Media: A group therapy session with Canada's BBC: Michael Leapman listened as journalists agonised over the ethics and control of political reporting

BEING closeted in an Ottawa hotel for two days and nights with 200 Canadian broadcasters, agonising over media accountability and the ethics of covering elections, sounds like a recipe for a very long weekend. In fact, it raised universal issues of how journalists cope with the sophistication and determination of the political 'spin doctors' who seek to influence campaign coverage.

The meeting was organised for selected members of its radio and television staffs by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, an organisation modelled on the BBC. There will be a general election in Canada before the end of the year and this was part of CBC's preparation for it.

It was fun inventing a cast list for a Canadian version of Drop the Dead Donkey from the assembled broadcasters. Which were the glamorous newscaster, her partner, the fading roue, the sassy news editor, neurotic executive and numbskull reporter? There were plenty of candidates.

The question I was most often asked was: 'Would the BBC ever hold a debate like this?' Certainly not, I would answer. If the BBC called 200 of its journalists together it would be for John Birt, the director-general, or Tony Hall, head of news and current affairs, to tell them how to cover elections, not to chew the fat over it. That is what the famed 'mission to explain' is about.

It is not only Canadian journalists who feel that control of political reporting is slipping away from them. Politicians everywhere can now choose how to promote themselves. They can avoid being grilled by serious political specialists by going on the less demanding phone-ins or talk shows, as America's presidential candidates did last year.

Margaret Thatcher pioneered this technique with her preference for cosy radio interviews with Jimmy Young - but across the Atlantic nothing is deemed to have happened until the phenomenon has been given a catchy name. Last year, the spread of alternative news outlets - not just talk shows but Cable News Network and even news slots on cable channels devoted mainly to pop videos - was dubbed the 'new news'.

Proof that it had reached Canada came this month during the Ottawa convention that chose Kim Campbell as leader of the Conservative Party, and thus as the new prime minister. Apart from the usual flood of regular reporters, a crew from Much Music, a cable music channel, reported the event in the flip and casual style that appeals to its young audience.

Traditional journalists, such as those from the CBC, naturally resent this intrusion into what was once their exclusive preserve. They feel the same way that British practitioners of breakfast television did last year when The Big Breakfast began winning audiences. The emergence of new news suggests that viewers and listeners are dissatisfied with the rigid, formulaic format of the old news. Possible reasons for this were suggested by CBC journalists:

'We use too much jargon. We're like doctors who don't know how to explain things to their patients.' (This may have been a comment on a colleague who had spoken of 'a fall-back position in a post-deference era'.)

'The media are too lazy to find ways of conveying complex policy issues.'

'We're all boring and we're sitting around discussing why we're boring.'

'Self-importance killed more journalists than booze.'

'It's not rocket science to be a journalist. I feel it's a cop-out on life.'

Criticism of a different kind came from a prominent politician, Harvie Andre, who is due to retire this year. He accused the Ottawa press of being institutionally critical of the government.

'This country can survive its politics but can it survive its journalists?' he wondered. 'People say: 'Don't shoot the messenger,' but if the messenger keeps on screwing up, why not shoot him?'

There is no convincing answer, which is why one journalist resorted to an unconvincing one. It was, he maintained, bad form for an outgoing minister, with an inflation-proof pension and lucrative directorships in the offing, to criticise underpaid scribblers.

Mr Andre chuckled. 'I've noticed that about journalists; they're extraordinarily thin-skinned. They can give it out but they can't take it.' Game, set and match.

A delegate summed it all up. 'For many of us this is the largest group therapy session we've ever attended. I hope we all feel better about ourselves.' Whoever said Canadians were dull?

News
In 2006, Pluto was reclassified as a 'dwarf planet'
scienceBut will it be reinstated?
Voices
voicesI like surprises - that's why I'm bringing them back to politics, writes Nigel Farage
Arts and Entertainment
Adam Levine plays a butcher who obsessively stalks a woman in Maroon 5's 'Animals' music video
music'Animals' video 'promotes sexual violence against women'
News
people Biographer says cinema’s enduring sex symbol led a secret troubled life
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
newsGlobal index has ranked the quality of life for OAPs - but the UK didn't even make it into the top 10
Arts and Entertainment
Anthony Horowitz will write the next 007 novel
booksAnthony Horowitz to write new instalment in spy series for 2015
News
people

Kirstie Allsopp has waded into the female fertility debate again

Sport
Kicking on: Nathaniel Clyne is relishing the challenge of the Premier League after moving from Crystal Palace
footballSurprises include a first ever call-up for one Southampton star
Voices
4 May 2013: The sun rises over Tower Bridge in London. Temperatures across the UK could be higher than several European holiday destinations by Monday, including parts of Italy and France (Andy Hepburn/PA)
voices
News
The moon observed in visible light, topography and the GRAIL gravity gradients
science

...and it wasn't caused by an asteroid crash, as first thought

News
Researchers say a diet of fatty foods could impede smell abilities
scienceMeasuring the sense may predict a person's lifespan
Arts and Entertainment
The first batch of coach and ticket packages has sold out for next year's Glastonbury
musicIt looks like you're going to have to be quick to get tickets this year
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Extras
indybest
News
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission, 1st yr OTE £30-£40k : SThree:...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel your sales role is l...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £45000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Key featuresA highly motivated ...

Account Director / AD

£Competitive + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: An Account Director with a ba...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?