Friday, July 17, 2009


Lots of controversy this week about the case of a 50 year-old Toronto man who died while awaiting medical attention. EMS Chief Bruce Farr held a news conference and was clearly on a message mission – for a little while, anyway. He wanted to make clear that there was no truth to rumours that the strike by city workers somehow delayed paramedics from getting to the man in time. That message got through clearly in most of the coverage of Farr’s news conference – but it was the rest of the story that was problematic. He pointed to the information provided by the person who made the initial 9-1-1 call as one of the key reasons for the way the response was handled, specifically because the caller did not indicate that it was a life-threatening situation. But then, when asked if he had personally reviewed the 9-1-1 call tape, Farr admitted that he hadn’t – and, only when questioned further, explained that he isn’t directly involved in the investigation (which would have neatly explained why he hadn’t listened to the tape). Also, he said there was a “health and safety” concern on the part of the ambulance crew when they arrived, and that’s why they didn’t enter the apartment building where the victim lay until some time later. But again, when questioned, he would not disclose neither what that safety concern was, nor the precise timeline of events. This isn’t to say that spokespeople must have all the answers to a situation that has yet to be fully investigated (which, as it turns out, really IS being held up by the civic workers’ strike), but you’ve got to at least be ready to answer the fundamentals – or, if not, be able to clearly articulate WHY you can’t speak to those details at this time. The Globe & Mail’s Brodie Fenlon said the news conference “raised more questions than it answered” while CTV’s Austin Delaney told Farr point blank that his answers left a “huge hole” in the information he was trying to provide to his viewers.

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