DispatchPresident's message

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

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