EDITORIAL: So much for spin city

Is the City of White Rock trying to spin the news?

Is the City of White Rock trying to spin the news?

Council recently went to some lengths to specify who is officially sanctioned to speak on behalf of city hall.

That move may be a matter of housekeeping – if not exactly housecleaning – for the city.

Some have reportedly seen this exercise as a sinister attempt by White Rock to exert iron-fisted control over what is published.

In reality, it changes nothing.

The city’s communications co-ordinator, Jamie Leggatt, issued a statement last week spelling out the policy, adopted May 31: “Unless otherwise authorized, the city’s spokespersons are: mayor, deputy mayor, the city manager, city clerk, department heads. Exceptions regarding departmental spokespersons may be made at the discretion of the department head.”

What else is new? These are the officials most of us in the media would assume would have the authority to speak for the city – any city. And the policy does nothing to limit comment from others, speaking as individuals.

If, as some suggest, it as an attempt to muzzle city councillors, it is one that is doomed to failure.

Politicians, by nature, are not shy about expressing their opinions. But has one ever assumed that, in voicing their opinions, councillors presume to speak for the city, or even council as a whole? Politics being what it is, such opinions are prone to change at short notice. The most meaningful indicator of the will of council, at the end of the day, is the majority vote.

Nor does the policy limit, or prevent, what reporters have always done to developing other sources of information. Even the hottest tip, rumour or leaked piece of information requires substantiation, and an opportunity for official comment, for a story to have any semblance of being balanced.

If a newspaper – or some other media outlet – is seeking official comment from a city, guess what? It will attempt to go to a mayor, or a deputy mayor, or the city clerk or a department head.

And if the department head doesn’t think the particular issue is a political hot potato, and that Charlie or Charlene further down the ladder has the pertinent details, we may well be directed to that individual.

Perhaps somebody unfamiliar with the mechanics of governmental process – and unaware of the continuing dance between public servants, politicians and the media – might be forgiven for being surprised and dismayed by White Rock’s policy.

Surely, no one else is.