Lies, damned lies and public relations

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Marilyn More

If there’s any justice, the hottest places in Hell will be reserved for PR flacks — especially those who earn their pay by spinning half-truths and outright lies to the citizens who pay their salaries.

Case in point: Yesterday’s news release distributed by the government-run Communications Nova Scotia on behalf of Marilyn More, the provincial cabinet minister who oversees universities. More and her NDP colleagues had decided to reduce university funding by another three per cent on top of last year’s four per cent cut. But you’d never guess that from the news release which opened with this poorly constructed but positive-sounding paragraph:

A three-year memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the province and Nova Scotia’s 11 universities will ensure tuition remains at, or below, the national average, increases research and development opportunities, and invests $25 million in universities to help them become more sustainable.

Compare that with the Halifax Chronicle-Herald’s headline — “Province slashes university funding” — backed up by this lead paragraph:

The province will cut university funding by three per cent in the coming year and again allow tuitions to rise by up to three per cent, Advanced Education Minister Marilyn More announced Thursday.

The Herald also reported that a government-mandated review of tuition fees could result in increases of more than three per cent in coming years. (The minister herself said she “couldn’t commit” to the three per cent tuition cap after 2012-13.) The government news release papered over that politically awkward news with vague generalities and fashionable buzzwords:

The memorandum also outlines areas where new approaches are needed to ensure excellence and sustainability. They include: …A review of tuition-related policies to ensure fair and competitive tuition that remains at, or below, the national average.

The government’s claim that the Memorandum of Understanding “invests $25 million in universities to help them become more sustainable” is a noteworthy example of Orwellian doublespeak. Over the next three years, Nova Scotia universities will be expected to compete for a slice of that $25 million — money that will supposedly help them find ways of cutting costs. The news release, however, magically links cost reductions to “excellence” and “innovation”:

A key element of the MOU is a $25-million investment by the province in a new University Excellence and Innovation Program. That program will operate over the life of the MOU to help support efforts to reduce costs and foster innovation.

Nova Scotia’s NDP politicians are taking flak for implementing hacking and slashing policies they condemned when they were in opposition. But, it’s unlikely the politicians themselves came up with the deceptive, positive-sounding language they try to use to sell those policies. For that they depend on wordsmiths or PR professionals many of whom are members of the Canadian Public Relations Society governed by a code of ethics which states:

A member shall practice the highest standards of honesty, accuracy, integrity and truth, and shall not knowingly disseminate false or misleading information.

In other words, if the member sees through the buzzwords she generates, she’s headed straight for the hottest places in Hell.

For doublespeak connoisseurs, here is the full text of that NDP news release dated January 5, 2012. Note how artfully it buries the news of that three per cent funding cut:

LABOUR/ADVANCED EDUCATION–Province, Universities, Build Sustainable, Innovative Post-secondary Education
—————————————————————–
A three-year memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the province and Nova Scotia’s 11 universities will ensure tuition remains at, or below, the national average, increases research and development opportunities, and invests $25 million in universities to help them become more sustainable.

A key element of the MOU is a $25-million investment by the province in a new University Excellence and Innovation Program. That program will operate over the life of the MOU to help support efforts to reduce costs and foster innovation.

“Nova Scotia’s economic future depends upon a strong university and college system and we’re committed to working with our partners so they can continue to provide a first-rate education,” said Marilyn More, Minister of Labour and Advanced Education. “The new agreement will keep university education affordable for Nova Scotian students while making sure we all live within our means in order that Nova Scotia can continue to deliver key services like health and post-secondary education.”

The memorandum also outlines areas where new approaches are needed to ensure excellence and sustainability. They include:
— An updated formula to allocate the provincial operating grant among universities that better reflects program cost variations and enrolments
— More collaboration by universities to reduce costs while maintaining or enhancing program quality. This could include things such as shared data services
— A review of tuition-related policies to ensure fair and competitive tuition that remains at, or below, the national average
— Improving credit transfer to make it easier for students to have completed courses recognized at other universities
— Enhancing research and development, and contributions to economic development. For example, the Halifax Marine Institute links academic and public sector research with ocean industries and works to generate long-term economic benefits for the province and region

A partnership will also be established to monitor the progress of the new approach to sustainability and ensure it continues to support goals of the agreement.

The memorandum caps possible annual tuition increases at three per cent. This, along with the province’s investment of $42.5 million in student assistance as part of the 2011 budget, will keep tuition for Nova Scotia students at, or below, the national average. Students enrolled in dentistry, law and medicine, and international students, are excluded from the cap.

Ms. More also announced the provincial operating grant for 2012-13, which will be $324 million for the universities.

“We advised the university presidents and the MOU negotiating committee last fall that the operating grant for 2012-13 would be reduced by a further three per cent, so they would have enough time to plan their respective budgets,” said Ms. More. “I want to thank the presidents and student leaders for respecting the confidentiality agreement these past few months and for their diligence in reaching this agreement.”

The universities must also absorb any possible inflation costs without additional funding.

An memorandum of understanding is a commitment to work together on an agreed objective. It often lays out terms of a co-operative agreement.

For a full copy of the memorandum, visit www.gov.ns.ca/lae/ .

—————————————————————–
FOR BROADCAST USE:

A new memorandum of understanding between the province and

Nova Scotia’s 11 universities will ensure tuition will remain at,

or below, the national average, and increases research and

development.

The MOU also establishes a 25-million-dollar fund to help

universities to reduce costs and foster innovation.

Labour and Advanced Education Minister Marilyn More says the

province’s economic future depends upon a strong university and

college system. She says the new agreement will keep university

education affordable for Nova Scotian students while making sure

we all live within our means.

-30-

Media Contact: Pam Menchenton
Labour and Advanced Education
902-424-0011
Cell: 902-719-4950
E-mail: menchepm@gov.ns.ca

 

About Bruce Wark

Bruce Wark is a freelance journalist and retired journalism professor who lives in Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada. He taught the history and ethics of journalism at the University of King's College in Halifax, Nova Scotia for 15 years. Before that, he worked for 19 years at CBC Radio news serving as a producer in charge of such network programs as World at Six, World Report and The House. He also produced Media File, a national program that looked critically at the performance of the news media. Along the way, Wark also worked as CBC Radio's legislative reporter in Ontario and as its National Reporter in Canada's Maritime provinces.
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