Monday, June 14, 2010

Conservative Senator Speaks Out Against Harper's Muzzling of the Press

As the news story this week of the media fighting back against Harper's stifling of the press, they could find support for their cause from within the hallowed halls of Harper's domain.

Senator Nicole Eaton, heiress of the Eaton department stores and a patronage senate appointment, had released a statement that supported the press and their right to information.
I am alarmed by the erosion of this most essential right;alarmed because freedom of speech is an inextricable part of our Canadian identity. If we lose that freedom, we lose a part of our Canadian-ness. Freedom of expression in all of its many forms – including freedom of speech, the press, the arts, and religious and cultural expression – has always been one of Canada’s most important national qualities.

It is a golden thread, woven through our great historic moments and all of our great public controversies, and it has guided us to peaceful resolutions of our disagreements and helped us reach our highest aspirations. And, in our increasingly multicultural, pluralistic society, it ensures that everyone in Canada can find their voice, and have their say.
She even brought up William Aberhart, the first leader of Harper's party, so she's definitely on top of this.
Aberhart’s election came in the face of nearly universal opposition by the newspapers of the day. By 1937, he was so frustrated that he introduced the Accurate News and Information Act, that required every newspaper in the province to run a rebuttal or a “correction or amplification” when ordered to do so by the government.
Eaton is a strong supporter of Jim Flaherty, so will we see friction in the ranks, now that she is speaking out against Harper's unprecedented control of information? Could be. I mean she even brought up Joseph Howe, an eminent defender of freedom of the press in Canada.

In 1835 – nearly 200 years ago, and a generation before Canada was born as our own country – Joseph Howe was put on trial for seditious libel, because the newspaper he published had embarrassed local Halifax politicians by exposing their corruption. Howe knew that his own freedom was at stake – if he lost, he could have been imprisoned. But he also knew that much more was on trial that day: the right of citizens to scrutinize and criticize their government was in

Here’s what he said to the jury about what would happen politically if he were convicted: “Were you to condemn me, these [politicians] would say there is no truth in those charges, there is nothing wrong, and matters would continue in the old beaten track. If you acquit me, as I trust you will, they must form themselves into a court of inquiry for self-reformation ; they must drive out from among them those men who bring disgrace on their ranks, and mischief on the community in which they reside…”

...Howe’s case would set a precedent for Nova Scotia, and the rest of Canada, for centuries to come. Had the jury chosen to side with the Halifax elites – the politicians and other polite company who had been offended and embarrassed by him – corruption would have flourished, and democratic criticism would have withered. Howe’s passionate defence of freedom worked. The jury defied the judge’s instructions and acquitted Howe. And that great triumph set him on course to one day become Nova Scotia’s premier.

But let me quote one more passage from Howe’s speech. “Let not the sons of the Rebels look across the border to the sons of the Loyalists, and reproach them that their press is not free.”
That's exactly what happened when Time magazine in 2006 "look[ed] across the border .... and reproach[ed] them that their press is not free.” This is brilliant.

And what senator Eaton had to say about hiding corruption is exactly the point that the Canadian media is trying to make.

Under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the flow of information out of Ottawa has slowed to a trickle. Cabinet ministers and civil servants are muzzled. Access to Information requests are stalled and stymied by political interference. Genuine transparency is replaced by slick propaganda and spin designed to manipulate public opinion. The result is a citizenry with limited insight into the workings of their government and a diminished ability to hold it accountable. As journalists, we fear this will mean more government waste, more misuse of taxpayer dollars, more scandals Canadians won't know about until it's too late.

It's been four years since Harper muzzled his cabinet ministers and forced reporters to put their names on a list during rare press conferences in hopes of being selected to ask the prime minster a question. It's not uncommon for reporters to be blackballed, barred from posing questions on behalf of Canadians. More recently, information control has reached new heights. Access to public events is now restricted.

Our press will be thrilled knowing that they have such high profile support from within the ranks. Thank you Senator Eaton for going over your boss's head in attempt to save Canada's tradition of freedom of the press. Not sure that Harper will be thanking you though.