The direct line to the press gallery at the Saskatchewan Legislature has been cut.
The phone number is still listed in the Saskatchewan government’s online telephone directory, but when you try to call it an automated, matter-of-fact voice tells you that the number you have reached is not in service. It tells you to check the number and try again.
Once upon a time, the direct line was used by visiting journalists who didn’t have office space. Leader-Post legislative columnist Murray Mandryk, who has been a political reporter since 1983, said that staff journalists have their own private phone lines and that the press gallery number has probably been rendered obsolete by the rise of cell phones.
While it may not seem like a big deal that the press gallery no longer has a general phone line, its loss could be considered a metaphor for the changing environment of political reporting and journalism across the board.
“Political reporting is monitoring how our democracy is doing, and keeping a watch on the institutions at the base of our democratic processes,” said Leader-Post legislative reporter David Fraser. “Without journalism, you don’t have democracy. Journalism is a public good. It’s very much needed in any sort of democratic institution because a free press is representative of the public, tasked with keeping close watch on — and holding to account — not just elected officials, but the entire institution that is government.”
There are few places where the value of good journalism has been put to the test more than it has in the United States since the election of Donald Trump. He took up Obama’s mantle with the promise of giving America back to the people.
As the new president, Trump has been scrutinized by journalists, and has been critical of them in turn. He has called news outlets like CNN and the New York Times ‘fake’ and has even gone as far as to refer to the media as the ‘opposition party.’
Stefani Langenegger, legislative reporter for the CBC, says that Trump is not the first person to do that.
“I started covering politics in 1999, and generally the government always gets annoyed with political reporters and starts to say that we’re working too closely to the opposition,” Langenegger said. “I’ve been accused of that by both the governing Saskatchewan Party and the governing NDP in my time covering politics.”
Fraser says that he’s noticed an increase of criticism from politicians in Saskatchewan targeted at media outlets.
“The CBC has been doing a lot of reporting on the Global Transportation Hub,” Fraser said. “More than once Premier Brad Wall has criticized in some pretty strong language the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.”
Presently there are six staff reporters at the legislature representing four different news outlets. Murray Mandryk and David Fraser are the only ones who could be considered full time. Political reporters are stretched thin, and there is little time to cover all the issues.
“If I wanted to write exactly whatever the government wanted, I guess I’d go work for government,” said Mandryk. “There’s four or five hundred public relations people, communicators working for government and there’s one of me.”
Perhaps U.S, president John F. Kennedy said it best in 1961: “No president should fear public scrutiny of his program. For from that scrutiny comes understanding, and from that understanding comes support or opposition. And both are necessary.”