It is being reported that Stephen Harper is fighting with the national press once again, reminiscent of when he first became Prime Minister and how he took the unprecedented step of alienating the national press gallery, refusing to give interviews, and devaluing their purpose; however when one looks at the advice he gave to the fledgling leader of the Canadian Alliance Stockwell Day in 2000 Harper's motivations become all the more clearer.
As president of the National Citizens' Coalition Stephen Harper in a September 23 2000 article for the Globe and Mail explained why a leader like Stockwell Day 'picks fights' with the media. The article reported:
"Generally speaking, the Ottawa press gallery would not be in favour of Stockwell Day's political agenda and he knows that," Mr. Harper said. "By picking a fight with the press, it kind of forewarns the public to view some of the media coverage skeptically."Stephen Harper when he was elected Prime Minister in 2006 adopted this very same strategy but to an exaggerated level. He has rarely entered the National Press Theatre and continues to choose the few reporters who may ask him questions. And though he gradually warmed up to the media throughout his first term, upon his re-election he has once again adopted this strategy of fighting with the media.
Mr.Day may also have been trying to distract attention from other party leaders, Mr. Harper said, and some reporters have indeed had to cut away from interviews with other politicians to attend Mr. Day's press conferences this week."
In light of this re-emergent hostility from the Prime Minister the Canadian Press has suggested it is Harper's way of trying to control the media, however as the 2000 article suggests, there are other factors involved. Stephen Harper does not only want to control who asks him questions or what topics can be discussed but he wants to control the public's perception of the media, and his relative importance to them compared to other party leaders.
Ignoring the media allows Harper to become the centre of their attention when he does decide to talk, overshadowing those other politicians who are regularly friendly to reporters. Not only that but having public quarrels with the media induces Canadians to question reporters negative stories on Harper. In the end these factors lower the public's perception of the media while elevating his own, leaving Canadians with less information about a Prime Minister who wants it that way.
As the Globe and Mail article points out, Stephen Harper's decision to fight once again with the media is not based on some moral or on some noble reason; but as he himself explained, out of a sheer strategic concern that is only motivated by political opportunism.