When press freedom is curtailed, who is hurt? Who benefits?
These are questions you should ask as we tell you there is far less press freedom in Canada today than there was a year ago.
The nation fell to 19th place on the international ranking, down from 13 in 2008.
This may not bother you, but it should.
First, we’ll let you in on a little secret. This issue holds little more than a passing interest to most reporters.
Working journos know firsthand how hard it is to get good information from government.
Frankly, in the face of adversity most good reporters will continue to worry away at stories as best they can, digging for the elusive facts that link A to B. It’s how they are hardwired.
Most relish the challenge. It makes the little victories more sweet.
No, when organizations like the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders talk about diminished press freedom, it is really talking to society as a whole, not to reporters.
It’s talking to you.
Remember, the media is merely the conduit for information from a government to the people who elected it.
Which brings us back to the initial questions: if press freedom is curtailed, who is hurt? And who benefits?
There is a very good reason why both the US Constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms “guarantees freedom of the press, and other media of communication.”
Just so we’re clear, in the document it is right at the top in terms of importance, coming just behind the “freedom of conscience and religion” in our law, which is, by the way, written in beautifully simple language.
Why is it there?
Well, for damn sure it’s not because the nation’s lawmakers had a soft spot for reporters.
By nature, reporters challenge authority. They are often contrarians. And so they are, by nature, a pain in the ass.
But they are necessary. Because in our society we elect people to govern us.
And those politicians collect money from us. And they spend it. And they pass laws that cost you money and can land you in jail.
We place a lot of trust in these people.
And, every couple of years, they come back to you and seek a new mandate.
So, the question is: Do you want these people, who depend on your vote, assuring you they are spending your money wisely?
Or do you want that pain in the ass poring over the books, having a look to ensure that A really does lead to B, and then making that information freely available to everyone?
The people who set up our country, and those who died for it in two world wars, knew the system only works if there’s some contrarian sonofabitch second-guessing the politicians.
Without that check, you get authoritarianism. Tin-pot dictators. Or worse.
By nature, politicians don’t want information made public. They want to control things to further their careers.
When you have power, you want to protect it. Information is always a challenge to authority.
And so, you have a concerted effort by the government to restrict public access to information.
This year in Canada, the media’s ability to access information was significantly curtailed.
Today, it is harder for journos to review, analyze and provoke a public discussion of the actions of the nation’s government.
Canadian journos aren’t being killed, as they are in some nations.
But they are being threatened with more nuisance lawsuits launched merely to blunt coverage and to cost the media outlets money, which further restricts their coverage.
There is also increased pressure, through threats of jail time or heavy fines, for Canadian journalists to reveal their sources, who we feel honour bound to defend. As a result, there are fewer people coming forward with information, to the detriment of society as a whole.
Ottawa recently nixed efforts to improve Canada’s access-to-information law.
And, to top it off, reporters are being denied information that government used to freely provide.
So, who is hurt? And who benefits?
These examples, and Canadians’ fast-degrading ranking aren’t being revealed by whimpering Canadian journos. We have it far better than our colleagues in other places, and we know it.
No, the assessment is coming from Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based nonprofit society that knows the value of the free flow of information to a democratic society.
The US founders and the government of Pierre Elliot Trudeau also knew the importance of press freedom. That’s why it’s guaranteed in our respective constitutions.
Politicians wield extraordinary power. The press is one important check on that power, as laid out in our Charter.
So, we ask again, if press freedom is curtailed by politicians, who benefits?
And who is hurt?
It’s not just the journos.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Minutes after completing the editorial above, we received this release from the good folks at the Executive Council Office. This is the news their communications experts have been writing for distribution to news outlets for coverage.
Today, we are happy to comply.
It should be noted, this paper still has not been granted interviews with Premier Dennis Fentie or Jim Kenyon on the many issues surrounding Yukon Energy. Nor have we heard Fentie’s reaction to the resignation of Brad Cathers. We have not been given an interview with Archie Lang on the sale of his hotels to the Liard First Nation in Watson Lake. Or heard from Fentie on the issue of federal housing money being released to the Liard First Nation by the Yukon government. Or on Fentie’s meddling in Elaine Taylor’s Environment Department to blunt its input to the Peel Watershed Planning Commission.
We will continue to ask for information on all these matters.
FOR RELEASE #09-265 November 13, 2009
Teddy Bear Twins Now Available at Yukon Liquor Stores
WHITEHORSE – The Yukon Liquor Corporation is kicking off its 17th annual Twin Bear program.
Since 1992, the Yukon Liquor Corporation has been inviting its customers to share in the spirit of the holiday season by purchasing a set of twin teddy bears. The customer keeps one of the bears, and its twin is offered to a child in need during the holiday season.
“The Twin Bear program is a fun way to spread the joy this Christmas,” minister responsible for the Yukon Liquor Corporation Jim Kenyon said. “Our customers respond generously to this initiative, helping to bring smiles and comfort to Yukon children.”
The bears are given to children throughout Yukon who are in care, in the hospital, in shelters, or who are receiving Christmas hampers.
Bears are on sale at all Yukon Liquor stores from November 13 until Christmas, while quantities last. The Yukon Liquor Corporation operates liquor stores in Dawson City, Faro, Haines Junction, Mayo, Watson Lake, and Whitehorse.
Contact: Roxanne Vallevand Cabinet Communications 867-633-7949 email@example.com
Nathalie Ouellet Communications, Yukon Liquor Corporation 867-667-5075 firstname.lastname@example.org