Signs That Press Freedom Is Under Threat

From the public discrediting of media outlets as 'fake news' to the suppression of citizen journalism. Al Donato

The free press is under attack all over the world.  Even here in Canada, as was apparent by the lack of government action when Egyptian-Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy was arrested and detained in Egypt for nearly two years, a story told in the documentary Mohamed Fahmy: Half Free.   Here are some signs that the press in your country may be under attack.

The Chilling Effect

Observed by both La Presse’s Patrick Lagacé who was tracked by Montreal police via his iPhone’s GPS and Ben Makuch, a Canadian Vice reporter who may be jailed for refusing to grant RCMP access to his records from a 2013 interview with an alleged ISIS fighter, the “chilling effect” suggests that sources become hesitant to come forward when confidentiality is compromised. This can prevent reporters from conducting serious investigations or building rapport in communities.

Denying Entry

CBC photojournalist Ed Ou was detained at a Vancouver airport in late 2016, after trying to cross the U.S. border to cover protests at Standing Rock, N.D. Ou was denied entry after multiple interrogations.

Limiting Media Access

In “The Unfulfilled Promise of Press Freedom in Canada,” edited by Lisa Taylor and Cara-Marie O’Hagan, contributor Fred Vallance-Jones writes that freedom-of-information requests, often used by journalists to obtain government records and communications, get processed slowly when pertaining information is controversial or sensitive.

Public Distrust In “Fake News”

As RSF reports, the public discrediting of media outlets as “fake news” has been used by governments to push self-censorship and persecute journalists who dissent from the administration.

National Security Used To Excuse Abuse of Power

Many believe that increased national security laws that grant more authority to intelligence agencies like the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) may lead to violating Charter rights and creating a culture of suspicion. In a 2016 Ryerson University’s Centre for Free Expression survey, 85 percent of writers and journalists surveyed said the implications of Bill C-51, the Anti-Terrorism Act, worried them.

Intimidation and violence used to censor reporting

Global News reports that correspondent Mike Le Couteur and cameraman Jean-Vincent Verveille were injured by protesters while covering an August anti-immigration rally and counter-rally in Quebec City. Verveille’s camera was allegedly smashed by an individual at the rallies. Acts of citizen journalism have been subdued too. A Toronto police officer was criticized for telling a bystander that his phone would be seized for recording a suspect being Tasered in public. As CBC reported, the officer’s remarks were unfounded; it isn’t illegal to record police officers in public and they can’t seize a recording device without permission.