The Hamilton Spectator

Tories should dump media bashing strategy


A universal tool of demagogues is to demonize and threaten journalist­s. It’s an effective tactic, especially when aligned with a parallel campaign to create their own controlled media.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has been revealed by Florida media and Harvard’s Nieman Lab as the latest threat to an independen­t media, seeking legislatio­n to intimidate independen­t journalist­s by setting minimal requiremen­ts to suing them for libel.

Pierre Poilievre took a step toward that unacceptab­le behaviour last week, attacking a CBC reporter publicly and refusing to answer questions put to him because they worked for Canada’s public broadcaste­r. Like Trump and DeSantis, Poilievre uses his media-bashing to scoop hundreds of thousands dollars through hateful social media appeals using the CBC as his whipping boy.

Choosing which news organizati­ons to grant exclusives to, or which reporters to grant special access to, is a time-honoured tool of government­s attempting to ensure their spin on issues receives wide and favourable coverage. Banning reporters or attempting to create your own lapdog media organizati­ons is practicall­y unheard of in Canada.

This is a very dark hole that Poilievre is taking his party down. Threats and even attacks on journalist­s are on the rise in many countries.

Mexico set up special protection for some famous journalist­s as a result of its epidemic of murdered reporters.

Attacks on Canadian journalist­s so far are mainly restricted to insults and death threats on social media. Inciting hate for the media makes it a small step for an enraged partisan to act on those threats.

Independen­t media is a favourite target for conservati­ves around the world. It consoles them in defeat that it was not their message that failed to appeal, but the “corrupt media” aligned against them.

Poilievre’s boast that, if elected, one of his first acts will be to abolish the CBC, but not RadioCanad­a — a hypocritic­al appeal to Quebec voters — should ring loud alarms. Tory spinners claim they don’t intend to get rid of the CBC, merely to privatize it. This is a nonsense.

A public broadcaste­r — which every developed nation has — cannot by definition be private. Among our public broadcaste­r’s missions is to reach Canadians who could never be profitably served by the private sector and to offer a voice to those who are rarely heard. CBC journalist­s mostly attempt to be objective and even-handed.

But the meaning of this planned destructio­n of our public broadcaste­r offers a more troubling insight into Poilievre’s soul. Most of his baseinciti­ng gambits — he’s going to run the Bank of Canada — are nonsense and he knows it. On the media, however, one increasing­ly gets the sense that it is unsavoury demagogues that are his guides to a media-choking strategy. Their strategies usually also include secrecy in governing and deliberate­ly divisive policy. Justin Trudeau’s partisan rhetoric and lack of transparen­cy might look timid by comparison.

Conservati­ves need to find the courage to engage the media often, to permit every reporter to ask questions, to fight for fair treatment of their message and to complain loudly when they don’t get it. They must stop encouragin­g threats to Canadian journalist­s. The low road they are on will not intimidate the media. It will ensure they become more aggressive. . Imposing bans foreshadow­s a closed, hyperparti­san government, seriously damaging Conservati­ves appeal to a broad majority of Canadians.

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