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Thursday, April 08, 2010

global edmonton embargoed over budget tweets.

Many Edmontonians who use Twitter might have noticed that Global Edmonton News anchor Lynda Steele recently deleted her Twitter account @lyndasteele. Ms. Steele was an avid and engaged contributor on Twitter and I assumed that her departure was caused by a loss of interest or time management issues. It turns out that her account may have been shut down because of four 'tweets' that were sent between 3:16m and 3:17pm on Tuesday, February 9, 2010 and were related to the provincial budget that was under a media embargo until 3:20pm.

A letter written by Public Affairs Bureau Manager Lee Funke to Global Edmonton explains the repercussions:

A breach of an embargo of any kind is a breach of trust. That is has to do with subject matter that can have market implications makes it all the more serious a matter. The Government of Alberta's budget embargo rules for media are extremely permissive relative to those of the federal government and some other provinces. In exchange for this flexibility, government asks only that media agree to respect the rules of the embargo.

Global Edmonton breached that agreement. In light of the fact that this is the second budget embargo breach in three years by an Alberta media outlet, we must now consider more severe restrictions on the entire media corps for future budgets and simmer events, including a strict lockup where electronic devices are removed.
The media outlets that are given access to the budget documents before they are officially released have agreed to the embargo on reporting information. The budget is one of the most important centre pieces of a government's governing, political, legislative, and communications strategy, so it is no surprise that they would react this way towards Global Edmonton (CBC Calgary found themselves in a similar situation in 2008). Having attended each budget announcement (or the Rotunda scrums afterward) since 2003, it is a big event that government and opposition politicians, business groups, and public interest groups craft many of their main messages around.

The question is: why does this embargo breach need to result in more severe restrictions on the entire media corps? Perhaps our government placing too much importance on the budget embargo, and even the actual budget speech. Do these breaches prove that more restrictions are needed or that perhaps the Public Affairs Bureau and their political master need to examine their role as communicators with less of a focus on 'command and control' and more of an open 21st century attitude.

(For more on the role of the Public Affairs Bureau, read this exert from Kevin Taft's 1997 book Shredding the Public Interest)


Ken Chapman's Deleted Comments said...

Delicious irony! Bedwetting over a budget embargo that merely showcases useless spending on more government intrusion that at best invites taxpayer derision. Pure self indulgent twaddle.

As if anything important can be leaked via 140 useless Twitter characters.

Seems to me that phone calls, emails and even archaic faxes on papyrus sheets could "leak" far more information than a "Tweet".

teesix said...

@KCDC: So you are saying that nothing can be learned from a twitter post and basically twitter is useless?

c-lo said...

Your question's premise assumes that communications must always be open, but an announcement is not open communication, even in everyday life. In this instance the government is correct to send a message about the need for respecting embargoed documents.

daveberta said...

@KCDC: Entertaining alliteration, thanks for sharing.

c-lo: I don't disagree. There was an agreement.

daveberta said...

I almost missed this story...

Global Regina breaks Saskatchewan government's budget embargo


REGINA — Someone let the cat out of the budget bag a little early on Wednesday.

Due to what Global Regina is describing as a gap in its online training, the network broke the Saskatchewan government's embargo when a story about the provincial budget appeared online about three hours before Finance Minister Rod Gantefoer began his budget address shortly after 2:30 p.m.

All media members who receive advance copies of the budget are required to sign an embargo agreement requiring them to hold off releasing details until the minister's speech begins.

"When you're dealing with the budget, it has to remain confidential," said Reg Downs, the senior advisor to Premier Brad Wall. "The information in the story was pretty high level so no one could take advantage of any tax information or anything. That said, we can't have the situation where people are making judgment calls on what you can release and what you can't — not that (Global) was doing that. That's why you have to have a blanket rule that everyone follows or nobody would follow it."

Global Regina news director Brent Williamson was quick to note that the story never appeared on the main pages of any of Global's websites.

Williamson said the story was created by a reporter in advance so it could go online immediately after Gantefoer began speaking. While the page was not linked to any of Global's websites, it sat in a sort of Internet no-man's land where it could be accessed via search engines. It is believed it was first discovered through a Google news alert.

The story was taken down within 15 minutes of it first appearing.

"We take the embargo very seriously," said Williamson. "We signed the agreements and fully intended to follow the agreements we signed. It was a gap in our training that we weren't aware of until (Wednesday). When the government contacted us to tell us it was up, we found the gap and we closed it.

"I apologized to (the government) for the mistake. I explained to them that we take it seriously and that we never intentionally published it. It was a human error."

Downs wants the two sides to discuss the incident in the coming days before the government considers what sanctions it might try to bring against Global.

A question over embargoed material also arose during question period Wednesday. As Wall was answering another member's question, NDP MLA Pat Atkinson yelled a question about SCN, the demise of which was to be made public in the budget speech a few minutes later.

While Opposition MLAs — who had been briefed on the budget highlights earlier in the day — were making general queries during question period about what might be in the budget, Wall said he felt Atkinson's more specific question broke the embargo.

The government does not plan to follow up on the matter with the Opposition.

Anonymous said...

There are significant financial consequences resulting from government budgets. Stocks go up and down depending upon the impact on an industry or company. That said it is ludicrous to punish all of the media for one persons mistake. What should happen is that the media outlet that broke their promise should not be allowed access for the next budget. I am sure that a suspension would ensure that it doesn't happen again.

It also points to the lack of ethics of many in the media who are quick to judge and condemn others but hold themselves to a different standard. Global and Ms. Steele should feel ashamed by their behaviour.

Werner Patels said...

With each new day, I'm becoming more and more annoyed with this "government" of ours. What the heck is going on? Why do we have to put up with a pig farmer (no offence to real pig farmers) who pretends to be premier?

Why aren't Albertans speaking up more and rising up against that incompetent and corrupt government?

The irony is not wasted on me: Albertans would always stand up, strong and free, in the past when it came to attacking the then-Liberal government in Ottawa and its secrecy, corruption and incompetence. Why, then, are those same people in Alberta now putting up with the same rubbish right here on their home turf?

Bruno Gerussi's medallion said...

I would have thought the Public Affairs Bureau would give Global Edmonton a free pass on this violation in return for all the vapid blow jobs of the government narrated by Steele and engineered by GM Tim Spelliscy.

Anonymous said...

I have been thinking about the merits of this issue, as I do know how advanced budget knowledge could be used to unfairly benefit a person/company.

After reading the letter by the PAB another principal has come into play which is “the punishment should fit the crime”.

With the “tweets” coming in near minutes before the start of the budget release there appears to be no evidence of an attempt for self benefit, (Or what I like to call the Martha Steward effect) which is what the embargo seeks to protect against.

With that in mind the major transgression here appears to be the “breach of trust” of which the most appropriate punishment would be a letter of reprimand, or a demand for an apology.

Mind you just how many embargoed events do you think the GOA will have before the end of the year?

In my mind it’s kind of like suspending a student on the last day of the school year.

On the issue of “breach of trust” I find it ironic that the GOA would cite this as a cause of action, especially considering that the GOA engages in its own program of breach of trust. Just file an access to information request when you are a member of the media, or take a call from and angry and threatening member of the GOA communications team and you will understand what I mean. Open, transparent, and accountable Government are just placeholders.

Werner Patels' Secret Bromance said...

Awww, you guys are just so cute when you stand up and wave the Book of Taft (genuflect here)as a talisman against the evil, omniscient dark lords of the PAB.

Give me a break.

Walter Schwabe said...

Dave, great post, well written...

Walter Schwabe's Sycophantic Quilibet said...


Sirthinks said...

What I would like to know is what punishment, if any, was meted out against the Communist Broadcasting Comrades (CBC) when they leaked budget information hours before the budget was brought down in 2008.

I find references to the infraction but I can't find any references to punishment.