(And the main stream media lets them get away with it)
The Winnipeg Police Service was one of the first police agencies in Canada to conduct daily media briefings.
Daily media briefings give the police service the opportunity to notify the media about major crimes that have occurred in the city. It also gives the media the opportunity to ask questions. Media briefings serve a valuable role in terms of police accountability to the public and assist in ensuring transparency.
During the months of March, April and May of 2009 the Winnipeg Police Service cancelled the daily media briefings on 29 occasions. That’s 31% of the time.
In March, April and May of 2010 the Service cancelled 38 media briefings. That’s 41% of the time.
Why is the Service cancelling so many media briefings? From looking at the crime numbers it would seem that there is no shortage of crimes to report on. Could it be that the media has lost interest in crime issues and the workings of the police service? Perhaps. It seems to me that the main stream media is placing less emphasis on the police beat than they have in the past.
Another theory might be that the Police Service is bowing to political pressure to minimize crime issues in the period leading up to civic elections.
When the media asks the tough questions it challenges the police to perform at a higher level. It results in a closer examination of the issues at hand both in terms of public debate and discussion internally within the police service. The public safety agenda and public safety policy are not only dependent on those who do the patrolling and arresting but also on open public debate of the issues. The role of the media is to help focus that debate. We need the media to ferret out the pertinent issues and ensure they are brought to the attention of the public.
There is a delicate balance between institutions that has evolved over many years. The role of the media as a watch dog over public spending, public policy and policing has been part of that balance.
It seems unfortunate that the main stream media in the performance of its ‘watch dog’ role has gotten old or tired or perhaps lost its teeth. The public needs a media that does more than gnaw on the bones they are thrown. The public needs a media that actually goes out and looks where the bones are buried and unearths the issues and subjects them to debate and scrutiny.
The role of the media is not to create a comfort zone for public institutions such as the police. Their role is to create a comfort zone for the public When the media does its job, the public gets closer to what it needs and deserves.