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Saturday, Apr. 03, 2004 - 1:43 a.m.

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Coroners Worry More About Their Safety than Yours

Well, I was going to write something about the new (since Dec) Chief Coroner here, Mme Danielle Bellemare, having decided that the coroners cannot any longer communicate with the press except in exceptional circumstances and put a link. But it seems to be a secret to the world. At least to the English speaking world, and the internet world. One would think that such a draconian contradiction of the freedom of information act and the purpose of a coroner's office... ie to look into deaths, and pronounce not only on them but also on how to prevent such deaths in the public at large, would be something worth pronouncing in English and in French. And esp since it involves closing the media out of the loop, you'd think it would be highly reported in the media. Apparently not.

The only good link I could find was in French, and indeed it is a letter to Mme Bellemare from the Fédération professionnelle des jounalistes du Québec. Here it is if you can read French

As a public service I will translate it for your fun and edification, since the Google translater does a totally laughable job. Horribly laughable. Disastrous even.

Here goes:

The Coroner's Office Closes to Journalists

Anne-Marie Dussault 2004-03-18

Letter of protest sent to the Chief Coroner, Madame Danielle Bellemare:

The Federation professionnelle des jounalistes du Quebec has just been informed that your Office is getting ready to put into effect new rules for regulating its relationship with the press.

The Coroner's Office will from now on refuse to give interviews to the press. No coroner, not even the communications officer, will be allowed to speak with a journalist except in very exceptional cases. The coroners' reports will no longer be communicated to the media by fax, as is done currently and up to now, without problem. They must be sent by the mail, with the delays which this will entail, and they will be invoiced to the media, while up to now they had been supplied without charge.

All of these measures converge in the same direction. They will render more difficult the free exercise of the freedom of the press and the public's legitimate right to information.

Your Office is often the in the news because of its recommendations on questions of security, such as we have seen only a few days ago in the matter of the safety of cellphone use by vehicle drivers.

Your press conferences are sought after, with reason. As an organization, the Coroner's Office benefits from a great degree of credibility and independence. It's mandate is not to please this one or that one, but rather to state frankly and clearly that which it deems necessary to say.

We understand the need for coroners to have distance, and also the loss of immunity they have once their reports are given, but it seems to us that the education of the public is also a primordial concern.

This is why your new policy represents a step back and an unexceptable degree of closure. Interviews are essential to flesh out the written reports and to prepare electronic press reports where sound clips are indispensible. A written communiqué cannot replace them.

On top of this, journalists read these reports. By limiting itself to a press release, followed by a complete report sent by mail, the Coroner's office runs the risk of seeing the findings of its inquests cut off from an essential placing in context.

The transmission of reports with the shortest possible delay is equally essential in the grand majority of cases. The news requires that we deal with a situation at the moment it is happening, not several days later. The billing of the reports to the press will creat a new obstacle to informing the public at the exact moment where, contrarily, it should be facilitated.

The Office risks closing itself into a cold policy of silence and folding in upon itself. This movement is counterproductive from every point of view, for the public which will have less and less information from the Office, for the journalists who must get their information from other, likely more biased sources than the Office, and the Office itself, which will isolate itself in an ivory tower. It is doubly regrettable that the Office has taken such a decision without consulting the press.

The FPJQ asks you to not put into application the rules in question, nor other rules with comparable effects. The Coroner's Office is a public organisation which must show proof of the greatest transparency. It must continue to reach the greater public to make heard its recommendations, and it is journalists who will permit it to do so.

Well, I'm not a professional translator, but there you go. I think it is insane that a public office whose whole raison d'être is to inform and educate the public, would take it upon itself to break relations with the press. If you are not going to give interviews, go on the radio, tv, or speak to journalists, how the hell are you going to get the public to hear your warnings? It is insane, and should be illegal.

Supposedly this is because Mme. Bellemare is concerned about coroners saying things that are not pre-approved etc, and thus being sued. Well, I would think it would be the opposite. If they do a whole inquiry into the safety or not of something, but don't properly inform us, so that lives are lost or people are maimed through lack of knowledge, THEN they are responsible and the whole office should be sued.

That's my two cents worth. And I really am curious as to why the media are not reporting this in English?? Hmmm. Very strange. In the French newspaper there were coroners, and doctors etc speaking up saying she should reconsider, that it is deplorable. What do you think??

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previous meanderings - future past

Goodbye Michael. May your next life be kinder to you. - Thursday, Jun. 25, 2009
Taking Care of Your Cows - Thursday, Jun. 25, 2009
Saint Joseph robs the cradle and eats spaghetti - Sunday, Jun. 14, 2009
sticky notes and broken irises - Friday, Jun. 12, 2009
The FOODCOMMANDER - Monday, Jun. 08, 2009


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