Thursday, May 07, 2009

Security! Or Close Talkers?

We all have our own sense of personal space – that area immediately surrounding us in crowded public spaces. For some, you can get nose-to-nose, others need a little more wiggle room.

And if you’re the leader of Canada’s largest province, you get five-feet – most of the time.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty told reporters a couple of months ago that they were getting too close, and laid down what has been dubbed “the five-foot rule,” as it requires they gather no closer than that magical number from him.

Might appear a wee bit much, but anyone who’s been in the centre of a herd of journalists jostling for that one soundbite, quotable quip, or flash-bulb smile for the cameras knows it can get pretty claustrophobic in there.

And unlike most situations involving close talkers, during a media event called a “scrum” – a fancy word for an informal, impromptu question and answer period – it is almost always impossible to just back away. Scrums are usually held in front of a wired microphone, and because of the needs of the electronic press, the wires often dictate just how close or how far you can travel.

Granted, most reporters are caring, feeling people too, and they granted the premier his requested five-feet of personal space.

Though journalists – like all other professions – sometimes have the odd bad apple in the bunch. This week, during a question period with the premier and Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper, many reporters tasked with covering the premier felt they were snubbed, when their questions were not taken. So – and I don’t know who started this – someone got the idea to get back at the premier, by not giving him his personal space at the next press conference.

Good thing it wasn’t U.S. President Barack Obama or those reporters would have probably been tackled by armed Secret Service soldiers, handcuffed, and taken away to a musty detention cell.

Not to mention, for some personal space isn’t simply a matter of manners, but also a medical condition. People with severe claustrophobia may have a panic attack so physically and mentally stressful that it could lead to them fainting or worse – suffering a heart attack and dying.

Premier McGuinty doesn’t appear to have such a condition, when the reporters circled him like vultures – some actually almost hit him with their microphones, tape recorders, notepads and other tools of the trade – he simply laughed it off.

We’re lucky there weren’t any rock-hard Inuit figurines within arms-reach, because then things could have got ugly. Remember many years ago, when then-Prime Minister Jean Chretien clocked someone over the head with one of those handmade mini-statues, after the person had broken into his home?

Though journalists aren’t typically the break and enter type. But hey, if one or more of them can stoop to the level that they did when they invaded the premier’s personal space, who knows what else they are capable of?

That sort of childish behaviour really is unacceptable in today’s politically-correct world. Especially in a field where one of the skills needed to do the job is to be an exceptional communicator. Surely there must be another way to communicate their angst over the so-called “snub.”

But in the end, I suppose the childish antics of the Queen’s Park press corp. got the message to the premier. Though this puts a black stain journalists everywhere.

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