Hey UN: leave the media censorship to North Korea

The UN should know better than to blacklist a news organization just because it doesn’t like what it has to say, writes Sheila Gunn Reid.

It took intervention from Canada's environment minister to get The Rebel an invite to the UN party

Ezra Levant is shown at the University of Ottawa in Ottawa on Tuesday, March 23, 2010. (Pawel Dwulit/Canadian Press)

The United Nations isn't all that into me.

While hundreds of journalists have been planning their arrival in Morocco for months to attend its ​fancy-pants ​climate change conference this week, I've only just recently been given "permission" to attend because the global organization doesn't like what I might have to say. It worries I'm advocate, not a journalist, and that maybe my reporting won't be "helpful" in its fight.

But look — advocacy journalism serves an important role in any democracy. It gives voice to the voiceless, it pushes forward ideas that aren't always popular and helps make for a better-informed citizenry, regardless of whether everyone agrees with the points being made.

I work for The Rebel, a conservative media outlet founded by the outspoken Ezra Levant. We've needled and annoyed media outlets across the country for relentlessly covering stories they don't think are worthwhile and we've been aggressive in our coverage of everything from refugees to politics.

Government intervention

But it took intervention from Canadian Environment Minister Catherine McKenna to get us our invitation to this UN party, and even now we're not sure we'll be allowed to cover the conference the way we see fit. It's chilling that an organization that thinks Iran can lecture others about human rights now wants to govern the way Western media outlets report the news.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna speaks to a gathering of the Canadian Wind Energy Association in Calgary. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

McKenna is no friend to The Rebel, which has been critical of her on a near-daily basis. But when Rebel lawyers asked her to join Canada's highest profile media watchdogs such as the Canadian Association of Journalists, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression and PEN Canada, even she had to agree that the UN had overstepped its bounds.

You'd expect this sort of behaviour from Morocco — a list of press freedoms show it is among the least free places in the world to report news. But the UN should know better than to blacklist a news organization just because it doesn't like what it has to say.

Sure, it tried to cover its tracks by saying it doesn't allow "advocate journalists" to attend its events. Funny thing, though: outspoken left-leaning Canadian outlets such as The Tyee, DeSmog and National Observer have all been given credentials. In fact, both The Tyee and National Observer have received grants from the Tides Foundation.

So really, it comes down to having "the right" opinions, and UN spokesperson Nick Nuttall has actually said as much. Indeed, after valiantly dodging Rebel lawyers for nearly a month, Nuttall told CBC's As It Happens that we weren't "helpful," and that we held the wrong ideas about refugees, climate change and modern liberalism.

He's got one thing right, though: we are advocate journalists — we're just not advocates for his causes. That's how democracies function. We should all be concerned about how the UN has handled this whole mess, regardless of partisan stripe.

A slippery slope

Its attempt at global censorship creates a slippery slope for an association of countries meant to foster common goals of human rights and cooperation. If The Rebel remains UN blacklisted because of our politics, it sets a chilling precedent. Will Zionist journalists be banned for not being "helpful" enough to Iran? What about the feminist journalists? Would they be stripped of accreditation for "extremist" ideas about Saudis one day letting women drive?

This isn't a new fight for The Rebel, which earlier this year was banned from the Alberta legislature by Premier Rachel Notley because its reporters are "not journalists." That's not a real reason — they just didn't like us. Notley had to walk it back when the backlash from the media and journalist associations caught her off guard.

​W​e had friends all of a sudden, at least for a while.

The UN presents itself as the great equalizer, but instead of pressuring the countries that suffer from lack of human rights to do better, the UN is silencing its critics to the point where countries that do  have press freedom will soon join countries like Morocco and North Korea at the bottom of that list. That will only happen, though, if we let them.

This column is part of CBC's new Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.


  • A previous version of this story said the National Observer received funds from the Tides Foundation for anti-fossil fuel advocacy. In fact, the publication said the money it has received from the foundation was 'used to fund independent reporting and not tied to advocacy.'
    Nov 14, 2016 9:08 PM ET


Sheila Gunn Reid is the Alberta Bureau Chief for <a href="http://www.therebel.media/">The Rebel Media</a> and the author of The Destroyers: Rachel Notley and the NDP's war on Alberta.<BR> <a href="http://www.twitter.com/sheilagunnreid">@sheilagunnreid</a>