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Public editor: Rob Ford and the press conference that wasn’t

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford at his invite-only news conference at City Hall on June 30, 2014.

Darren Calabrese/Reuters

On Monday, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford held what his team described as a press conference, which wasn't really, to say he was back from rehab and in the race for re-election.

In the story by Elizabeth Church and Kaleigh Rogers, they explain that Mr. Ford limited his so-called news conference to about a dozen outlets. After starting with "confession and contrition, Mr. Ford transitioned into his campaign speech."

Although Mr. Ford refused to answer a single reporter's question, the story wisely includes many of the outstanding issues about which questions should be asked and answered.

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The Toronto media were quite understandably unhappy with this process. There seems to have been no need to have limited the number of outlets. The mayor's office said the room was too small for everyone, but there was no explanation why the much larger room a floor above that is normally used for press conferences was not used this time.

There was also no explanation why two regular members of the City Hall press gallery who cover these issues day in day out were barred, including the president of the press gallery. Surely there was room for these two journalists.

The Globe and Mail, along with most major media outlets, was invited, generally with their city hall bureau chief, as in The Globe's case.

In my view, it is patently wrong for political leaders to pick and choose media outlets for some unknown reason and also unacceptable to refuse to answer any questions.

All media are there on your behalf, for the readers and viewers who can't attend every court case, press conference, hearing and demonstration. It is their job to ask the questions you want answered as a citizen or shareholder.

In an excellent discussion on this issue on the CBC's The Current on Wednesday morning, Romayne Smith Fullerton from the University of Western Ontario makes this same point that the media are there for the public. When politicians refuse to answer questions, they are really showing a refusal to engage with the public, their voters.

The issue is even more serious at the municipal level, which does not include a normal question period, with an official opposition peppering the party in power with tough questions.

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While there was some discussion of a boycott, I am not sure that serves the public well. It is far better to pointedly keep asking the questions of the political leaders even as they ignore them, as Mr. Ford did. It is also important to keep raising and asking those unanswered questions in print and on broadcasts.

In the end, political leaders have complete control to say what they want, but the media have a responsibility to keep asking those questions in a most public manner.

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About the Author
Public Editor

Sylvia Stead has been a reporter and editor at the Globe since 1975, after graduating from the University of Western Ontario in Journalism with a minor in Political Science. She won the Board of Governors Award there in 1974. As a reporter, Sylvia covered courts, education and Queen's Park. More

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