That secretive DFO Chinook salmon count -- CAJ Code of Silence winners

VANCOUVER, May 11, 2014 /CNW/ - Who would have thought a routine question on the salmon fishery on Vancouver Island would require navigating the hoops and weirs of the federal government?

Yet when a journalist working in Port Alberni asked, "How many Chinook salmon do you require for your annual egg take?" the answer would take four days and the assistance (sic) of a communications staffer over 4,500 kilometres away in Ottawa. To show how ridiculous this obstructive delay was, this is information Robertson Creek Hatchery's manager and interpretive staff members routinely share with visitors from local schools and youth groups.

The lockdown on that elusive number was implemented when the answer was prefaced by the journalist identifying himself and that he worked for a media outlet. It's symptomatic of the situation journalists working across Canada face whenever they attempt to interact with government staffers working in their local communities. For this reason, the CAJ awards its annual Code of Silence to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

The winner of this prestigious (sic) award, presented to the most secretive government or publicly funded agency, was announced Saturday night at the annual CAJ conference banquet and awards gala, held at the Holiday Inn and Suites Downtown Vancouver.

"We know this is a federal administration that prefers to take its messages directly to the voting public. We also understand the principle of managing communications to ensure consistent, accurate information is being shared with the public," CAJ president Hugo Rodrigues said. "Here we see the simple act of – in good practice – identifying oneself as a journalist prompting staff members to close ranks around the information, delay and obfuscate the reply.

"How does this sort of response help anyone?"

Other worthy nominations for this year's award include:

  • Two ministries of the Ontario government, where despite a commitment to open data, basic information on inspections and salary disclosures is posted in a manner that meets the letter of openness but not its spirit;
  • The Egg Farmers of Alberta, who toughened their shells after reporting on their practices by CTV's W5;
  • The Alberta government's "fudge-it" budget that left the legislature's auditor general scratching his head at its opaqueness;
  • The prime minister's office for the still-evolving – or devolving – lockdown on the details surrounding the repayment of $90,000 of Mike Duffy's inappropriate senate expenses.

This is the 14th year the CAJ has so honoured a government or publicly funded agency for keeping secret what it should make accessible.

The CAJ is Canada's largest national professional organization for journalists from all media, representing over 600 members across the country. The CAJ's primary roles are to provide high-quality professional development for its members and public-interest advocacy.

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SOURCE Canadian Association of Journalists

For further information: Hugo Rodrigues, CAJ president - 613-330-8396 cell, hugo@caj.ca