Press Freedom ensures citizens can participate in the democratic process. But are they informed?

By President's message, President's message

As press freedom goes, so goes democracy.

Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects freedom of the press. That’s because Press Freedom ensures citizens can be informed, empowered, and able to participate in the democratic process.

But are they informed?

In 2024, more than half of the world’s population will have gone to the polls in 64 countries plus the European Union.

But the quality of information they consume is declining. News deserts exist across Canada.

According to Reporters Without Borders, deep fakes now occupy a leading position in influencing the course of elections. Foreign governments – notably China – and other bad actors pollute the media ecosystem with disinformation and misinformation.

AI has given bad actors an unprecedented ability to tamper with content that is being used to undermine those who embody responsible journalism — and it weakens journalism itself to keep governments accountable.

Nobody knows that better than the US Guardian columnist, Margaret Sullivan, this year’s keynote speaker for World Press Freedom Canada’s annual awards luncheon.

As Sullivan noted in her book, Ghosting the News, until recently in Brampton Ontario, there was no local radio station, no local TV station, no daily newspaper, and no serious online news outlets.

Our 2022 Press Freedom Award winner, Fatima Syed, worked for a tiny non-profit online magazine in Toronto and went into this community of immigrants and essential workers because the COVID-19 test positivity rate was more than double that of the rest of the province.

Through her enterprise reporting in this news desert, she discovered the health system had failed the people who needed help the most. Syed’s journalism was picked up by the major dailies and, in short order, the province sent an abundance of resources to remedy the wrongs.

A free press is essential for the functioning of democracy by informing the public, serving as a watchdog, facilitating public discourse, giving voice to minorities, and seeking transparency and accountability wherever it is needed.

Many news outlets and publishers are struggling. Metroland Media Group, one of the country’s largest news publishers, filed for bankruptcy protection in 2023. Some 650 people were laid off and its weekly community newspapers were shuttered across Ontario. CTV recently cut roughly 100 jobs and sold 45 regional radio stations. TVA Group cut 547 jobs – 31 per cen of its workforce. Global News was gutted during the pandemic.

This is not good for democracy.

As authoritarianism stakes its ground with frightening intensity, we must remind people that journalists are our watchdogs, not our lapdogs.

Support them and you support a free press and democracy.

We wish our European friends fair elections next month for European Parliament.

And… we wait with bated breath for November and the results of the U.S. presidential election.

 

Heather Bakken, President

World Press Freedom Canada

World Press Freedom Day celebrated across Canada

By Uncategorized

By Shawn McCarthy, WPFC Past President

On the night of May 3, Niagara Falls was bathed in a spectacular multi-coloured light show to recognize World Press Freedom Day.

The Falls Illumination Board was one of several landmarks and 29 municipalities that shone the colours, issued proclamations or raised the United Nations’ flag to recognize the importance of press freedom.

The campaign is led by ink-stainedwretches.org founder Mirko Petricevic, a former Waterloo Region Record photographer, reporter and copy editor.  For the Press Freedom Day campaign, Petricevic has partnered with the Canadian Commission for UNESCO and World Press Freedom Canada (WPFC).

The campaign is meant to remind politicians and their public to champion press freedom as a fundamental pillar of democracy.

“Our elected leaders have a duty to protect and strengthen the institutions that ensure a healthy democracy,” Petricevic said. “This campaign is an attempt to get them to reflect on that obligation at least once a year.”

In Ottawa, Mayor Mark Sutcliffe joined WPFC President Heather Bakken and Past President Shawn McCarthy to proclaim May 3 to be World Press Freedom Day in the city.

The proclamation read in part: “A healthy and professional news media is essential for the proper functioning of civil society and democracy at the local, regional, federal and international level.”

In a speech to World Press Freedom Canada’s awards luncheon, veteran American journalist Margaret Sullivan said journalists must be careful that in pursuing balanced reporting, they don’t give free rein to purveyors of untruths.

With a crucial election in the United States looming, Sullivan said the press faces challenges and threats, but must be clear about the stakes when one candidate, Donald Trump, is showing his autocratic leanings.

“Be very careful about the way information is presented,” she said in response to a questioner, “not to take speeches that are bound to be full of disinformation, or misinformation, take them live and say, ‘Well, we’ll fact check them later.’”

Have a question? Ask ATI . . . and then wait

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By Dean Beeby, WPFC committee member

For years, government media-relations staff have resorted to a dodge that allows them to evade awkward questions from journalists.

“For that information, you’ll have to make a request under access to information,” they routinely say.

Never mind that the federal act explicitly says the ATI system is “not intended to limit in any way access to the type of government information that is normally available to the general public.”

Far too many requests from journalists, researchers and ordinary Canadians are now routed through the dysfunctional ATI system.

The practice has significantly burdened the system, increasing backlogs and costs. Lengthy delays in responses are now pervasive, further serving the interests of elected administrations.

Now there’s a new twist on this long-standing abuse of access to information.

Caroline Maynard, the federal information commissioner, reported this week on how would-be immigrants to Canada are getting the same run-around as reporters have for years.

Desperately seeking information on their files, their requests are sent to the cumbersome access to information system.

Two departments have direct control of the applications that potential immigrants file when they want to come to Canada: Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).

Lots of these hopeful and anxious people understandably want updates on where their applications stand. They often hire consultants and lawyers to do the work.

Immigration-related access requests soon started to overwhelm the system, in the two departments as well as in the complaints area of the Office of the Information Commissioner.

“[T]he status quo is simply untenable,” Maynard said in releasing her latest report.

Now if only the commissioner could give a stern lecture to those tight-lipped flaks.

(A version of this article appeared on Dean Beeby’s newsletter, available here: https://deanbeeby.substack.com/)

In case you missed it: Winnipeg journalist Melissa Martin wins WPFC Press Freedom Award and other news

By In Case You Missed It, In Case You Missed It, In Case You Missed It

Winnipeg journalist Melissa Martin wins WPFC Press Freedom Award

WPFC awarded the annual press freedom prize to Winnipeg journalist Melissa Martin, who took a leave in 2023 in order to live in Ukraine and write personal essays about the impact of the war on civilian populations. WPFC’s career achievement award went to The Globe and Mail’s Robyn Doolittle for her ongoing commitment to shining the light on issues that those in power prefer to remain shadows.

Read more and see pictures here.

Palestinian journalists covering war in Gaza win UNESCO/Guillermo Cano prize

At an international World Press Freedom Day conference in Chile, the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano prize was awarded to Palestinian journalists who are covering the war in Gaza.

The ongoing conflict in Gaza is having grave consequences for journalists. Since 7 October 2023, UNESCO has condemned and deplored the deaths of 26 journalists and media workers in the line of work, based upon information from its international NGO partners. The Organization is reviewing dozens of other cases.

The Taliban issues warning to journalists

The Taliban is warning journalists and experts not to work with Afghanistan International TV which is based in the U.K. The Taliban took over Afghanistan in 2021 and since then the media has not been free to report on the Taliban or events in the country.

Reporters Without Borders releases press freedom index

Reporters Without Borders released its annual press freedom index on May 3, and the picture is ominous. Press freedom around the world is being threatened by the very people who should be its guarantors – political authorities. Canada ranks highest in the Americas but we are not immune from political attacks and growing distrust of media.

Media executives call for protection of journalists in Gaza

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The Netanyahu government and Israeli Defense Forces are facing a flood of criticism over the death of an unprecedented number of journalists who were reporting from the war zone of Gaza.

In an open letter released on February 29, executives from more than 30 leading news organizations from around the world voiced their support for journalists reporting in Gaza. And they called on authorities to protect all civilians and notably journalists as required by the United Nations.

In the five months since Hamas’ brutal October 7 terrorist attack on civilians unleashed a massive Israeli response, 94 journalists have been killed, including 89 Palestinians who were killed by Israeli military, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The war in Gaza ranks as the deadliest conflict for journalists ever documented by CPJ.

CPJ and Reporters Without Borders have urged the international community to pressure Israel to end the carnage, and for the Security Council to enforce Resolution 2222 which it passed in 2015 and which requires combatants to protect journalists and media personnel who are reporting on conflict

The February 29 open letter was signed by top executives at news organizations such as Associated Press, The New York Times, Reuters, BBC, Germany’s Der Spiegel, Japan’s Asahi Shimbun, as well as the Editor-in-Chief at Israel’s Haaretz newspaper.

It said those responsible for violations of the Security Council resolution should be held accountable.

“Attacks on journalists are also attacks on truth,” the letter said. “We commit to championing the safety of journalists in Gaza, which is fundamental for the protection of press freedom everywhere.” The CPJ has also advocated for more access for journalists in Gaza.

UNESCO’s director general, Audrey Azoulay, has issued statements deploring the death of journalists and is calling for “an independent and transparent investigation.”

Israel’s defenders blame Hamas for the high death toll among civilians, including journalists.

Hamas’s October 7 terrorist attack brutalized civilians – notably women and children – and brought down the wrath of Israelis determined to defend themselves. Hamas fighters are operating among civilians in Gaza, and Israel accuses them of using civilians as human shields.

In a recent podcast, former AP reporter Matti Friedman also questioned the independence of the mostly Arab journalists who have been based in Gaza and must answer to Hamas-run authorities who do not support press freedom.

Reporters can’t work in Gaza unless they are “willing to play ball with Hamas,” Friedman – who covered the Middle East for The Associated Press – told podcaster Dan Senor. He argued the absence of reporting on Hamas’s military buildup or its construction of a vast labyrinth of tunnels under Gaza prior to October 7 is evidence of media complicity with Hamas.

That view of journalists as propagandists, or victims of intimidation motivated by fear or favour, rather than as fact-finders who are operating in a challenging political environment makes it easier for Israeli supporters to deflect calls for their protection.

World Press Freedom Canada urges all sides in the conflict to respect press freedom and make every effort to protect journalists and other civilians.

Can Journalism Save Democracy?

By Dispatch, Dispatch, Dispatch, Dispatch, Dispatch, Dispatch, Dispatch, Dispatch, Dispatch, Dispatch, Uncategorized

BY HEATHER BAKKEN, PRESIDENT

Award-winning American journalist and pro-democracy media critic, Margaret Sullivan, will be this year’s keynote speaker for World Press Freedom Canada’s annual awards luncheon on May 2nd at the National Arts Centre.

Sullivan is a renowned columnist for The Guardian’s U.S. edition and the author of Newsroom Confidential and Ghosting the News. She is also the Executive Director for the Craig Newmark Center for Journalism Ethics and Security at the Columbia Journalism School.

Journalism ethics and security are vital for maintaining credibility, protecting journalists, and ensuring responsible reporting – all of which will be critically important this year as Americans head to the polls in what will be a rematch of 2020.

We, as a committee, believe Ms. Sullivan’s message will resonate ahead of the elections in the U.S., and indeed in Canada and around the world.

Given the backdrop of an American presidential election, Sullivan’s address to the audience will be informative and provocative.

Questions about the presidential candidates’ ages — particularly Joe Biden’s — are dominating early coverage of the general election. Focusing on it as a campaign issue, Sullivan says, is “nothing short of journalistic malpractice.” Turning the mirror on the trade, she refers to it as a “destructive obsession.”

It’s estimated that in 2016, Republican candidate, Donald Trump, earned $1B dollars worth of free airtime through media coverage. This time round he faces 91 criminal charges in multiple states, including one for insurrection, and he uses the media coverage of these cases to fundraise for his campaign. Even that generates headlines – and more coverage about the coverage.

Despite the wall-to-wall coverage of his political career, Trump has demonized the American media.

If he wins the 2024 election, the protection of journalists could become the issue for the industry. He has stated publicly that, “…the ‘lamestream’ media will be thoroughly scrutinized for their knowingly dishonest and corrupt coverage of people, things, and events,” and he promised retribution.

At Columbia, Sullivan encourages her students to uphold traditional journalistic principles such as accuracy, transparency, and accountability. She wants to create an environment where the next generation of journalists can work fearlessly, uphold journalistic integrity, and serve the public interest.

Responsible reporting contributes to a healthy democracy.

Join us at the press luncheon to hear what Margaret Sullivan has to say. And to celebrate the 2024 World Press Freedom Canada award winners – including an inaugural award for journalism students.

ICYMI: WPFC Press Freedom Awards open until March 22

By Uncategorized

WPFC Press Freedom Awards open until March 22

Nominations for World Press Freedom Canada’s prizes for the annual press freedom award, career achievement award and student journalism award close on March 22.  Click here to learn more about the awards.

Understaffing, poor pay undermining student journalism

Student journalism at campuses across North America is threatened by poor pay and working conditions, writes Emma Bainbridge, the coordinating news editor at the McGill Daily: J-Source.

Canadian journalists remain ill-equipped to deal with online harassment

News organizations need to step up their commitments to share aggregated data of online threats against employees and offer flexibility to journalists when dealing with harassment, writes Nora Loreto in J-Source.

Police harassment undermines press freedom

By Uncategorized

BY JANET E. SILVER

Journalists across the country have been threatened, arrested, removed, or denied access by the police while trying to do their job of reporting the news.

Journalist Brandi Morin was the latest high-profile case. Morin was arrested on January 10 while conducting interviews at a homeless encampment in Edmonton. The obstruction charges brought were dropped on March 1.

Morin’s editor at Ricochet Media, Ethan Cox, told The Canadian Press that the decision to forego charges against his reporter was a victory for press freedom in Canada.

“I’m just so relieved,” Morin said after news that the charges had been dropped. “I was present to report, and I did nothing more or less than my job. It’s gratifying to see the Crown finally acknowledge that I did nothing wrong.”

She said the experience has had an impact on her reporting, and for the time being she is being far more cautious.

Morin was arrested while conducting interviews at an encampment. When police demanded she leave the area, Morin said she was a journalist and had a right to be there. The police then arrested her, detained her for five hours and charged her with obstruction.

“This amounts to a kind of harassment against journalists to prevent them from reporting on police activities,” Cox told CBC.

Meanwhile, in B.C., photojournalist Amber Bracken has launched a civil lawsuit against the RCMP for her arrest and four days in jail while she was on assignment for The Narwhal in the Wet’suwet’en territory in November, 2021.She and Michael Toledano—a filmmaker working for the CBC—were invited by the Wet’suwet’en to cover the pipeline conflict.

“We are not filing this lawsuit for ourselves, but to clear a path for all journalists in Canada to do their work without police interference,” said Emma Gilchrist, co-founder of the Narwhal at a news conference in February 2023.

Support for Local Journalism due to end

By Press Freedom News, Press Freedom News, Press Freedom News, Press Freedom News

BY JANET E. SILVER

Hundreds of journalists across the country may lose their jobs at the end of March with the expiry of a federal program that supports local media.

The Trudeau government created the Local Journalism Initiative (LJI) in 2019 to help smaller community news outlets keep their doors open. Funding is due to end on March 31, the end of the 2023-24 fiscal year.

Local media outlets are suffering from the same economic forces – shrinking ad markets and tough competition from social media – that have shrunk metropolitan newspapers, and national television and radio news.

Without journalists covering local government, citizens are forced to look elsewhere to get their information. Often this means scrolling through social media for posts that can be highly opinionated and ill-informed. Unfortunately, many readers do not take the time to verify the facts they read and often share the misinformation they have consumed.

The loss of local media outlets results in less coverage of town councils, municipal offices, and the court – the type of coverage in small communities that keeps everyone connected. The LJI has supported media coverage in some 1,400 communities.

Appearing before the Heritage Committee National Forum in the Media hearing in February, Brent Jolly, president of the Canadian Association of Journalists, said he was worried about what would happen if the LJI funding ended.

“If we don’t have (the LJI), the news deserts are going to be cataclysmic,” Jolly said.

National TV networks are pulling back from local coverage.  In February, CTV ended its weekend newscasts and noon news shows for most regions of the country. Local news for Global News outside of Ontario, B.C., and Alberta, is anchored in Toronto, and CBC is expected to announce within weeks its cuts of up to 600 employees. Local news across the country is being decimated.

As news outlets continue to cut staff and shutter operations, the public interest is threatened as citizens are left uninformed about the decisions being taken by their elected officials and local judiciary. And without this check on decision-makers, democracy itself suffers.

Quality journalism costs money; it’s an investment that communities across the country need.

At press time, the Liberal government announced an extension of the local journalism initiative that to 2025. Crisis averted.

In case you missed it

By Uncategorized

Meta Dug In

As of Jan. 1, Meta’s boycott of Canadian news organizations on its Facebook platform continued in response to the federal government’s Bill C-18, which requires online platforms to compensate news organization for use of their content.

While Google reached a deal to allocate $100-million to news providers under C-18, Meta has dug in its heels. A recent study by the Media Ecosystem Observatory out of McGill University and the University of Toronto found that views of Canadian news on Facebook dropped 90 per cent after the ban was introduced.

Read more.

Committee to Protect Journalists urges action to protect journalists in Gaza

After Israeli strike killed Al Jazeera journalists Hamza Wael Dahdouh and Moustafa Thuraya in South Gaza on Jan. 7, the Committee to Protect Journalists is demanding an independent investigation into whether the Israeli Defence Force is targeting journalists in Gaza.

The Israel-Gaza war has taken an unprecedented toll on the media community. Since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas, Israeli strikes have killed at least 81 journalists in the Gaza Strip of whom at least 18 in the course of their work.

WPFC and other media organizations have urged all parties to refrain from targeting journalists doing trier jobs to report facts of the conflict to the world.

Read more.

UNESCO urges human rights approach in regulation of digital platforms

Press freedom is also threatened by the growth of online disinformation and hate speech aimed at threatening and intimidating journalists.

The United Nations Education, Science and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recently released its Guidelines for the Governance of Digital Platforms, which aim to provide a framework for safeguarding freedom of expression and access to information online.

UNESCO is the lead UN agency for the promotion and protection of press freedom and access to information and consulted with 135 countries in producing its guidelines.

The guidelines include guidance for states, digital platforms, intergovernmental organizations and civil society. UNESCO says platforms should adhere to International human rights standards including content moderation and curation; be transparent and be accountable to relevant stakeholders.

Read more.

Russia’s Putin says he’s looking for deal to free Wall Street Journal’s Gershkovich

Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russia wants “to reach an agreement” on the return of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who is currently in Russian custody on an allegation of espionage that he, The Journal and the U.S. government vehemently deny.

Read more.

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