Sunday, September 12, 2010

media management

In my last post, I called attention to BC Finance Minister Colin Hansen's statement, "the most important piece of information ... was a chart that shows the marginal effective tax rate on investment province by province..."

What's interesting about corporate tax policy is that even the left wing is often supportive if they are informed and independent (the writers over at are generally quite informed but most appear to be on a union payroll such that they have to frequently resort to an appeal to the "class struggle" to plug the gaps). For example, Ezra Klein allowed his blog to be used by a guest writer who observed that
The U.S. corporate income tax rate -- at 39 percent, it's the second highest in the developed world after Japan's, and Japan's may be about to drop -- is counterproductively high. It's probably the only tax in the U.S. these days that's conceivably on the wrong side of the Laffer curve; if we lowered the rate, we might take in more money.

But introducing the business-friendly HST to BC has been a public relations disaster for the BC government, which has led me to wonder what role the media played.

In Alberta during in the last few weeks complaints from the Wildrose party about how the Speaker of the provincial legislature (a member of the government caucus) was treating them appeared in the news. If the comment threads are any guide, a lot of people were (initially) of the opinion that Wildrose should just follow the rules. But a day or two later, after the media had talked to former Speakers and a political science teacher and reported their views, public opinion (amongst the segment aware of the reports) shifted to a clearly unfavourable view of the current Speaker's actions. The "trick", of course, was to be onside with informed opinion, such that when the media took up its obligation to inform by going out to collect informed opinions to relay, the desired result was achieved.

But what if the media doesn't do anything? Can a media outlet be biased through inaction?

I think the answer is clearly yes. But one of the ironies, if you will, is that the more even-handed and "responsible" the media is, the more likely it is to be ignored by the general public. “I’m not a journalist,” Glenn Beck (right) said in a June 2009 interview with GQ, “If I wanted to be a journalist, I would be Charlie Rose and bore the snot out of people and have fourteen people watching me." Beck knows what the customers of newsmedia want. His ratings almost doubled in 2009 alone. MSNBC, whose primetime lineup is the left wing answer to FOX, has also done relatively well such that last year CNN fell behind MSNBC with the 25-to-54-year old demographic in prime time. Fox News, for its part, overtook CNN in early 2002 and has long since left CNN in the ratings dust, since as of May 2010 the conservo-populist channel had three times the an average daily prime time audience of CNN. By August of this year, CNN's monthly primetime audience had slipped to a 10 year low, with 5 of its 10 lowest months for the previous ten years having come during 2010 despite just 8 months of the year having passed.

The reality is that media has learned that adding more ideological talk show hosts to prime time and shedding dissenting voices is the ticket to greater audience. "Fair and balanced" may sell as a marketing line, but not as a matter of substance.


Anonymous said...

There are a lot of odd things going on with the HST in Ontario vs BC. First and foremost I find it interesting that several local chapters of the CAW in BC have played a prominent role in opposing the HST while the Ontario based national leadership of the CAW through its president and chief economist have been strong suporters of the Ontario HST and have in fact criticzed the NDP for opposing it and have indicated that the NDP's opposition makes them more likely to support the provincial and federal Liberals in the next election.

I do think much of the opposition to the HST in BC is due to the media whipping up a frenzy especially on talk radio. What I have heard is that more "serious" journalists like Vaughn Palmer and Keith Baldrey feel they were not briefed ahead time of time that the HST was under serious consideration and thus feel miffed and unwilling to help the defend the government. Whereas in Ontario McGuinty had been giving signals on sales tax harmonization for many years and in fact I personal found statements of McGuinty's back in 2007 saying that he was not at all opposed to harmonization if the federal govt gave a sufficient level of compensation. The thing that doesn't line up for me is going all the way back to the 1990s when NDP was in govt in BC the BC provincial finance ministers of the day along with many other provincial finance ministers across privately and publically acknowledge while they didn't like the idea of sales tax harmonization if Ontario did it all bets were off. Thus the only way I can see the BC Liberals fully deserving of the heat they are getting is if it at some point they indicated to press gallery that they would be always opposed to the HST even if some day Ontario went along it and I just don't seem former BC finance minister Carole Taylor as dumb enough to say that.

Brian Dell said...

Indeed, this isn't a "broken promise" anyway to my knowledge since harmonization was never clearly ruled out, never mind ruled out even should Ontario harmonize.

That said the government of Alberta has arguably given more advance warning than BC ever did given Morton's musings of late.

Much of the national media, in particular several Globe and Mail writers, have been carrying water for the HST which has helped the Liberals in Ontario but has done little for the Liberals in BC (apparently).

re Vaughn Palmer, Les Leyne of the Victoria Times Colonist had an interesting comment a year ago:

"The blame -- or credit -- for the Return of the Zalm falls squarely on one man -- my friend Vaughn Palmer of The Vancouver Sun.
It was Palmer who invited Vander Zalm on to his Voice of B.C. TV show in June... it's no coincidence that, several weeks later, he pops up at the front of the angry mob, ready to lead a populist charge in all directions."

Brian Dell said...

From today's news:
Premier Dalton McGuinty says Ontario will benefit if British Columbia decides to kill its controversial harmonized sales tax.

He says it will give Ontario — which also implemented the HST on July 1 — a competitive advantage.

- Canadian Press

Brian Dell said...

Also from today, the Toronto Star has a headline, "Next election will be vote on HST, McGuinty says"

Isn't it the conventional wisdom that no politician wants to run on this? Yet Tim Hudak in Ontario won't even rise to the bait, since Hudak hasn't pledged to scrap the HST.

Anonymous said...

One thing I find interesting is once Vander Zalm started up his Fight HST movement both Ignatieff and Harper started to have very little to say about sales tax harmonization. I find this truely madening two men one of which is the head of a G8 country and the other who wants to be the head of a G8 country don't have the courage to take on a political nobody like Bill Vander Zalm on an issue both of whose parties have as a long standing policy platform. I also think the Ottawa based media while perceiving itself as less populist as the local BC media has played a role in Vander Zalm's resurrection also. Vander Zalm has gotten quite a few appearances on CBC's Power and Politics without any rebuttal from anyone supporting the HST even though I thought at least there were quite a few figures in Ottawa who supported the HST.

My main fascination with Vander Zalm is several months ago Vander Zalm mentioned in an interview with a small local paper in BC that his main objection to the HST is that Gordon Campbell is a sellout to Ottawa and Central Canada elites. Almost as quickly as this article was published it was taken down though. I almost wonder if there has been some unofficial deal between the media and Vander Zalm basically saying the media will give Vander Zalm the platform and attention he loves but he has to keep strictly to critizing the HST and Gordon Campbell and not get into fighting the Federal Govt, Quebec or other ancilliary targets he is known to dislike. The problem is there is no way for Vander Zalm to suceed without fighting people other than Campbell. If the Federal government were to let BC out of the HST without repaying its transition funding as Vander Zalm and his BC media backers seem to want the opposition in other HST provinces I believe will be heard loud and clear. How could Danny Williams in HST participating Newfoundland not resist. Quebec has never even gotten the harmonization funding it believes it was entitled too to begin with so if BC could get HST transition funding without the HST I imagine Gilles Duceppe and the Bloc along with poltically embattled Jean Charest will create the biggest stink Ottawa has ever seen. All these people in BC say there is no way Harper can afford to lose seats in BC well last time I looked Harper seems to pretty desperate to hold onto seats in Quebec too. Desperate enough to start funding professional hockey arenas for a city that doesn't yet have a professional hockey team.

All in all either on purpose or by negligence the media seems to be encouraging a massive coast to coast brawl on taxation policy unlike anything since Meech Lake/Charlottetown.