THUNDER BAY – The Alberta New Democrats have shifted position on an earlier decision on what constitutes media.
Rebel Media, an online news site owned and operated by former Sun Media columnist and Sun Television host Ezra Levant was being barred from Government of Alberta media events.
The move drew fire across the board from national media outlets including the Globe and Mail, and the National Post.
Pundits from across Canada stepped up with their commentary.
Ezra Levant has been an outspoken critic of the Alberta New Democrats, and has taken hardline and often controversial stands on issues. That however should not dictate a course of action by a government agency or government on what exactly constitutes media according to most media outlets who spoke out in support of Rebel Media.
Warren Kinsella posted that by making this move the Alberta New Democrats were giving Rebel Media and Levant a stage that they would “love”. It put the right-wing online media outlet on the national news and gave all other media the opportunity to comment on the issues of press freedom.
Freedom of the media is assured under Canadian law, and has been supported repeatedly by the Supreme Court.
In reversing the decision, the Alberta Government has admitted that it made a mistake.
The Canadian Association of Journalists called on the government under Premier Notley to reverse the decision.
Alberta’s government must abandon its attempt to block journalists’ access to the provincial legislature in Edmonton. The Canadian Association of Journalists reminds every government official who controls access to media lockups and press conferences that they do not control who gets to hold government to account.
Recently, Premier Rachel Notley’s director of communications, Cheryl Oates, as well as lawyers from the provincial justice department, unjustly blocked access to the legislature for journalists from Rebel Media, a conservative online news organization headed by Ezra Levant.
The National Post’s coverage of the ban on Rebel Media journalists reveals at least three inexplicable claims on the part of the government.
Claim #1: Governments deciding who is and isn’t a journalist.
“Our client’s position remains that your client (The Rebel) and those who identify as being connected to (The Rebel) are not journalists and are not entitled to access media lock-ups or other such events.” — letter from Alberta’s justice department
The truth: No government gets to decide who can hold it to account.
Claim #2: News organizations are only news organizations if their owners are journalists.
“Our rationale on this is very simple and it comes down to one thing: It’s the fact that Ezra Levant himself has testified under oath that he is not a reporter and so we don’t consider him a reporter.” — Oates, citing Levant testimony from 2014
The truth: The government makes a poor case that Levant isn’t a journalist but, even if he weren’t, news organizations are still news organizations when their owners aren’t journalists.
Claim #3: Online news sources aren’t legitimate news sources.
“We didn’t allow bloggers or online news sources in … They (The Rebel) weren’t singled out.” — Oates, defending Rebel Media’s exclusion from a press conference
The truth: Online-only news operations are nothing new, in Canada or anywhere else. The CAJ rejects any blanket ban of online-only media, which are, in fact, legitimate.
“Albertans should be choosing what coverage of their government they want to read, not seeing government try to choose what coverage is suitable for Albertans,” said CAJ President Nick Taylor-Vaisey.
The Canadian Association of Journalists is a professional organization with more than 600 members across Canada. The CAJ’s primary roles are public-interest advocacy work and professional development for its members.