Attacks on reporter freedom a violation of everyone
“Police Admit to Monitoring Reporters’ Phones.” I’d forgive you for thinking that headline was ripped from the front pages of a foreign country known for the daily, dictatorial abuse of power. But this is a headline we’re seeing in Canada. In 2016.
The same country where just last year, while campaigning to be prime minister, Justin Trudeau boldly chastised a room of his own supporters for booing a journalist’s tough questions.
“We respect journalists in this country, they ask tough questions and they’re supposed to,” Trudeau said to uproarious applause.
But nobody is cheering about open journalism now. Last week, we learned that up to 10 Quebec journalists, and possibly more, have reportedly been spied on by their provincial government or local police force for the apparently egregious offence of doing their job.
All journalists should be standing with our colleagues in Quebec. Unfortunately, we welcome these reporters to the ever-growing club of Canadian journalists up against the wall of state interference in their craft.
In February 2015, the RCMP served VICE News journalist Ben Makuch with a production order, asking him to give up his sources on a considerable story of public interest. It was one of the earliest known cracks in what seems to be a spreading erosion of press freedom in Canada.
This is a fight we’re still engaged in with the courts, and in public, alongside Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, The Canadian Civil Liberties Association, Reporters without Borders and the Fahmy Foundation, among others. Our appeal is set for early 2017.
In the meantime, we’ve launched an online campaign asking the Trudeau government and the RCMP to drop demands for Makuch’s private material and correspondence with sources and institute rules that protect the independence of journalists in Canada.
We’re going to keep fighting like hell for our reporter and against the disturbing precedent his case could set for journalists everywhere.
All reporters require the freedom to push boundaries. A free press isn’t just a fundamental Canadian right, it’s a value at the very core of news organizations around the world.
Many young, hungry and dogged journalists, such as Makuch, are what Canada needs now more than ever.
Our society needs this new generation of journalists to be as bold and daring as the gutsy reporters who came before them. They need to be encouraged and defended in an era where the industry can seem so inhospitable to original work — the last enemy we need is our own government and police.
More than any generation before them, today’s journalists lean on an ever-growing set of digital tools that reporters around the world use to directly engage with anonymous sources — from Russian hackers to Daesh recruits — all in the pursuit of stories urgently in the public interest.
All reporters should be encouraged to responsibly chase down this kind of work, knowing full-well they are operating without shield laws in this country, while their U.S. colleagues in 48 states and the District of Columbia do. But more than ever before, the digital trail inherent in our work needs to be safeguarded — whether it is encrypted data, social media chat, or as we are seeing in the Quebec cases, GPS-tracking.
Reporters across the country are now at the forefront of a new battle for cybersecurity; one with crucial implications for our democracy. And in an era of the global threat of cyber leaks and hacks, it is devastating they now need to rank Canadian police as a real-time threat to their work.
News outlets, such as VICE, have explored the margins of society and have used new digital tools to do so. But with attacks on press freedom becoming more frequent in Canada, our own case is dragging us into an uncomfortable mainstream of digital surveillance and lack of source protection.
You can count on us to kick and scream the whole way there.
In February 2015, the RCMP served VICE News journalist Ben Makuch with a production order, asking him to give up his sources.
Michael Gruzuk is director, news and digital, for VICE Canada.