Journalism Redefined

It’s been a disturbing week.

Ezra Levant, who swore under oath that he was not a reporter, sued the NDP government for refusing to let him attend (and report, presumably) on government media events.  Established journalists fell all over themselves supporting Mr Levant’s position.

In the face of the media backlash the government appointed former Western Canadian bureau chief for The Canadian Press, Heather Boyd, to review the government’s media policy.

CALGARY-RALLY

Mr Levant

What’s not clear is what exactly Ms Boyd has been asked to consider: is it (a) is there a difference between a “reporter” and a “journalist” or (b) should journalism be regulated and if so by whom?

If it’s the former we already know the answer. It doesn’t matter if there’s a difference between a “reporter” and a “journalist” because anyone can be either. Journalism has no minimum educational requirements, no self-regulating group and (other than the law of libel) no regulations restricting what reporters and journalists can say.

If it’s the latter, Ms Boyd can expect flak from the freedom of the press contingent.

Oversight

Ms Soapbox is supportive of some form of oversight of journalism.

She’s acutely aware that the need for caution. Oversight cannot be used as an excuse to infringe the freedom of the press (although Harper demonstrated that you don’t need regulations to silence the press, you can just ignore them).

However as Will Dutton writing in The Guardian points out: “The precious freedom of speech of an individual is different from the freedom of speech of a media corporation with its capacity to manipulate the opinions of millions, which is why it must take place within the law and within a framework of accountability. Freedom is not only menaced by the state; it is also menaced by private media barons and their servants.”

Mr Dutton was reflecting on the hysteria leading up to the release of the findings of the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the newspaper industry in the wake of the Murdoch newspaper’s revelation that it routinely hacked the phones of politicians, celebrities, the Royal Family and murdered children.

The Leveson Inquiry called for the creation of an independent self-regulating body, rooted in legislation, to provide oversight to the press while also recognizing the government’s responsibility to uphold and protect the freedom of the press.

It’s a delicate balance and David Cameron’s government balked.

Postmedia

The question for Ms Boyd is whether greater oversight of the press is required in Alberta.

Alberta’s newspapers have not fallen as far down the sewer as the British tabloids…have they?

godfrey1

Postmedia CEO Mr Godfrey

Take a look at the Saturday edition of the Calgary Herald, page A6.  There you’ll find a full page ad depicting what appears to be a nude young man sporting a fashionable two day stubble. His brow is furrowed. The freehand caption covering three quarters of the page asks: “Does she care how big my debt is?”

Who is “she”? A girlfriend? A wife? Some greedy woman who spends his money?  Why is his debt her problem? What the heck is this ad about?

Ms Soapbox showed the ad to three young women and a young man. Their reactions varied from it’s suggestive (it’s easy to misread the word “debt” in that sentence) to it’s menacing (what’s he going to do to this woman who doesn’t care about his debt).

This was an ad for Mogo which brags that it provides #FinancesWithBenefits.

Mogo is a payday loan company.

Postmedia is $670 million in debt.  It just fired 90 journalists as part of an $80 million cost savings program…and it signed a deal with Mogo to provide $50 million in free advertising over the next three years in return for the right to buy 1.2 million Mogo shares at $2.96, that’s 10 cents more than they were trading at the day of the deal.

Andrew MacLeod, Postmedia’s chief commercial officer, described the deal as “exactly the type of innovation that can accelerate both companies’ business objectives — to amplify Mogo’s customer acquisition goals, brand awareness and new product promotion and Postmedia’s development of innovative monetization strategies.”

Translated into English Mr MacLeod said Postmedia is going into the payday loan business and hopes its considerable reach as a national newspaper will help Mogo get more customers so that Postmedia will make money on its $50 million investment.

What Mr MacLeod didn’t say was that Mogo and its predecessor companies have been the subject of numerous lawsuits including a BC class action that awarded the plaintiffs $3 million to cover fees they paid in excess of what’s allowed under the Criminal Code. The Court said the effective annual interest rate in that case was 57,747%, that’s fifty-seven thousand seven hundred forty seven percent.

Money managers tell people in need of short term cash to go to a pawnbroker instead of a payday loan outfit.

What’s happening to journalism?                                             

Professor Romayne Smith-Fullerton says journalism is more than a business, it’s a sacred trust and a cornerstone of democracy.

Unfortunately a number of journalists missed the memo.

They’ve called Mr Levant’s publication “a propaganda sheet” but still accept his argument for access to government media events. How can Mr Levant argue for freedom of the press if he’s not a member of “the press”?

They’ve turned a blind eye to the implications of the Postmedia/Mogo deal. How can Postmedia say it will be free from conflict of interest in reporting on payday loans while at the same time publishing free full page Mogo #FinancesWithBenefits” ads?

Sure, creating an oversight body is difficult, but given the events of this week, it’s time to try.

Sources:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/ezra-levant-neil-macdonald-1.3452671

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/nov/25/will-hutton-leveson-report-regulate-press

http://www.theguardian.com/media/2012/nov/29/leveson-report-key-points

http://www.news1130.com/2016/01/25/postmedia-strikes-new-type-of-promotional-deal-with-mogo-finance-technology/

http://www.canlii.org/en/bc/bcsc/doc/2006/2006bcsc1132/2006bcsc1132.html?resultIndex=4

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41 Responses to Journalism Redefined

  1. ABCanuck says:

    There are few businesses that make so much money on the backs of those least able to pay as the payday loan companies.

    The only other businesses in the same category that come to mind, and that are also in constant need of oversight and regulation, might be the banks with their withdrawal and user fees.

    • ABCanuck, your point about the banks is well taken. The push for negative interest rates is deeply troubling. Some economists argue the only way to boost growth is to force commercial banks to pay a fee to central banks for putting their money there on deposit, so instead of getting “positive interest” commercial banks would pay a fee (“negative interest”). Sounds like a “penalty” to me. Commercial banks are debating whether to pass this “negative interest” on to depositors like you and me but they’re afraid we’ll withdraw our money and store our cash under the mattress. Some bright light economists say the way to stop us from taking out our own money is to charge us a penalty for withdrawals of cash but no penalty if we “withdrew” our money electronically (for example to pay a bill electronically). The whole thing is bizarre and screams out for government oversight. But that leads to the bigger question, who’s really running the show?

  2. James W. Brent says:

    The payday and pawn lenders are no worse than the GO auto deals to “re-establish” your credit with criminal rates and a list of useless adds. Predators like Go Auto/Go Finance are not alone, they flock to Alberta from many other provinces because it is so profitable and so easy. AMVIC only provides comic relief.

    • James, you raise an interesting point about these outfits flocking to Alberta because it’s profitable and easy. The Mogo website says it only operates in BC, Alberta and Ontario because “we offer our short-term loans in provinces that have chosen to build legislation around the short-term loan industry. Some of our loan options fall within that category and we’re on board with anything that helps protect consumers!” The part about being “on board with anything to protect consumers (exclamation point)” is hilarious given that the reason Mogo doesn’t operate elsewhere in Canada is because payday loans are illegal. And yet, this is the entity Postmedia chose to get into bed with. And they wonder why people don’t trust what they read in the newspapers (exclamation point).

      • James W. Brent says:

        The amount of usury and exploitation that goes on at these “No Credit, No problem” like Go Auto places is incredible. It will get even worse as the economy contracts. Nothing short of a full judicial/criminal investigation is required. I can post numerous examples of how $19,000.00 vehicles become $35,000.00 vehicles, and the spread is pure profit. Although the prey on everyone and anyone, the Go people like to go after first nations people. A good investigative reporter could be busy…even if CTV has already pointed out some of the gimmicks in the Go auto game.

      • James, excellent point about the fact that the economic downturn will increase business for these “no credit, no problem” hucksters at the expense of those least able to protect themselves. My question is why hasn’t Alberta passed legislation to make this activity illegal. Clearly the Criminal Code prohibition against usury isn’t sufficient.

  3. political ranger says:

    Self-regulating is another of those cute business school oxymoron’s like sustainable development; on this Earth neither can exist.
    We all know, and I include you in this Ms Soapbox, who is calling the shots around here these days. If we want “institutions”, functioning institutions, like democracy and free speech, then we need regulations, rules and policy. Enforced by an activist and aggressive government! This is our only bulwark against self-interested and short-sighted corporations.
    And has always been so.

    • Political ranger, the Leveson Inquiry set out a good model for self regulation of the press. It called for legislation that would require the creation of the self-regulatory body which would be responsible for promoting high standards in journalism and protecting the public interest. Appointments to the body would have to be independent and transparent. The body would have the power to investigate breaches and impose sanctions. It was a good proposal which was not accepted in its entirety because the media barons and politicians were “concerned” that it infringed the freedom of the press. All of which comes back to the point you made in your comment which is: who is calling the shots these days.

  4. Carlos Beca says:

    Every time I read ‘innovative monetization strategies’ or a similar sentence I am reminded of something I try to understand every day of the year – predators. Human beings capacity to take as much advantage as they can from others for their own benefit.
    In the last 30 years the extreme right wing has pushed this capacity to the limit and they still want more. I would like to know where this idea that the human species is the most evolved on the planet came from? We are certainly the most deceiving and the most aggressive but that is about it. For those who believe that some God made us, think again. Why would a possible God make a species that fights night and day to deregulate and destroy anything that stops them from taking advantage of others. Pay Day Loans is nothing but the legalization of exploiting poverty. The same society that allows this type of industry is very worried about the morals of legalizing assisted suicide.
    Ezra Levant is one of our prophets of greed and the journalistic world is the expression of money and power control over a society that seems incapable of redefining itself for the common good.

    • Carlos, leaving aside the fact that Postmedia’s foray into “innovative monetization strategies” is corporate-speak for getting into the payday loan business, I seriously question whether Postmedia can pull it off. As a public company Postmedia is required to file Annual Information Forms which set out all sorts of information the securities commissions think would be important for its investors to know including the following information about its executives and directors: Mr Godfrey (CEO) and Mr Lamb (EVP and CFO) were executives at a company ordered to suspend trading while the Toronto Stock Exchange investigated whether the company had violated the TSX listing requirements. Mr Godfrey was an executive at not one but two companies that got court ordered protection from their creditors. Mr Savage (a director) was subject to a court ordered cease trade order when he was a director at Hollinger, a company run by Conrad Black (aka Baron Black of Crossharbour and a convicted felon) and was one of the insiders subject to a court ordered cease trade order. He’d also served as a director at another company that got court ordered protection from its creditors. Mr Shapiro and Mr Lodge (both directors) were directors at two separate companies that filed for bankruptcy protection in the US. If I were an investor in Postmedia I’d find this unnerving.

      • Carlos Beca says:

        Well quite a resume these people have. It does not stop them from walking around as if they own the planet.
        Just the name Conrad Black is unnerving. He was never convicted here though, so he claims that the courts are rigged in the US. I am sure he got his money offshore way before they caught him.

      • Carlos, I note that Conrad Black is selling his Toronto mansion for $21.8 million. In 2014 he sold off a chunk of his estate for $7.2 million. As you point out Mr Black knows how to protect his wealth.

  5. Keith says:

    “Harper demonstrated that you don’t need regulations to silence the press, you can just ignore them”
    The alternative is for governments to cosy up to preferred media and feed them their “news” via anonymous “officials” in exchange for putting the proper pro-government spin on it.

    • Keith, this is true. The media’s reliance on anonymous government “officials” tracks the media’s reliance on “sources who ask not to be identified.” Yesterday’s Calgary Herald included a story about the possibility that KKR & Co, a private equity firm, was going to close its Calgary office because the head of its Canadian energy and restructuring division is being transferred to California to work on something completely different. The implication was that this big equity player has given up on Canadian energy ergo we’re doomed. What interested me about the story was the Herald attributed this “fact” to “the people”. What people?
      I found another version of this story on Bloomberg where the attribution went to “two people familiar with the move” and “”the people who asked not to be identified discussing confidential information”. The Herald shortened this to “the people”; also known as “a nameless, faceless, unaccountable source, good luck trying to verify the veracity of what we just said.”

  6. DHT says:

    Susan, steeping back from all this, I’ll re-state something I replied from one of your prior posts. The dissolving of profits from classified ads has had a huge impact on the ability of the press/media to serve the public. That was an incredibly important revenue stream if for no other reason than it spread the source of the income to the “common” user/subscriber who needed a clearing house to exchange their saleable items. This was the bargain: You had an “independent press”, because that press was not “dependent” on “exactly the type of innovation” that has effectively made them – The Press – indentured to the relative few rather than the many.
    In this province it wouldn’t matter what your political leanings are: if you are in the business of “controlling” the message, you can, once you’ve figured out how the message is now controlled. Post Media can pretend to be independent UNTIL you dig into the structure of how they are going to pay off their debts. Once the limited number of advertisers (the only real revenue stream remaining) is made explicit, you can see how any of those “monetization strategy” OUTLIERS with an agenda (and deep pockets) can take over – becoming the new fifth estate.
    In China the message is strictly monitored by the Communist Party. In Alberta it is a different kind of “Party” but if you have the money, your role as Monitor can be just as easily confirmed.

  7. DHT: very very well said. Thank you.

  8. Ian Gray says:

    Ezra Levant did indeed swear “under oath” he was not a reporter but at the same time he also swore he was, indeed, a journalist. The apparent distinction in Levant’s mind is that not being a ‘reporter’ he’s not obligated to abide by the expected standards of balance, fairness, truthfulness and accuracy, while as a ‘journalist,’ he’s protected by the concept of “fair comment.” It was an argument made during a defamation hearing.

    It’s ludicrous (the judge certainly didn’t buy it) but certainly not a legitimate reason to ban him or his “Rebel” website representatives from government news conferences and briefings. It’s more an excuse to do so. The heavy-handed Alberta government staffers who excluded the “Rebel”, while certainly not unprovoked by Levant’s partisan attacks, gave him exactly the phoney-baloney martyrdom he craves, as Neil McDonald pointed out.

    In the articles, quotes, columns and editorials I read, journalists did not fall “all over themselves supporting” Levant’s position. Rather, they attacked an arrogant attempt by the government to exclude persons it simply doesn’t like and in doing so acted to determine who is and who isn’t allowed to cover it.

    Boyd’s review is intended neither to define who is or isn’t a journalist (or reporter) nor to impose regulations on the media; it’s about access. It is a $10,000 (estimated cost) shovel to dig the Notley government out of the hole it’s gotten into, likely by dropping the issue into the lap of the beleaguered Alberta Press Gallery. It’s a PR exercise, albeit one that’s opened a can of worms. I must also say, with the utmost respect, that equating this sand box squabble, even ever so obliquely, to the systematic criminality that resulted in the UK’s Leveson Inquiry, is disingenuous.

    The Journal’s business dealings are an entirely separate issue. If there is evidence of a conflict of interest there are remedies available, namely the Competition Bureau, the Alberta Press Council and, most effectively, the court of public opinion.

    Full disclosure: I am a retired “MSM” journalist who spent 25 yeas covering the Alberta Legislature and served as President of the Press Gallery and the Edmonton area chapter of the Canadian Association of Journalists.

    -30-

  9. DHT says:

    Ian…I’ve read the totality of your (respectful) comment a number of times, and I keep coming back to the following:
    “It’s ludicrous (the judge certainly didn’t buy it) but certainly not a legitimate reason to ban him or his “Rebel” website representatives from government news conferences and briefings.”
    As someone with your 25 years of experience, I wonder what you have seen the Press Council determine as “The Limit” when we are looking at something labelled “ludicrous” behaviour. If not banning – what kind of sanction? What I read by those forwarding an opinion (we have a monopoly opinion now running the print/digital portal in Calgary/Edmonton – probably one of the considerations for your “beleaguered Alberta Press Gallery” comment) was concern about arrogance on the part of the government. Without defending or piling on, to the ‘backlash effect’ those trying to impose the ban created, I wonder if you overlooked Susan’s primary point: “Freedom” of the press is no where near the same as “judicial Independence”, and that means “oversight” needs to be defined, and seen to be unbiased.
    Your comment doesn’t address that key question: If Mr. Levant, through his consistent behaviour, avoids taking responsibility for ‘Ludicrous-ness’, then what governs people like Mr. Levant from exploiting grey areas where anyone “Press” can say that “sand box squabbles and systematic criminality is disingenuous” as ‘true’, but “journalists falling over themselves” is ‘false’?
    I think the point was, and still is, that when opinions are being peddled as facts, the Press Council has a responsibility to ask itself how they’ve gotten to a place where the “heavy-handed” label is used to describe only one side of the exchange we are discussing. I would imagine that when you look in the mirror, you don’t see a likeness of Mr. Levant staring back; so when the question of how one organization’s (The Rebel) behaviour reflects on an entire institution (I’m assuming that the Press Council sees itself as such at least for a little while longer), the Press Council would want to be careful about who’s hand is seen as being heavier – not just who gets to play the ‘victim’ card. Without some self-imposed limits, I hope you can appreciate that my “court-of-one public opinion” respectfully points to a lack of limits on the part of what is left of the press in this province, as evidence of slight-of-hand reporting – attack the sanctions while appearing to avoid self-sanctioning all together.

    • Ian Gray says:

      Hello. I usually don’t reply to anonymous comments. Since I identify myself, I feel it is simple courtesy that people who want to converse with me do the same. That’s my personal conviction. However it’s Susan’s soapbox, so I’m making this exception.

      What I called “ludicrous” was Ezra Levant’s attempt in court to claim the privileges of the media while rejecting all of its responsibilities. I’d probably use different language to describe his content.

      The issue is not Levant. It’s the Alberta Government’s arbitrary ban on his organization, which it justified by arguing “Well, he said he wasn’t a reporter.” It compounded its error with a ham fisted lawyer’s letter officially declaring Levant & Co. not to be journalists. As you know, the government has honestly admitted its actions were a “mistake” and has lifted the ban while Heather Boyd conducts her review.

      I have no doubt the Alberta Press Council would find many of the things “The Rebel” does egregious ( it maintains a website so you can check its Code of Practice http://www.albertapresscouncil.ca/code_of_practice.html ). However the Council is essentially a Better Business Bureau for newspapers and it will come as a surprise to no one that our Ezra never joined, even in his print incarnation. The Edmonton Journal, as referenced in my original comment, is a member. Levant famously clashed with the Press Council’s electronic counterpart, The Broadcast Standards Council, over his colourful use of colloquial Spanish and declared the organization to be a “kangaroo court.”

      We tried media oversight in Alberta once before, with the notorious Accurate News and Information Act. Spoiler Alert – it didn’t work out well for the overseers. Fortunately (in my opinion), the issue is a non-starter because there’s no government with the slightest interest in pursing it (been there, done that, all the way to the Supreme Court). It’s certainly not what Heather Boyd is doing; she’s looking at the issue of access to news conferences, etc raised by the government’s ill considered ban.

      I imagine you don’t look in the mirror and see William Aberhardt staring back at you; yet it seems to me that to strike at one organization you don’t like, you want to impose more regulation on all of them, including those attempting to deliver a responsible, fair and accurate product. Call me old fashioned but I don’t see that as reasonable. I suggest we try this instead: if a media outfit defames you-sue it; if it breaks the law-call the appropriate agency; if you don’t like what it’s saying-don’t read, watch, listen to it.
      -30-

      • DHT says:

        Ian…most of what you write still doesn’t address the question of what happens when we don’t want government over stepping their authority, when outfits like “The Rebel” ignore codes of conduct – because they (I’ll call them pseudo-reporters for lack of a better label) don’t feel that code applies to them. I am aware of organizations like the Broadcast Standards Council and their attempt to place limits on the behaviour of independent broadcasters. But outfits like The Rebel play the “portrayal” card (not reporter – not journalist) as “non-portrayal”. Unfortunately this isn’t the same as non-existent. Yes I can ignore, and no, I’m not asking those following codes of conduct, to be swept into the regulatory maw. But that fact that we both agree that I’m ignoring ‘something’, and that ‘someone’ who wants access to information for the purposes of “filtered” dissemination, AND, behave sans-rules of self-sanction, means my “slight-of-hand” argument holds. I would analogize to diplomatic immunity, and ask again “If not banning – what sanction?” because my ignoring does not change the problem.
        Ms. Boyd may come up with an answer, but I think anyone who’s journalistic reputation is affected by the conduct of these non-portrayers, might want the public to know that they (the code following media) are looking at both the government’s response, and the media’s responsibility to distance themselves in a public way from those that never joined the “code of practice”. Unless and until I see evidence to the contrary – attack the sanctions while appearing to avoid the question of what to do when it would appear that self-sanctioning is off the table, has NOT been collapsed by your reply.
        Respectfully,
        D. H. Tickles
        Calgary

      • Ian Gray says:

        Correction: I was mistaken in claiming the Edmonton Journal was still a member of the Alberta Press Council. Last year the Journal’s parent company, Postmedia, joined the new National Newsmedia Council, which replaced a number of former regional press councils. http://mediacouncil.ca/ It has similar structure and function as the Alberta council.

        The Alberta Press Council still exists but its membership now consists of the Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association; Red Deer Advocate; Medicine Hat News and Lethbridge Herald.

  10. Ian and DHT thank you both for sharing your views. I’m learning a lot as I read through your comments.

  11. Ian, I think DHT and I are in agreement that self-regulation of the press is pretty ineffective. That led me to wonder what you think Heather Boyd might come up with to address the gap and introduce some measure of accountability for journalists like Ezra Levant who report the news in their unique–no let’s call it what it is–over the top, style. You’ve worked in the field, hopefully there are things she can propose that I’ve missed given my lack of first hand experience. Thanks.

    • Ian Gray says:

      I appreciate the opportunity to contribute, Susan, thanks. I think it’s inevitable the rules around media access to the Legislature will become more formalized, following Ms. Boyd’s review. This might lead to non-traditional outlets such as Levant’s “Rebel” along with other, less inflammatory websites (at least one left-leaning organization is considering an application) being allowed to participate in news conferences, briefings and similar events. I also expect there’ll be new, formal standards of conduct for anyone wanting to report from the Legislature.

      Having different perspectives and platforms covering Alberta politics would be a positive development, as the traditional media continue to contract. Any benefit to the public would be lost however, if the limited access to politicians were to be consumed by rival, partisan amateurs, preventing serious reporters from doing their jobs.

      The betting is that Boyd will recommend the Alberta Legislature Press Gallery Association be delegated to accredit media not permanently based at the Assembly. This is how it works at the Parliamentary Press Gallery in Ottawa. That gets the government off the hook and shifts responsibility for policing its more fractious members onto the media itself.

      The Alberta Press Gallery (which turns 100 this year) defines its members as professional media organizations who have dedicated full time reporters, columnists, videographers, etc to covering politics in Alberta. Professional simply means that’s how the organizations and their employees earn their living.

      Membership meant that media outlets got office space in the Legislature and a seat in the actual Press Gallery (hardly occupied these days, as reporters madly scramble to file, tweet, blog etc from their offices in the bowels of the building.) They also receive a pass to freely enter the building-no small thing. Professional media organizations who weren’t members simply showed their credentials to security officers to attend news conferences.

      In the recent past, non-professionals such as part-time bloggers and yes, The Rebel, were tolerated at some Legislature news conferences, as long as they kept quiet. Team Ezra of course pushed the limits by trying to attend closed sessions and act like real, grown-up reporters. Somebody in government took the bait, and here we are. Now the government, in the form of Heather Boyd, will say `You don’t like us deciding who’s a journalist? Fine. You do it.“ Maybe that’s fair enough.

      So who’s going to pay for a new system of accreditation? In Ottawa, the federal government provides its Press Gallery with funding and administrative support, by means of a Secretariat. Will the Notley government do that for the tiny, overworked gallery here? Seems like a tough sell.

      What criteria will be used determine eligibility. I’m hoping “professional” and “full time” will stay-that should help weed out some of the pretenders from the players. In Ottawa you have to prove that you actually have to be on Parliament Hill to do the job. Makes sense to me.

      Given the litigious nature of one of the principal actors in this drama, will the government indemnify the Press Gallery from lawsuits, if it decides the Rebel just isn’t its cup of tea? Will a condition of application be giving up your right to sue, if your butt’s kicked to the curb?

      The idea of many loud, partisan voices shouting each other down isn’t a new in political reporting. It’s actually step back. Some press galleries used to have physical divisions to keep reporters from rival factions from getting into fights. Those were the days. Then, in the Twentieth Century, came the radical idea of separating opinion from the news columns and the concepts of balance and fairness in coverage. Personally I thought it had staying power. And to those who would say there’s plenty of editorializing creeping in to the MSM –you’re right. Do we stop it by legitimizing it in political reporting?

      In the end what I think will happen is that the ‘alternative’ media that can abide by the new rules and stick it out in terms of their dedication to covering politics will end up looking a lot like, well, media. Those that can’t will fall by the wayside.

      In the interim there may be a period where Alberta’s Press gallery might resemble Johnson County, Tennessee, as described by Mark Twain.

      http://www.readbookonline.net/readOnLine/1562/-

      Sources:

      http://www.stalbertgazette.com/article/MLAs-react-to-Rebel-Media-kerfuffle-20160224

      http://www.calgaryherald.com/news/alberta+bans+ezra+levant+right+wing+blog+rebel+from+government/11723016/story.html

      http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/djclimenhaga/2016/02/fallout-rebel-media-brouhaha-maybe-its-time-to-abolish-albertas-

      http://edmontonjournal.com/news/politics/alberta-government-to-spend-nearly-10k-for-advice-in-wake-of-rebel-media-dustup

      http://press-presse.ca/site/en/

      • Ian thank you for this thoughtful comment. I like the accreditation role you’ve set out for the Press Gallery and have two comments with respect to the cost of the accreditation process and whether the Press Gallery should be indemnified from litigation. If journalists expect to be treated like professionals they need to take a page from the other professions like law and medicine where the cost of accreditation is borne by their members in the form of annual membership fees. Also the Press Gallery, like the Law Society or the Alberta Medical Association, should not be named in a law suit, the defendant would be the journalist and the publication he works for. All this is premised on the assumption that journalists want to be recognized as professionals and are prepared to pay the price of being a professional both by paying professional fees and working for organizations that buy liability insurance.

        And you’re right, if we think journalism in the 21 century is becoming too “rough” we should look back in history. Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book The Bully Pulpit does a very good job of setting out the development of professional journalism in Teddy Roosevelt’s day.

        Thanks for the Mark Twain link which sets out what happens when a “mush-and-milk” journalist comes up against the “real” world in vivid detail.

      • Ian Gray says:

        As much as I hate to disagree, Susan (it seems ungenerous after your kind remarks, below), you’re confusing the two definitions of ‘professional.’
        Journalists are professional when they are paid full time for their occupation, more like athletes than lawyers, distinct from amateurs and hobbyists.
        Journalism is not a self regulating profession (as Neil McDonald points out) like law; engineering or medicine because, among other things, journalists are not self employed. One can argue that teachers are also employees but they have a honking big union that’s also their licensing body. Journalists instinctively resist the idea of licensing- one only has to look around the world at the nations that practice it to understand why.
        If the Alberta Press Gallery Association were to become the delegated authority for media access to the legislature, individual professional liability insurance would be of no use in the event of a lawsuit because the members wouldn’t be sued as journalists. And more importantly they are *not* professionals, in the sense you mean.
        In our society the news media is largely in the hands of the private sector (for better or worse) which means, like any business, some are responsible, some are not. I disagree with your underlying assumption that ‘self regulation’ of the news industry is always ineffective-it’s not. But as with any case that sees an individual facing off against a large organization, the road to redress can be long, frustrating, complicated and too often unsuccessful. If litigation is too expensive and too time consuming (and whose fault is that?) I suggest we find ways to make it more accessible.
        The media has its flaws (arrogance being one of the biggest) but I fear the damage some quasi-judicial ‘truth squad’ might do more than anything Ezra Levant and his ilk can say or do (although it would certainly make some lawyers richer). The concept’s a non-starter anyway, politically and constitutionally.
        I get the unease with the supposed power of the ‘media barons’-I share it-but take a look at them. Postmedia is in deep financial trouble; A number of private broadcasters are also struggling, as they face competition from internet based alternatives, both professional and amateur. Have you faced the dark vision Susan, that by publishing this blog *you* are a journalist? Call the truth squad!
        In the end I trust two things: the skill and integrity of the huge majority of the people who work in journalism and the good sense of the huge majority of Canadians to recognize who’s credible and who’s not.
        -30-

      • All good points Ian, although I’d quibble with Neil McDonald’s distinction that journalists are not self employed whereas lawyers, engineers or doctors are. Many lawyers work in-house in private firms, governmental agencies and non-profits. The same holds true for engineers. Also I’m not sure why full time journalists would object to being accredited by their peers. But I’m prepared to let the point lie and move on. I don’t know if you saw the link Sam Gunsch posted on the Kudatah blog. It’s an article by Glen Greenwald about the impact of corporations taking over the media. Very interesting.

      • Ian Gray says:

        Susan- Heather Boyd’s report on the Rebel Media/Ezra Levant flap was released Friday. As expected by everyone, Boyd recommends the media itself (i.e. Alberta Legislature Press Gallery) decide whether Ezra and his merry gang of Rebels (and their left wing equivalents) be admitted to ask questions at official news conferences, briefings, etc.

        See it here: http://www.alberta.ca/albertacode/images/Report-Media-Accreditation-Access-Heather-Boyd.pdf

        Of the 122 pages in her report, about 30 were written by Boyd, with the rest mostly consisting of documents from Press Galleries across the nation. It’s as interesting for what it doesn’t say, as for what it does and for whom she didn’t talk to, as opposed to who she did.

        For starters, it says next to nothing about the incident that sparked her $9500 taxpayer funded exercise. For that price we deserve to know why the government famously decided to throw the Rebels off the premises and why and how it was decided to brand them ‘non-journalists.’ I suppose with the litigious Levant still on the warpath, threatening to “sue in a flash” as he says in Boyd’s document, it makes sense not to give him more ammunition. But it would have made it look a bit less of a PR exercise.

        Boyd mentions that she reached out to leaders in the PC, WRP, Liberals and the Alberta Party but there’s no mention of the NDP. She spoke to Premier Notley’s Communications Director and the Calgary ‘Outreach’ official that the Rebel named as the individual who tossed ‘em to the curb. That’s significant because (among other reasons) no matter who gets delegated to do what, it’s the government (not the Speaker) that ultimately controls access to the Legislature and there’s not a court in the land that would say otherwise. She also makes no mention of talking to the Speaker, which is odd because she expects him to pay for any new accreditation process.

        In summary, Boyd advises the government to avoid a ‘media policy, which is short hand for arbitrarily deciding who’s journalist (stop the presses!); she comes out against throwing open media access to anybody who wants it and suggests an accreditation system based on Parliament’s and run by the Press Gallery, be established.

        She doesn’t come out and say there should be a code of conduct for reporters at the Legislature-though she expects the Gallery to enforce one (Recommendation 4)- but it’s clearly implied. This could in no way restrict what media could say but how they comport themselves (activities such as a ‘reporter’ pretending to gag while a minister is speaking or wearing a shirt with anti-NDP slogans, while on camera, might be frowned upon, for example). It’s also implied that bloggers and commentators might be able make do with watching the proceedings on-line.

        The government’s said it’s accepted the recommendation so presumably it will begin direct negotiations with the Press Gallery to set up an accreditation system. I wouldn’t be surprised if opposition parties object to public funds for the process

        A quick note on your last post in this thread; I’d suggest that lawyers; engineers; doctors that work in-house for companies; governments, NGOs etc are professionals with one client. Their employer cannot side-step their professional judgement and obligations e.g. ordering an engineer to design an unsafe bridge to cut costs.

        You ask why journalists would object to being accredited by their peers. Who are their peers? In the self-regulating professions the participants obtain similar levels of training and go through an articling/internship/probation period. There’s nothing like that for newspeople.

  12. DHT says:

    Susan, so much of your post touched on “sacred cows” starting with “who has the ability (not JUST the right) to form a representation that accurately reflects the totality of the complexities that politics entails?” The simple answer (in a democracy) is anyone. So my concern isn’t that people can, and will, say ridiculous things. It is that “freedom” is seen as preceding “rights” – and we know which one of those two fundamental principles, requires demonstrable responsibility and accountability.

    Here is section 1 of the charter:

    CANADIAN CHARTER OF RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS

    Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law:

    Guarantee of Rights and Freedoms

    Marginal note:Rights and freedoms in Canada

    1. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such (NOTE ->) reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

    The interpretation of “reasonable” is what I was specifically asking Ian about in relationship to “limits”. According to the charter, In Canada we start in a duality state: Rights AND Freedoms, Reason AND justification, etc. I think asking Heather Boyd may/may not save face for the government, but that does nothing about those that openly test that which is perceived as elusive to “prescribed by law” – so relative simplicity compared to the complexities I identified and opened with. And that goes back to my “diplomatic immunity” analogy. If you want immunity, does that undermine your credibility (recognized ability) in being part of the opinion forming community?
    When I worked in the U.S. for many years I had plenty of opinions about what I saw and heard, but kept much of that to myself (all least the meta level stuff) because “I didn’t have skin in the game on that scale.” Until such time as some journalists remove the “pseudo” cloak, I’m not sure that they see any need to be accountable – they may even believe they have transcended “The Game”? I think not, and like you, would like to know from an expert “if not banning (unreasonable?) – what?”

    • DHT you raise an important point about the limits of reasonableness. This is the very issue Justice Abella raised when she was asked what we could expect in future Charter cases. Her answer was that we as a society will be testing the boundary between what we tolerate under the Charter and how that impacts what we see as our core values. This is a broad statement of the issue. The answer to the question where does the boundary lie will depend on the facts of each case as it is litigated. Litigation is fine and good for those who have the money and patience to bring a law suit against people like Ezra Levant but I’d prefer to see journalism act like a true profession, one that engages in meaningful self-regulation so egregious stories by over the top reporters are addressed by the profession and law suits become the avenue of last resort, not the only resort.
      As we’ve said before, if journalists know that the only thing they need to worry about is a defamation lawsuit which can be settled years down the road with $80,000 and a small apology printed right in front of the classified section they’re pretty well free to write whatever they please.

      • DHT says:

        In yesterday’s Globe and Mail there is an interesting article, the title of which, explains totalitarian-ism’s relationship to dissent:
        http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/chinas-crackdown-on-free-speech-sparking-growing-dissent/article29306901/
        I forward the link for reference, but would like to paste one particular passage of note:
        “What has made authorities “panic is, behind the flattery for Mr. Xi, growing dissatisfaction among Chinese officials, businessmen and intellectuals,” said Cai Chu, editor of canyu.org. “Mr. Xi’s political opponents are taking advantage of it and have created a sort of ‘coup atmosphere.’”
        In a place where democracy is disavowed, I can understand why those in charge could be a little paranoid about regime change. According to this author, the “Opponents” are not limited to those with political title, but include business people. It would appear that business people have a vested interest in the political decrees of the ruling body.

        Which brought me back to your post about Post Media – The Rebel – and the concept of “taking advantage”. We are talking about a different type of media-government relationship in Canada, a relationship between a political system with built in mechanisms for change (voting cycles) and a media system which plays a “Free Speech” card (which, without any limits, is quite an advantage). I believe your point always was, “is there a media-provincial govt. relationship ,advantage that is being overlooked?” and does that effect the ability to sustain a duality (democratic) political state.
        No less than two hours after reading the G&M article, did I read this: “A quick note on your last post in this thread; I’d suggest that lawyers; engineers; doctors that work in-house for companies; governments, NGOs etc are professionals with one client. Their employer cannot side-step their professional judgement and obligations e.g. ordering an engineer to design an unsafe bridge to cut costs.”
        I had to read that statement twice, just to make sure I wasn’t reading something into the statement – “Their employer cannot sidestep…obligations”. I would agree, and would again ask, is this not true of Post Media? Or can Post Media and The Rebel ask people in their employ (who are not accredited after all) to take advantage, because the lack of self-regulation is “The Advantage”.

        Again, I am no fan of “heavy-handedness”, so I’m always curious about those that point out this quality in others -sometimes as a way to deflect from their own behaviour. The Boyd Report confirms that we don’t live in a totalitarian state (yet) and that “recommendations” are not a likely change agent for the rule benders who take advantage of the ability to act as an authoritarian oversight body – playing by their own rules. Makes one wonder who currently has the most potential for totalitarian behaviour in Alberta. I’ll be keeping an eye on both the government and the press.

  13. Ian and DHT with respect to the point about in-house lawyers, engineers, etc who work for companies, governments and NGOs: yes, it is true they have one client, however the example is not true, at least not in the case of lawyers. Organizations often try to side step their obligations (think: Enron). Our Code of Conduct specifically requires a lawyer to tell the organization to stop if it wants to do something illegal or criminal. If the organization persists the lawyer must report the intention to break the law “up the ladder” to the Board of Directors if necessary. If after all this the organization still intends to break the law, the lawyer must “withdraw” (this usually means resign). Most lawyers have had to tell the organization, their employer, it can’t do X and most organizations will listen.

    So to DHT’s point, if an unscrupulous newspaper is happy to print an untrue or misleading article by an unscrupulous reporter and there’s no effective oversight (Levant says he’ll sue the minute someone tries to vet his qualifications) what’s our remedy?

    • Ian Gray says:

      Well, it’s not censorship or licensing journalists.

      It’s clear from other threads that Ezra Levant is not exactly popular on this blog and I get that. In the context of this discussion, what exactly are his crimes? Exception was taken that some commentators and media organizations (while holding their noses) defended Levant’s Rebel from the arbitrary decision of the Alberta government to impose a form of licensing and declare them non-journalists. The government has evidently conceded that point, by accepting recommendation 1 in Boyd’s review.

      The dominant theme has been that Levant needs to be controlled and punished. Why, exactly? It’s been claimed that some metaphysical “Limit” has been reached and it’s been implied that false or misleading information has been published. No specific examples have been offered. I respectfully suggest you just don’t like the guy or what he says, which I also get. Nobody gets to gag him, however.

      A lot of what’s objected to seems to be questions of good taste, civility, decency, etc. Freedom of speech is not a “card” or trick that you play. It’s a basic human right and in this country it’s constitutionally guaranteed. As a proud member of the freedom of speech/freedom of the press “contingent” I strongly oppose any attempt at licensing journalists. As I’ve tried to point out, they are not the same as doctors, lawyers etc, who enjoy a self regulating monopoly. For an overview of the dangers involved in the practice:

      https://freedomhouse.org/sites/default/files/inline_images/License%20to%20Censor%20-%20Media%20Regulation%20Report

      Quasi-judicial bodies, as Susan seems to suggest be set up, don’t work well on freedom of speech issues. I’d point to the HRC tribunal on the Terry Long/Aryan Nations case, which cost the taxpayers a bundle and did little to curb Long except make him a martyr in the eyes of his associates (and give him a huge dose of publicity).

      As to remedies, I previously named some traditional ones that I think have served our society well starting with the courts, in the case of defamation or illegality. As I mentioned privately, if Canada’s hate speech laws aren’t working, we should fix them.
      Just as a blue-sky exercise I’ve also wondered if we need to add rules to crowd funding that prohibits its use to pay court imposed fines or civil penalties. Why should anyone be allowed to outsource their punishment? Sort of defeats the purpose.
      By the way, I happen to think an $80,000 judgement is substantial, even for a large media outlet (especially when you add legal costs and the embarrassment of losing).

      Vote with your money. Don’t support media that you believe are unethical. If you feel strongly enough, organize a boycott of their supporters and advertisers.

      Ignore them. Especially important for the Ezras of the world. Deny them the “oxygen of publicity”. How do we deal with liars? Recognize them for what they are and don’t believe a word they say. And trust the good sense of Canadians to recognize credible news organizations from sorry little propaganda sheets. The Rebel has a tiny base of support and, according to some reports, is struggling.

      I think journalists should belong to unions. It’s another protection against their work being used in an unethical fashion. Up until now it’s been very difficult for media workers (or anyone) to organize in Alberta. Hopefully that will change. I often wonder where Albertans were when the journalists at the Calgary Herald took on a real media baron, with a tile and everything; the now convicted felon, Conrad Black.

      Regarding Susan’s last post on in-house professionals: I’m afraid I don’t understand the argument. Should I have said “Their employer cannot side-step their professional judgement and obligations…unless the professional agrees.”? However, the example you use proves my point. A lawyer who is ordered to do something illegal or unethical is expected by their self-regulating monopoly profession to take it to the very highest levels (and presumably nobody can stop them from doing so) and if all else fails, “withdraw”.

      If a journalist protests they’re being asked to act in an unethical fashion, it usually begins and ends with their editor, perhaps one or two levels of higher management. They certainly don’t get to take it to the Publisher, let alone the Board of Directors. Their first and last option is to quit (or get fired). If the do, Unemployment Insurance treats them as having left the job of their own accord. That is the difference between a member of a self regulating profession and an employee. Luckily this does not happen often, at credible media organizations at least. I also find it odd that the Law Society (to use your example) apparently does nothing for members pressured to act in an unethical fashion, except to sanction them if they get caught.

      Susan- I have very much enjoyed the vigourous discussion and commend you on your soapbox-a positive addition to public discourse.

      Ian Gray

      • Ian Gray says:

        Corrections:

        “took on a real media baron, with a *title* and everything; the now convicted felon, Conrad Black”.

        “If *they* do, Unemployment Insurance treats them…”

  14. DHT says:

    Once again, I ask, who is above the law? http://www.calgaryherald.com/news/alberta-politics/retired+edmonton+journalist+hired+work+province+hurting/11881537/story.html
    The entire debate of who voters should be keeping their eyes on, is now officially confirmed!

    • DHT, thanks for this. I was unaware of the connection between Heather Boyd and the NDP government. Your advice that voters should keep their eyes on the government, regardless of political affiliation, is well taken.

  15. Ian Gray says:

    It certainly confirms the present government’s heavy-handedness and ineptitude with regards to media relations. And it completely undermines whatever positive elements may have been in Boyd’s report, thereby making the task of determining who should be accredited to the Legislature that much harder.

    • DHT says:

      Ian, here is a paste from my post on March 21: “I believe (Susan’s) point always was, “is there a media-provincial govt. relationship advantage that is being overlooked?” and does that effect the ability to sustain a duality (democratic) political state.” This confirms the sleight-of-hand of another media professional working in this province. I hold to my claim the media-government is a corrupt cartel in Alberta. No more evidence required.

  16. Ian Gray says:

    DH Tickles- Very unique viewpoint. Thank you.

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