Who Cares About Freedom of the Press?
Our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (CCRF) assures Canadians that freedom of the press is one of our fundamental freedoms. Do you remember the outrage in 2018 when the governing Liberal Party poured $595,000,000 over 5 years into select media outlets?
Dare we ask, “Why?” or “Who cares?” if the media gets a bailout? Car manufacturers got a bailout from our government—using taxpayer funds. Airlines got bailouts—using taxpayer funds. Why not the media?
Let’s step back to what history has taught us; what are the benefits of a free media?
Our federal government informs us, “Canada strongly believes that media freedom remains an important part of democratic societies and essential to the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. People need free media to provide them with accurate information and informed analysis to hold governments to account.”
So, if we need the media, why would we object to the government putting money into select media outlets?
We need only look to the media coverage of the Ottawa Freedom Convoy 2022 for an immediate answer to that question. The New York Times had reporters in Ottawa, filming the police making gunpoint arrests of the peacefully protesting truckers. The evidence presented by video accounts is irrefutable. We can all see it.
But CBC, which received $1.4B of taxpayer money last year, went on to challenge the video evidence with statements like, “. . . false and incredibly dangerous rhetoric.” But, we can look at the videos and see that rather than “dangerous rhetoric,” it is the truth as seen, filmed and reported by a media outlet that has not received Canadian taxpayer hush-money.
We could claim that Americans just don’t understand our Canadian ways. Fox News reported the video-taped comments of the Ottawa Police Chief. “If you are involved in this protest, we will actively look to identify you and follow up with financial sanctions and criminal charges, absolutely. This investigation will go on for months to come.” The Fox News commentator said, “This is retaliation.” Most Canadian media outlets gave it a free pass.
But with the government having clearly articulated the importance of media freedom to the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, is the media free when their bread and butter depends on the government? There is a chasm between the independent media’s response above, “This is retaliation,” and the dependent media letting it slide past without comment.
But we can also take it out of the public eye and put the same situation in our homes. If you are employed by the fictional XYZ Corporation and you become aware that they are doing something wrong, but your employment by XYZ Corporation buys your family, food, shelter, clothing, vacations, etc., do you:
- Turn a blind eye to the problem?
- Take some time to think about what your best action is?
- Report them promptly to the authorities?
This is where the rubber hits the road! When the government is paying a reporter’s employer a significant amount of money and the reporter’s job is to report on something the government is doing wrong, do they report it? Do they ignore it? Even if the reporter reports it, will the media print the negative story when their survival depends on government funds? There is a conflict of interest and thus we can never be sure of the truthfulness of the news they report.
If we go back to our federal government’s write-up quoted above, “. . . media freedom . . . [is] essential to the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.” Then we have to ask, which reporting best protects “human rights and fundamental freedoms,” and which reporting contains a bias that must be appeased when your bread and butter depends on the government.
We are always quick to judge Russia or China on this, but we no longer have independent mainstream media. Rather, we have some independent media who have not taken government funds but are often hindered from reporting, and we have the mainstream media who can have access and funding to report but whose conflict of interest causes biased reporting.
If we look again at the federal government’s write-up, we need a free media to provide us with “. . . accurate information and informed analysis to hold governments to account.” There’s the rub. If the government is paying the media outlet then the media outlet will protect its funding and declare “what is” as being “what isn’t.“
Vladamir Putin described the Ukraine government as, “. . . this gang of drug addicts and neo-Nazis.” This is so similar to our Prime Minister describing protestors as “extremists,” “misogynists,” and “racists.” Does the similarity give you chills? A free and independent press could “hold governments to account.” But a state-controlled media cannot.
Freedom of the press is recognized by our government as essential, and yet, the government has purchased the independence of the media so we cannot know for certain what is true and what isn’t true in their reports.
We have a heritage that has sought to protect Canadians from government incursion on our rights and freedoms. This includes freedom of the press to follow the story and report on it, wherever that takes them. This is a heritage worth preserving.
Other Commentary by Vicki Gunn:
- La démocratie s’effondrera-t-elle au Canada?
- Will Democracy Collapse in Canada?
- « Roe vs qui »?
- Roe vs Whom?
- Glorification ou dénigrement des drogues illicites
- Glorification or Vilification of Street Drugs