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.
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.
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.
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?
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.