/Democracy dimming in darkness

Democracy dimming in darkness

By Jim Poling Sr. 
a follow-up-up to last week’s column about how angry, autocratic
politicians are working to turn voters against journalists.
ask questions about questionable government affairs. They dig out facts
and write stories that autocratic politicians don’t like because they
are neither flattering, nor favourable.
the autocrats call the journalists names, such as losers and enemies of
the people, and urge voters to turn on them. That thinking seeps down
into the government’s agencies and their bureaucrats, important sources
of information about a government’s work.When its employees follow the
government’s lead, journalists are cut off from the help they need to
produce the stories that the public wants and needs. 
Ontario government provided an example of this with its non-helpful
approach to journalists trying to cover the story of two teenage girls
missing in Algonquin Park.
 I was involved in that story, having
been asked by some southern Ontario newspapers to drive to Algonquin
Park to assist with the reporting.
arrived at Smoke Lake air base on Highway 60 and saw the parking area
jammed with police, paramedic and volunteer searchers’ vehicles. I went
through the open gate and into the aircraft hangar where three OPP
officers sat at a table.
asked them if this was the search command centre and whether the news
media would be allowed here. One officer, a polite and respectful young
guy (he even called me sir!), said he did not know but he would ask his
sargeant on my behalf.
he left, I was grabbed by the arm and yanked around. I found myself
looking at a belligerent Algonquin Park ranger who demanded: “Do you not
know how to read?”
That I learned later was a presumed reference to a No Unauthorized Persons sign out by the open gate.
first thought was to say: “Yes, I can read: enough to have written and
published 10 books despite being blind in one eye. Now get your paws off
and let me finish my business with the OPP.” 
experienced reporters understand that their job is to stay focused on
the story, not to fight with people in authority. Their editors have
lawyers to do that.
I was being escorted off the property an OPP officer ran up and told me
that reporters would not be permitted at the search command area but
could get information about the search through the OPP media office in
Smith Falls. I thanked him for his help, while resisting the temptation
to ask him if he would mind giving human relations lessons to Ranger
result was that myself, and a few other media types who arrived later,
stood on the Highway 60 shoulder hoping to pick up bits and pieces of
what was happening with the search. That created a dangerous situation
in which the media people, and passing motorists, could have been hurt.
reporter, trying to read her cellphone screen in the bright sunlight,
backed into the traffic lane. If a couple of others had not  shouted at
her, she could have been hit by a passing car.
authorities at Smoke Lake were just doing their jobs, although the park
ranger could use training on how to do it without the storm trooper
bosses, the autocrats at Queen’s Park, were not doing theirs. If there
had been an accident out on the highway, the blame would have rested
solely with them.
This is a government that despises the media, in
fact is afraid of it, and will do whatever it can to stop journalists
from doing their jobs.
governments know how to handle these situations. A professional
government operation would have had an information officer at Smoke
Lake; someone to organize journalists into a safe area where they could
view comings and goings without bothering search teams.
That’s how it works in a democratic world. 
angry autocrats know nothing better than shouting slogans about
journalists being “the enemy of the people” and scumbags working “in the

The Washington Post masthead warns that “Democracy Dies in Darkness.”
I see our democracy dimming every day, and it has nothing to do with advancing age, or having one blind eye.