Government pix prevail in world of depleted newsrooms, reduced access for media

Get this: when Brian Mulroney was Prime Minister, the only pic his official photographer regularly distributed was the Mulroney family Christmas card.

The photographer’s role was to gather and document material for posterity.

My how times have changed. PM Justin Trudeau’s official photographer, Adam Scotti, estimates he takes hundreds, if not thousands, of photos of the PM a day. A day! Many of them are published.

Why the dramatic change? One word – control.

The availability of social media channels means politicians can, by setting up a few accounts, communicate directly with voters. What could be better?

Prime Minister Trudeau and his communications team have chosen to be active on Facebook, Instagram and Flickr so are constantly refreshing these accounts with a stream of visuals about the PM’s days.

Then they put restrictions on media – meaning fewer unpredictable questions and unflattering photo angles.

The Prime Minister’s Office – like those of many politicians – now prefers to keep the media at a distance. Used to be that reporters and photographers could trot along beside and behind the serving Prime Minister, ask questions and get all the shots they needed. They just had to stay out of the way of official business. But no longer.

Now on many occasions the official photographer is only one with access to the PM’s activities.

Thanks to the yeoman service of Adam Scotti in this role, the PM’s social feeds are bursting with pics.

Pic by Adam Scotti, Trudueau's official photographer - from Flickr

Pic by Adam Scotti, Trudeau’s official photographer. From Flickr

Our PM is especially photogenic and knows what makes a great shot: his ever-present big smile, shirt sleeves carefully rolled up, the two handed handshake, up close with babies, lots of touching those in the crowd.

Scotti, unlike official photographers before him, is a key member of Trudeau’s communications team. Together they review and select  images to fit with a particular message track. A stream of high-quality photos are then free-for-the-taking on Flickr and Facebook.

The combined “storm” of depleted numbers in newsrooms and reduced access for those photographers who remain, means that the photos used by media often originate in the PMO. PMO as news service. Not good.

Sure Trudeau loves a camera more than Stephen Harper did. So all this can at first seem friendly and open. But don’t think for a minute this isn’t message management in full flight. Government by photo op – not even photos with pesky captions to deliver – just photos. Much more predictable and less risky than having to say something.

When the media’s access to those in power is curtailed, the public loses out and democracy suffers. With government information-delivery in the hands of official photographers and the communications team we can be sure we are being managed.



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