Sunday, May 25, 2008

The National Post is, of course, Canada's national right wing daily, distributed across the country every morning. Its former owner Conrad Black is now cooling his heels in an American jail for his criminal behavior, but the paper soldiers on. The quality of reportage varies tremendously, and at its lowest resembles little more than a page out of a Maoist sectarian journal with the names changed and the insults varied. Usually, however, the NP tries a more sophisticated tack...lieing by omission. Here's a press release from CUPE, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, on the Post's efforts to make sure that no alternative views are presented on the subject of "P3s" (Public Private Partnerships- privatization by stealth if you will).
Not being a state socialist Molly has no love affair with state owned enterprise, but she is equally unwilling to put on rose coloured glasses when the part of the ruling class ensconced in the state uses public monies to reward their friends in other parts of the ruling class. The drive towards P3s is very obviously dependent on a great amount of financial self-interest on the part of those who will make money out of it. It is also, however, an ideological crusade on the part of neo-liberals, and, like all crusaders, they are careful to ignore, hide and disguise the failures of their project. A libertarian socialist alternative would see the functions of the state that are useful replaced by self-governing producers' cooperatives. But that day is still long in the future. Until then here is CUPE's take on the National Post.

Where is the balance in P3 reporting?
The May 14th Legal Post ‘special report’ in the National Post entitled “The P3 Boom” only exposed how P3s are as much a windfall for the legal community as the financial one.

The ‘report’ contains articles and advertising describing how lawyers “love public-private partnerships, known as P3s”, and why they should.

We wanted to weigh in on this curiosity, and to challenge proponents of P3s to consider alternate views to those put forward in that ‘special report’. After our repeated requests for a full-length opinion piece went ignored, we were invited to submit a short letter-to-the-editor. So we did. It never got published. (Molly Note- shrewd editors have a tactic that they use. They DON'T refuse to publish any and all letters that dissent from their editorial line. They actually DO publish some- the stupid ones. Intelligent disagreement is sent to the wastebasket.)

Of course, it’s the prerogative of the National Post to endorse and print what it will. So, too, is it our prerogative to call on the broader media community – mainstream and alternative – to do better with the P3 story.

We expect more transparent and balanced debate about privatization and P3s, a lively discourse that includes all perspectives. Why should consumers of Canadian media deserve anything less?

The subject of P3s has garnered increasing media attention in the past few years as more and more projects are pursued and as various concerns mount from all sides. All the while, CUPE has been identified as the country’s most prominent and credible opponent of P3s, by any standard. Yet our voice – and those of countless other P3 critics – is absent from the discourse currently perpetuated by the National Post.

The new justification for P3s is that they transfer risk from the public to the private sector which is the better risk manager, they say. P3 promoters use even more financial chicanery to justify this argument, but downplay the need for public bailouts when P3s fail. The UK government's $4 billion bailout after the Metronet P3 failure should be cause for alarm, but has been all but ignored here in Canada, like so many homegrown P3 failures. Besides, the recent sub-prime financial meltdown and the Asset-Backed Commercial Paper scandal demonstrate just how little faith we should have in the superiority of the private sector’s risk management.

P3s pose a threat to public services – no wonder the private sector is all over them.
But never mind that for now. Mind that any challenge of P3s was curiously kept from the National Post’s ‘report’ – perhaps because when we come after P3s, we come with the very facts the privatization lobby prefers to ignore.

So why should any media outlet so unabashedly favour the business community? And why should we worry?

Fairness in media. The one-sidedness of the National Post’s P3 ‘special report’ raises critical questions about journalistic integrity. To allocate an autonomous section on a topic with as much bearing on Canadian communities as P3s and exclude a plurality of opinions is a problem and should be of grave concern to anyone who cares about balance in media, let alone public services.
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For further information: Pam Kapoor, CUPE Communications, 613.853.8089

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