Journalists have the dubious distinction of receiving information from both public and private interests who do their best to spin the message to put themselves in the best possible light.
Our challenge is to dig into those intentionally misleading messages, clearly designed to obfuscate the truth.
Take the press release for the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Document Act introduced by the federal government earlier this year. It touted a deep concern for protection against the misuse of personal information, and the presser gushed that “trust is indeed the linchpin of the digital economy.”
That press release failed to mention that StatCan officials were simultaneously and secretly trying to access Canadian’s personal banking information. It gave the release a sort of Orwellian doublespeak flavour.
This spring the federal Fisheries Department imposed crippling regulations that closed the doors of fishing operators in our region. The move was accompanied by a statement that said the government was taking the actions to “protect the communities and jobs that depend on chinook survival.”
In George Orwell’s 1984 he defined “doublethink” as the ability to simultaneously hold two contradictory thoughts and believe both of them – Fisheries seemed to have mastered that ability.
Closer to home, last year we received a statement from a local school official who admonished us for the use of the term anti-bullying.
“We don’t really love the label ‘anti-bullying’. We’ll be advocating ‘kindness-promotion,’” they said.
The language may have been politically correct, but did little to help the Grade 8 student whose experience with bullying we reported shortly thereafter. Apparently, the bullies didn’t get the kindness memo.
Then, last week, the Ministry of Education released a statement that acknowledged that there were mistakes in the Grade 12 exam marks they’d released. Their error had the potential of affecting the students’ quest for admission to post-secondary institutions.
But instead of admitting their mistake, the ministry blamed the situation on “an anomaly in the tabulation of Grade 12 exam results.”
The term “anomaly” was an interesting choice as is defined as a deviation from the norm.
More than 24 hours later, they finally copped to “human error” as the cause. While unfortunate, human error amongst bureaucrats is far from anomalous.
It got us thinking. Despite the spin and warping of truth, it still matters. Facts do not cease to exist because they are hidden behind jargon and we all have a responsibility to seek the truth, even in today’s decidedly Orwellian times.
Tim Collins is a Sooke News Mirror reporter