Thursday, 23 February 2017

IS THE MEDIA AVOIDING THE TOUGH QUESTIONS?

Guest Post written by David Vardy

The 2015 movie Spotlight won a Best Picture Oscar for a story about investigative journalism. Spotlight is a story about how the Boston Globe, through its investigative reporting, directed the spotlight upon abuses in the care of children that had been covered up. In so doing the Boston Globe took on a monolithic institution which had hidden the truth about three cases of abuse, growing to 13 and ultimately to 90 Catholic priests who had abused their young charges.

The Boston Globe took on the perpetrators against all odds. They conducted intensive journalistic investigation and brought to light information about mass culpability which was known to many but not revealed to the public. The film focuses upon the process of investigative journalism. Where is investigative journalism in Newfoundland and Labrador, where the abuses at Mount Cashel were among the first to be exposed in what ultimately became a global phenomenon of sexual predation by Christian pastors, first brought to light by the Sunday Express?

Uncle Gnarley has exposed an accusation from a former insider telling us that Nalcor falsified the cost estimates for Muskrat Falls. Yet the media have not responded - certainly not publicly. The insider has alleged that the information is widely known within Nalcor. There has been no response by Nalcor’s Board of Directors or by the Minister. 

Is government concerned about corruption within Nalcor? Is Nalcor concerned that those who falsified estimates are still occupying senior positions?

Uncle Gnarley has invoked the cover up which took place within the Church, the cover up which was exposed by Spotlight and, closer to home by the Sunday Express and later by the Hughes inquiry  into the Mount Cashel abuses. Instead of the Catholic church the monolithic institution at play in this drama is Nalcor energy and the culpability lies within that organization and not the Church.

How much evidence do investigative journalists need before they start to dig into the truth? Have local media ever released a story without disclosing the identity of the source? What is the journalistic standard of proof before a story is written? Has every story been corroborated by more than one source? Is there a requirement that the source be publicly disclosed?

The Dunphy inquiry has attracted huge media attention. Is it because it is so easy to sit during a Newfoundland winter in a warm hearings room while lawyers conduct the investigation and relieve the media of responsibility? 

Why have journalists turned so little of their attention to the unfolding debacle of Muskrat Falls, relieving government of the responsibility to deliver on their promise to “open up the books on Muskrat Falls”?

Why have revelations concerning Nalcor’s ineptitude, arising from the work of the “Independent Engineer”, been covered only by Uncle Gnarley? Are the media conscripted to the cause of Nalcor by their dependence on ad revenue from government and its Crown Corporations? Is our community so incestuously knit as to inspire fear of retribution? Would oversight be more robust if the Muskrat Falls project were being built by an investor owned corporation such as Emera, which is building the Maritime Link? 

Instead Nalcor Energy is being given the deference which had been accorded to the Catholic Church before these revelations of abuse were brought into the spotlight.

Uncle Gnarley has opened up the debate in his blog post When Media Silence Hurts Everyone. Government, institutions, the public, and especially the media, have a stake in the issue. Who will answer the call?

David Vardy

19 comments:

  1. The former premier himself (Williams) has aknowledged that internally they considered that the actual cost would be much higher than the estimates, alluding that they considered the costs which we are seeing today to be in the realm of possibility back in 2010. This was a startling statement that the media ignored, or simply did not understand.

    Back when the project was before the PUB, the senior officials at Nalcor made very strong statements concerning the accuracy of the estimates. They quoted accuracy of AACE (American Association of Cost Estimators) which put a estimate at a given accuracy range (at the time was +-25%). This justificed the unbelievably low contingency they carried of 5%.

    At the time I thought that these guys presenting to the PUB were being convenient with the truth. AACE estimating levels need to be adjusted for frontier locations such as Labrador. History has shown me to be right.

    Yet Mr. Williams aknowledging that the current over-run levels were considered at the time, is almost evidence of a coverup by Nalcor or the provincial government at the time.

    The media need to go back and read the language used in the PUB hearings to talk about the robustness of the DG2 estimate (5 Billion).

    Interestingly in the last monthly report the incurred cost by Nalcor was 6 Billion. Other than the much heralded spillway, there is little to show for 6 Billion.

    It is time for a judicial inquiry into this albratross.

    It is time for the media (especially the well funded CBC) to educate themselves on this project.

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  2. Any national media willing to take this on, it would make a fascinating story.

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    1. Maybe the Journalist Hero on Mount Cashel, Harris will do us the honour, again.

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  3. `You can`t handle the truth` goes the line in one popular movie. Truth is a highly valued, but too scare a commodity. Ches Crosbie promises to deliver on truth.....if he is elected. Not sure if he will deliver it before the next election. I responded to his website for comments with the question of where does he stand on whether Muskrat should be put on ice pending a full review, and whether he endorses a robust conservation and efficiency plan for power consumers, as done in other provinces. I got an automated response that my email was received.......but nothing else. No opinion and no truth from Crosbie so far. Beware wolfs in seal skin clothng!
    And can our residents handle the truth, I wonder. There is no outcry on the radio call in shows for an inquiry into this boondoggle. The most open and daring with his comments is Pete Sucey. He says he would prefer a liar who is competent over a truthful fool any day. His point being that there appears to be gross incompetence in this. Obviously a truthful and competent is the high standard we deserve and wish for, but with incompetence Pete suggests ....God save us all, as we are doomed.
    When our leaders were praising Nalcor as `world class experts` without evidence, it was PR, self praise, and a cover for incompetence. God will not save us from incompetence, nor from deceit and dishonestly. And the main media, they deserve to go down with the sinking ship, for their silence.
    Your words Mr Vardy, very appropriate. Isuggest that we, on this island have a culture problem......we can`t handle the truth, or so it seems. Maybe it is a result of our 500 year hsitory of colonial rule.
    Winston Adams

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    1. Who will answer the call indeed! A welcome call to arms. Judging from the reactions to date of the media and institutions ostensibly charged with protecting the taxpayer it is a plaintive plea.

      The UARB is equivalent to the PUB. The PUB was disenfranchised by fiat, directed by dark political edict. At the point this happened all hell should have broken loose in a functioning democracy. there was hardly a whimper from either the media or political parties. Sadly it is clear that feudal suppression lies at the root of the dysfunction. An entitled political class have replaced the merchant class as the instruments of feudal suppression. The real question is who will confront the excesses of the emperor, open the books on Nalcor spending and engineering and restore democratic oversight of government spending.

      Emera is inherently no more honourable than Nalcor. I can make a case that they are less so. The difference is not the private vs public institution. The difference is our UARB is functional and encourages public examination and participation. Emera used the UARB to leverage more cheap power from a desperate Nalcor anxious to protect the house of cards it was constructing to keep an unviable project going. This is predatory capitalism and a good example of why greed is not good. The NL rate/taxpayer is the prey that will be feasted on for half a century.

      The fundamental question is who will slay the fire breathing dragon and restore democratic control of spending? Who will restore the integrity of the civil service, PUB, Auditor General? Where is St. George when you need him?

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    2. Not only has the PUB been disenfranchised Bruno, but, just by way of example, and with respect to the Grand River Keepers' efforts to have their expert (Dr. Bernander) reports (evidence) placed on the record with the PUB, and while NL Hydro has filed some 100 pages of legal argument and case law against the GRK's motion to have this expert evidence accepted by the PUB, the province's industrial customers have also recently filed comments saying in part that our consumer advocate's (Dennis Browne's) 2-3 pages of comment constitute "neutral, comment on the merits of the GRK motion."

      Who then is the consumer advocate advocating for?



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    3. I wonder, ........it seems the power rates are structured on a Class basis. The classes are residential(domestic), commercial ( and these are divided depending on the size of the load, 10 to 100kw , 100 kw and over, etc , and then industrial. Commercial of 10kw or over have add on charges called Demand Charge, as their meter senses the peak demand used. This is appropriate, as high paek demand forces more fuel burning at Holyrood. Now in fact many larger houses are contributing more to high peak demand than smaller commercial..but they are getting a big break and not paying a fair share (what else in new on how the rich benefit at the expense of the poor)
      Now for the industrial class, there are only, I think about 3 companies that make up this class.
      Does the Power Act permit a new class of domestic customers? A class that believes in and wishes to contribute to conservation and efficiency,( which lowers energy costs in all jurisdictions, outside Nfld, and if we ignore the Muskrat paradox (where lower energy use makes for higher rates)
      If such a class is possible, do we need just 3 people, (similar to the industrial class), or a thousand or few thousand people ?
      I have cut my heating energy bill for heating by more than 50 percent. I would like to pass a portion of my savings to others to help them via rebates, through a small rate increase to me. As more do do this it benefits me as well in keeping peak demand low on the grid and less fuel burning at Holyrood. It is simple and proven to work.
      My daughter tell me this will not fly, that no one or few would sign on to this. I am not convinced.
      In Texas, they now are greener in wind (12 percent) than most of the country ( here we are 2 percent). In Texas, the trick is not to promote this as being Green, but as a good investment. (Texas now has wind capacity 4 times that of the Upper churchill. We can likely go to 15 percent wind on the island, just one method of a better way.
      So what to call this class.....not the Green class apparently, as you get lumped with tree huggers.
      We would be the Domestic --------- Class. Any ideas? Liberty uses the word prudent a lot. How about Prudent Domestic Class, but other words may sound nicer..........Nalcor might call us the idiot class, and one John Smith would say the lunatic class.
      Can this Conservation and Efficiency Domestic Class get approval by the PUB? Just asking. The CEDC ? Sounds pretty good? Or leave out conservation and just the EDC? Just economics afterall.
      If government will not do, can informed citizens pervail?
      Winston Adams

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    4. Winston while I called into openline the MF booster-host said something along the lines "we can't build a project based on the lowest income earners" intellectualism or investigative journalism won't get the ratings of populism in NL. There were softball QOTDs/polls concerning MF 'Do you support the MF project' scant on details and Qs were on a conceptual bases (Simpsons ep where teachers go on strike 'honk if you like cookies' sign comes to mind). A better Q would've been can you afford a 50% hike in your electricity bills, if no will you be reducing your kWh usage as costs increase?
      5% contingency is unprecedented in hydro projects, wool over most ratepayers eyes since DW dreamed of his legacy project.
      As we are seeing with the Dunphy inquiry the PC hypersensitive attack anyone that dares question us mentality has remained their MO since being elected that was quite prevalent from MF via their know critics list.
      Another dubious QOTD - can we afford all of the inquiries with the recent deficit? Bordering on yellow journalism and being contrary for contrary's sake, giving their 'unique' spin to the news.
      News has transformed more into entertainment in NL V anything thought provoking or resembling investigative journalism. Reactive op-eds or rants to current events have become the norm, single-sourced publications and as someone aptly put it "NL journalists have become glorified stenographers"
      2021 (or later) when ratepayers see their first post-MF bills 'why didn't anyone tell us about this!!!"
      Personal cost of MF to each home/business, I can't recall NLM asking these pertinent Qs.

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  5. I would like to ask Kevin O'Leary what he thinks!

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  6. It seems truth is a bit like porn, it comes in a variety of levels. The Tely editorial (Russell, I assume) today is titled Hard Truth. The truth of our massive debt. But not a word on that smelly rodent in the room ....Muskrat. So rather than Hard Truth, is is Soft truth, a distinction like Hard Porn and Soft Porn.
    A second editorial called Default Payment, or something like that deals with Ed Martin. It concludes.......`he got the the money , more power to him`! Really!!!!!
    Good for Martin that he misled us and shows incompetence and the Tely says Good for him.....more power to him!
    Does that not encourage vice instead of virtue. Does it not say that Martin showed how well this can be done and there is no consequence. Does it not reflect on the ethics of the editorial writer and the owner of that paper, and sets a negative example for all citizens.
    Perhaps the Tely should go the way of some British papers who increase sales by putting naked women on the cover. If you peddle porn instead of hard truth, do it in style.
    Sex sells. Looks at the RNC officer trial, a tearful officer who his lawyer call a idiot. There you ago, a novel way for no blame. Let Kennedy call Smyth a idiot, ...a fail-safe shot to the head, to a highly disabled victim. Failsafe is a term in engineering circles for backup protection schemes for electrical circuits. If the first line of defense to protect against a power collapse fails, there is a second , and sometimes a third. Never knew that killing a man was so well engineered. Not like the movies where you just wing him.
    Did we do wrong when we gave the RNC guns! Some Hard Truth coming our way at the Dumphy hearing. Perhaps his death will not be in vain.
    Winston Adams
    Winston Adams

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  7. There is a serious lack of investigative journalism in our province. Look at the Cst Snelgrove case. I have seen multiple comments by women who say they have also been taken home from George St by the cops & that those cops have made Attempts to have sex with them. Why isnt that being looked into?
    Maybe its a result of our fast, free news world where people won't pay for subscriptions. I subscribe to the independent & its not even that good but I can't be bothered to pay for the telegram trash

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  8. The press is muzzled here. Leaning too much on the ad revenues of those who should be investigated and their cousins.

    My MHA blocked me for bringing up the topic of shutting down MF telling me "I didn't understand the complexity. Oh I understand alright. Follow the money.

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  9. I would bet he is a PC MHA who was part and parcel to the conceiving and sanctioning of the MF debacle trying to justify his current status. You should ask him to explain how ratepayers are going to be able to pay the exorbitant power bills which will follow.

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  10. Paul lane has shared this article on facebook. Lets hope it takes hold.

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  11. "Journalists" in NL, are a bunch of rookies who would rather report the safe stories to keep their jobs secure. They know if they take on the ad revenue beasts that truly control the flow of information in this province they will be blacklisted by other media organizations in the province, and never work in their field again in this province. They're the same as most other public employees, more concerned with their own well being than the provinces well being and will gladly take a paycheck that deep down they know they have not truly earned.

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    1. Telegram has massive layoffs so this approach didn't work out too well for the NLM employees

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  12. Muskrat West

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/site-c-dam-officials-halt-road-work-over-large-tension-crack-1.3998157

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  13. Local so called "News" is an absolute travesty. The CBC Supper Hour News now takes up a huge chunk of time rebroadcasting Decades old news stories and then inflicts upon us cutesie animal videos that the hosts Fake laugh at!
    Maybe those behind the scenes should actually Watch a entire Decades old CBC News broadcast and take notes as to when the news was actually "News"
    Thank God for your Blog and Open Line shows where Real Weighty concerns can be addressed instead of Godawful Fluff Pieces and Feel-Good Clap Trap that local news is turning into.

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