Canadian journalists have spent the last couple days shooting fish in a barrel and congratulating themselves for it.
On Tuesday, The Rebel reported that its journalists were barred from several government events between January 29 and February 3 because Alberta’s department of justice ruled that the publication — started by Ezra Levant — does not produce journalism, and as such its reporters “are not entitled to access media lock-ups or other such events.” The government has now reversed its decision.
The 48-hour-long pat on the back began shortly after The Rebel‘s initial report, as journalists rushed to condemn the decision, claiming the government shouldn’t decide who is a journalist.
Their argument, of course, is accurate: you don’t need a degree to be a journalist, and working for an alternative publication does not mean you should be barred from events mainstream reporters can access.
The issue is that journalists made this point in the most self-aggrandizing manner, depicting it as if it was the beginning of a totalitarian crackdown on the press, and they were the only ones capable of stopping it.
The Globe and Mail published an editorial on the matter, writing, “This is beyond deplorable. It is not the place of a government to decide what constitutes a journalist or a media outlet. This is not Russia, not Egypt, not Iran – countries where government controls the media through bogus licensing regimes or outright censorship.”
In the Edmonton Sun, Lorne Gunter wrote, “Outrageous is an overused word in politics, but this is truly outrageous.”
Meanwhile on Twitter, journalists were trying to channel Voltaire.
Ezra Levant is a garbage human being and The Rebel is a garbage website but both still deserve journalist status & all that entails.— Jeet Heer (@HeerJeet) February 16, 2016
@bruceanderson I can't say I've really ever appreciated what Ezra's contributed to the conversation, but I don't think it's for gov't… 3/n— Alex Boutilier (@alexboutilier) February 16, 2016
@bruceanderson to stop his employees or contributors from attending press conferences. If the gallery allows it to stand for him … 4/n— Alex Boutilier (@alexboutilier) February 16, 2016
With pretty much every reporter in Canada rallying to his defence I guess all there is to say is welcome, @ezralevant, to the media party.— Paul McLeod (@pdmcleod) February 17, 2016
These articles and tweets perpetuate the myth that journalists are all in it together. In reality, Levant’s case is an easy one for reporters to congregate around, expressing outrage without any serious consequences or thought.
Meanwhile, earlier this year RCMP officers entered Vice Canada’s office in Toronto and Montreal to seize documents and notes, and there was very little outrage from journalists: no Globe editorial, no columns and few reporters coming to Vice’s defence on Twitter.
In 2015 I wrote that, “The executive director of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, Tom Henheffer, defended Vice’s decision to fight the RCMP’s production order. ‘Journalists are not lackies for the police and to use us that way is a totally unjustifiable violation of free expression and privacy rights,’ Henheffer said, adding that ‘this sets a dangerous precedent for the free press in Canada that must not be repeated.’”
As such, the invasive methods used against Vice should be regarded as a serious threat to the future of adversarial journalism, especially in post Bill C-51 Canada. Journalists don’t deserve a pat on the back until these limits to the freedom of the press are challenged head on.