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Jeffrey Simpson (Brigitte Bouvier For The Globe and Mail)

Jeffrey Simpson

(Brigitte Bouvier For The Globe and Mail)


A government obsessed with image – 24 Seven Add to ...

Have any of you seen 24 Seven?

24 Seven should not be confused with Fox TV’s popular series 24, with Kiefer Sutherland playing Jack Bauer, or some other gripping television production. 24 Seven is made in Canada, but not by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. or a private Canadian TV network.

It does appear weekly, though. It does feature a certain Canadian star and surrounding cast. Each show opens with a refrain from The Maple Leaf Forever. Red and white flags are everywhere, and the narrative is all Canadian, all the time. Since your money pays for it, you might want to give it a try.

24 Seven is a weekly production available on the Prime Minister of Canada’s website. The show is easy to access, although only a small number of Canadians seem interested, judging by how little chatter it generates.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper stars in every episode, although other cabinet ministers occasionally make cameo appearances, as do Canadians with something positive, even glowing, to say about the performance of Mr. Harper and his government.

A team of half a dozen people put together this weekly thriller, at a cost we do not know in detail. They film all week, following the Prime Minister where he wants to be followed and ostensibly giving Canadians insight into how their government operates. Of course, that isn’t what 24 Seven really does. Instead, it offers a weekly propagandistic view of a few things the government wants you to see, paid for with your tax dollars.

No previous government has ever produced anything like 24 Seven. But then, no government has ever spent so much time and public money advertising itself. Nor has any government paid such minute, consuming attention to every facet of the presentation of self, of which 24 Seven is but a small illustration.

The show also illustrates another consuming ambition, which is to go around or over the conventional media, to speak directly to Canadians in general and to specific subsets of that population in particular. Since the Conservatives consider most of the country’s news media outlets (Sun TV and right-wing hot-line hosts excepted) irredeemably hostile (despite much evidence to the contrary), the government’s aim is to bypass and frustrate them as much as possible.

In the Conservative media hierarchy, television and targeted social media are at the top. Print journalists are near the bottom and print columnists are at the very bottom, perhaps justly so. Governments have long been interested in photo-ops and image-making; political scientists and journalists have been writing about it for decades. To rattle on about this development now is to kick a dead horse. All that can be added to the narrative is the obsessive nature of this preoccupation by Mr. Harper’s government, and the incessant, shameless pursuit of it by whatever means, including the use of taxpayers’ money.

All the world’s a stage, Shakespeare once wrote, and for the Harper government, this remains a focus principle of daily activity, hence 24 Seven. They create the stage, cut the images, write the script, package bits of staged reality and present it to whomever can be enticed to watch.

What is slightly unique about this government’s staging is the elimination of the possibility of spontaneity. Nothing is unscripted, which is as things are in a theatrical presentation but slightly odd for public events, where something unexpected might occur. Government presentations are designed less as events where the public might participate – as in asking unscripted questions – but as theatrical events with set and script fixed in advance and executed with an impressive dedication.

Not only does the government take control of the complete narrative, it dictates every aspect of its presentation, down to the last comma and the details of set design. And the money for all this comes from you, wrapped in the explanation (or rationalization) that government has an obligation to communicate with voters in the clearest way possible, free of distractions.

Do watch 24 Seven. Watching with a discerning eye, you will indeed gain insights into the Harper government, although not necessarily in the way the government might wish.

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