Canada ‘muzzling its scientists’..public research

See on Scoop.itNunavut

The Canadian government is accused of “muzzling” its scientists, but the government says it views science communication as a priority.

[…]

Prof Thomas Pedersen, a senior scientist at the University of Victoria, said he believed there was a political motive in some cases.

“The Prime Minister (Stephen Harper) is keen to keep control of the message, I think to ensure that the government won’t be embarrassed by scientific findings of its scientists that run counter to sound environmental stewardship,” he said.

“I suspect the federal government would prefer that its scientists don’t discuss research that points out just how serious the climate change challenge is.”

The Canadian government recently withdrew from the Kyoto protocol to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

The allegation of “muzzling” came up at a session of the AAAS meeting to discuss the impact of a media protocol introduced by the Conservative government shortly after it was elected in 2008.

The protocol requires that all interview requests for scientists employed by the government must first be cleared by officials. A decision as to whether to allow the interview can take several days, which can prevent government scientists commenting on breaking news stories.

Sources say that requests are often refused and when interviews are granted, government media relations officials can and do ask for written questions to be submitted in advance and elect to sit in on the interview.

‘Orwellian’ approach

Andrew Weaver, an environmental scientist at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, described the protocol as “Orwellian”.

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The information is so tightly controlled that the public is left in the dark”

Professor Andrew Weaver University of Victoria

The protocol states: “Just as we have one department we should have one voice. Interviews sometimes present surprises to ministers and senior management. Media relations will work with staff on how best to deal with the call (an interview request from a journalist). This should include asking the programme expert to respond with approved lines.”

Professor Weaver said that information is so tightly controlled that the public is “left in the dark”.

“The only information they are given is that which the government wants, which will then allow a supporting of a particular agenda,” he said.

The media protocol was obtained and reported three years ago by Margaret Munro, who is a science writer for Postmedia News, based in Vancouver. Speaking at the AAAS meeting, she said its effect was to suppress scientific debate on issues of public interest.

“The more controversial the story, the less likely you are to talk to the scientists. They (government media relations staff) just stonewall. If they don’t like the question you don’t get an answer.

[…]

Professor Andrew Weaver believes that the media protocol is being used by the Canadian government to “instruct scientists to deliver a certain message, thereby taking the heat out of controversial topics”.

He added: “You can’t have an informed discussion if the science isn’t allowed to be communicated. Public relations message number one is that you have to set the conversation. You don’t want to have a conversation on someone else’s terms. And this is now being applied to science on discussions about oil sands, climate and salmon.”

See on www.bbc.co.uk

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About @mediamentor
Information Curation, Communication & Media / Cure d'information, communication et medias http://mediamentor.ca

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