Alberta PC and the Alberta Media – A History – Part 2

As promised, a short history of Alberta political parties and Alberta’s media.

Since the time Alberta was given provincial status in 1905 the governing party of the day was basically seen as an arm of that party. As a matter of fact in the research of Roger Epp and his paper regarding Alberta media and the Lougheed government he gives a brief history. As Mr Epp mentions “The Liberals, who governed from 1905 t o 1921, an era when newspapers functioned virtually as party organs and political biases spilled onto news pages unabashedly. ((Canadian Journal of Communication 1984

The United Farmers of Alberta and the Social Credit parties followed but didn’t have the same cozy relationship that the Liberals had with the print media. During the first years of the Social Credit reign things became so bad between the print media and the Socreds an Act was passed to basically muzzle any negative criticism by the print media. This allowed the Edmonton Journal to take the Act to the Supreme Court, win and receive a special Pulitzer Prize.

Then in 1965,  Mr. Peter Lougheed, an urban upwardly mobile man who wore his suits well became Alberta’s JFK for the PCAA. The news media had found someone who was their equal and had someone who, in their minds, didn’t embarrass the highbrows. He wasn’t the rural, religious, cowboy/rancher/farmer often seen by eastern Canada as the stereotypical Albertan.

Between the 1967 and 1971 elections the PCAA made a concerted effort to cultivate relationships with various media in Alberta. That in itself is not a problem. You want to have the media as an ally. But there is a line that shouldn’t be crossed. An interesting example includes Mr Lougheed himself. After an uninspiring television appearance shortly after becoming PC leader Mr Lougheed, approached CFCN television in Calgary asking to use their studios after the television broadcasting day so that he could become familiar with the “new” media. As we now can see, CFCN and Lougheed became quite close leading to the PCAA spending 85% of their election budgets on television. Because CFCN and CFRN are sister stations and have led the television industry in Alberta over the last 40 years, is it any wonder?

There were allegations that the Journal was inflating the numbers at PC election rallies while minimizing the numbers at Socred rallies, and another allegation of a Journal employee receiving a plumb job doled out by the newly minted PC government. ((Canadian Journal of Communication 1984

For anyone looking back over the last 40 years such as myself, just a work-a-day husband and father who was a dyed in the wool PC voter everything looked like it was on the up and up. But since 1971 $300B has come into Alberta treasuries from oil Royalties and I do not recall one journalist or television investigative reporter ever asking where it has all gone. There has been the odd article on specific money waste over the years but where was the investigative journalism?

There has been the odd publisher such as J.P. O’Callahgan who declared the Journal as the “unofficial opposition” as Professor Epp mentions in his paper after the one sided 1979 election ((The Lougheed Government and the Media: News Management In The Alberta Political Environment )) But this seems to have gone by the wayside from reading the Journal during the 2012 provincial election and few of the Calgary Herald journalists who shamelessly posted op eds and twitter comments for the PCAA and negative comments regarding the Wildrose.

I did promise a short history and believe that I have given those interested a starting point to the relationship between the media and political parties in Alberta. There is plenty more historical information but I urge you to read Professor Epp’s paper in the footnotes.

You’ll find, where Mr Lougheed while using the media, both broadcast and print, trained his caucus members that any information to be disseminated to the public should be discussed by cabinet then given to MLAs and their public relations people to be released to the public.

Or more clearly in Mr Lougheed’s own words “Rather than getting your facts from the media, get them from your MLA”. ((PC Convention, 1980 ))

Professor Epp’s paper is a fact filled read and will surprise you on the twists and turns, sometimes confusing relationship between the Alberta media and the early years of the PCAA.