As the world commemorates World Press Freedom Day, which takes place annually on the 3rd of May, work still needs to be on the home front.
Unlike, say World Pizza Day, World Press Freedom Day is undeniably important. It’s about the power of the people, it’s about democracy and basic freedoms. Freedom in the press is what makes us different from socialist countries like China – where journalists disappear for reporting on the coronavirus outbreak or speaking out against atrocities.
When you look past the political niceties suggesting things are all rosy in Canada, journalists face obstacles to freedom of expression here too.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated today that journalistic freedom was “widely recognized and respected in Canada.” But there are still recent, worrying, examples of journalistic freedoms being infringed upon at home.
For example, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled against VICE Canada and VICE national security reporter Ben Makuch, siding with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s demand to access Makuch’s notes relating to a series of interviews he conducted with an alleged ISIS member in 2014
The headlines that day called it a “dark day for press freedom.”
Another recent example involves Justin Brake of the TheIndependent.ca, who was charged following an October 2016 protest at the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric site he covered.
The 2021 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the world’s biggest NGO specializing in the defense of media freedom, has moved Canada up to 14th among 180 countries ranked.
The 2021 Index shows that journalism is completely or partially blocked in 73% of the 180 countries ranked by the organization.
“Journalism is the best vaccine against disinformation,” wrote RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire.
The RSF says there’s still progress to be achieved in Canada, particularly with regard to press coverage involving the rights of indigenous peoples and land disputes.
Despite a 2019 court ruling stipulating that special considerations should be granted to journalists reporting on such conflicts, federal authorities went ahead and pressed charges against three members of the media in 2020.
The bottom line here is that Canada needs to ensure that reporters are able to cover the plight of indigenous communities “without fear of prosecution.”
Another pressing issue in Canada is that a disturbingly small number of companies own nearly all the media.
According to the International Media Concentration Project at Columbia University, Canada has the worst media concentration out of 28 developed nations.
There’s also the issue of mass layoffs of Canadian journalists at a time when fake news is becoming increasingly prevalent.
In today’s statement from the United Nations (UN), the global body warned of “dramatic losses” in the world of journalism.
The UN warns of massive industry-wide job cuts and what it calls “political capture” among some media outlets.