May 3, 2017
World Press Freedom day comes this year as journalism faces new and unprecedented threats around the world.
From armed forces entering newsrooms in Turkey, to journalists being assassinated at record levels in Mexico, Afghanistan, Iraq and too many other countries, to the President of the United States’ open hostility with members of the media, Unifor acknowledges the dedication of journalists and media professionals that work hard every day, even putting their lives at risk to get the news out. The work done is truly incredible and makes a valuable contribution to upholding democracy.
Closer to home, Canada slipped four places in the 2016 World Press Freedom Index, put out by Reporters Without Borders. This comes after falling 10 places the year before. Last November, it came to light that Quebec police were spying on at least six journalists and had 24 warrants to monitor the phone of journalist Patrick Lagacé – all to find out who the reporters were talking to about police corruption or who was leaking information to the media. Meanwhile, in a case that has attracted international attention, Vice reporter Ben Makuch faces jail time over his refusal to turn over to the RCMP text messages with an ISIS fighter from Canada. Such police actions put a chill on reporters as they gather sources and prepare their stories.
These are stories we the public needs to hear. If there are issues with police corruption, reporters, and their sources, need to feel safe telling us about it. Democracies around the world are confounded by why any of their young people choose to support ISIS. To better understand that, and stop it, we need reporters such as Makuch to tell their stories. Such reporting makes us all safer. The heavy-handed tactics of police put that at risk.
A functioning democracy relies on a strong and free press. This World Press Freedom Day, Unifor calls on the federal government to help ensure the media in this country can continue to thrive.
Canada is one of the few countries in the world to not have a shield law. It’s time to fix that. Unifor renews its demand to the federal government to take action and make Bill S-231 law to better protect confidential sources and make it tougher for police to spy on journalists.
As Canada’s media union, Unifor has taken a leading role in this issue, helping to support the Canadian Journalists For Free Expression in its efforts to help Makuch, and participating in an International Federation of Journalists working group on spying.
Good journalism in Canada is already under severe economic threat as the old ad-driven model for funding quality local news is devastated by the digital revolution. Unifor is also working hard to help find solutions to that crisis.