t asked for a comment so that they could explain to the public their decision.

Wright said she hadn’t requested a comment because the story wasn’t about the government, it was about the people and how the news of used buses affected actual Islanders.

“I found it to be a mental chess game,” Casey said.

But it’s all just a delicate balance, Wright said.

“Our job is to bear witness to what happens in our community.”