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Putting up walls

On Monday, UNBC informed area news outlets about 13 recommendations made to the school by a task force appointed to address sexual violence on campus.

On Monday, UNBC informed area news outlets about 13 recommendations made to the school by a task force appointed to address sexual violence on campus. The task force worked for two years on a report for the university and the recommendations flow from that report.

When asked for the actual report, instead of just the recommendations, UNBC president Daniel Weeks not only said no, he wasn't even sure he would release his written response to the task force's work.

"This can be a very sensitive topic. Just the recommendations themselves can be somewhat disturbing to some individuals and we want to make sure we're sensitive to some of the language that's in these reports and making sure that individuals are comfortable with it," Weeks said.

Sensitive why?

Because the task force found examples of negligence or impropriety by university students, staff or faculty?

Because there may have been serious, unreported incidents at UNBC?

We don't know because UNBC has decided the news media and the public don't need to know. Problems with sexual violence and a lack of action have been exposed at other B.C. universities, which is why the provincial government ordered post-secondary institutions to draft sexual misconduct policies by next May.

We'd rather not take the word of UNBC's president that there's nothing to see on his campus.

Our only avenue of appeal as a news organization is to file a Freedom of Information request, which we've done, for the report and any other information pertaining to it.

It's disappointing because the university regularly summons The Citizen and its fellow media outlets to their good news stories, like today's sign unveiling at the campus entrance or the announcement of the recommendations to prevent sexual violence on campus, but puts up walls the instant the story goes off-script.

To be fair to UNBC, this is standard practice by government and publicly-funded institutions.

Ironically, they damage their own self-interests out of their fear - largely misplaced - that Prince George's news media outlets have nothing else to do but make the public sector and their leaders look bad. We love telling good news stories but unless it's been cleared by the communications officer or a senior bureaucrat, staff will erect obstacles even when we are working on positive coverage.

A visit by our photographer to Duchess Park secondary on Thursday to take a picture of students working on the Orange Shirt Day campaign provoked a staff debate about whether he should be allowed to photograph the students, even though he had been invited by teacher (and Citizen columnist) Gerry Chidiac.

A nice story about a great student campaign to promote social justice but what about school district policy and Ministry of Education procedure on student privacy and protection?

This unwarranted concern stems from fear of discipline for doing something without permission.

Nobody wanted to move at Duchess Park on Thursday until the principal said they could.

It was even worse for The Citizen's photographer on Thursday afternoon at the University Hospital of Northern B.C.

The subject of next week's profile by The Citizen's seniors columnist Kathy Nadalin is currently in hospital but invited the Citizen to come by and take his picture, anyway.

Once the photographer arrived, however, hospital staff informed him that he couldn't take the man's picture without approval from Northern Health communications staff, even with the man calling from his room for the photographer to just come in and take his picture anyway.

These are increasingly common occurrences and not just for The Citizen.

For those who think journalists should just get off their high horse and stop whining, our freedom to do our job is enshrined in The Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

That's why we take our role - and the responsibility that comes with it - so seriously.

There is no corresponding constitutional clause, however, that encourages public servants (and their political masters) to get in our way.

Sadly, you wouldn't know it from the way they act.

-- Managing editor Neil Godbout