Tuesday, March 08, 2011

A tale of two headlines

For the identical story, these two headlines appear today.

Globe: "Tories sidestep semantic row over use of ‘Harper Government’ on federal documents." Makes the story sound as if the government has successfully sidestepped this one, the issue is over.

Canadian Press online: "No 'formal directive' on use of 'Harper Government,' just direction, says PCO." Makes the story sound as if there was a direction to use the term, it's not over.

Here's the story which actually does better line up with the second headline:
There may have been no "formal directive" to brand Canada's government as the "Harper Government," but that doesn't mean the instructions didn't come from the top, says a spokesman for the Privy Council Office.

The bureaucratic nerve centre of the federal government was left to clear the air Monday amid furious denials from Conservatives that civil servants have been told to replace the words "Government of Canada" with "Harper Government" in some communications.

"The distinction that needs to be made here is the word 'directive' — a directive, as opposed to, you know, in a particular case departments may have used the words 'Harper Government,'" said Raymond Rivet, a PCO spokesman.

Told there were almost 300 "Harper Government" references on various federal gc.ca web sites in the past month alone, Rivet acknowledged the role of the Prime Minister's Office in co-ordinating messaging.

Civil servants from four departments told The Canadian Press last week they've recently been instructed to use the new terminology.

"If a department has told you they've got direction from 'the Centre' to use a message or certain wording or do something, I mean, that would be normal, would it not?" Rivet said.

"Part of the role of PCO and PMO in the communications sphere is to co-ordinate government communications, so I imagine they get direction on a variety of things. So that's not in opposition to somebody telling you that there's no formal directive."
The PCO official is backing up the departments who said they received the instruction by saying that would make sense, that it would be normal for such directions to come from "the Centre." That does not sound like a "sidestepping" from here. So the PMO spin, also cited in the report, to the effect that there is no formal written directive is not sufficient answer. That's the upshot of it.

Fun exercise in headline watching though.