OTTAWA - By now, we’re inured to the campaign against the “media elites,” the fundraising appeals that all but paint journalists as official enemies of the state, the failed experiment of the prime minister’s own propaganda network.
But now Stephen Harper and his heritage minister are flinging around accusations of media censorship. The very term chills. It shouldn’t be so easily tossed out in a democracy, certainly not from our leaders.
This feared “censorship,’’ potential or otherwise, is at the heart of a Conservative plan to give this country two copyright laws, one that ostensibly protects musicians and artists, and another hat strips broadcasters and publishers bare in the interest of partisan politics.
If Harper has his way, his Canada in 2015 will include a media that becomes an extension of the government, dutifully collecting news footage that can be twisted and used for partisan purposes, then thrown back as an ad at the network that covered the news in the first place.
It means that every reporter chasing a silent Conservative down the halls of Parliament, every technical crew schlepping cameras and microphones over to the Hill, every producer and editor putting together a piece on the nightly newscast and every anchor introducing the segment, is working not just for their network, but ultimately the political war rooms of this country next year.
It means the government that makes a virtue of taking no free rides and doing its own heavy lifting when it comes to bombing ISIS targets, is only too happy to freeload off the backs of journalists, without seeking permission or providing compensation.
This is, after all, a government that unsuccessfully tried to lure the nation’s doctors into a partisan anti-marijuana ad aimed at discrediting Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.
And it’s not just the networks. Every photo or video shot by a photographer or a reporter at this or any other newspaper is also fair game to be flung back at political opponents next year.
“It’s something you wouldn’t think would happen in a democratic society,’’ says Christopher Waddell, associate professor at Carleton University’s School of Journalism and Communication. “It probably happens in Russia and other states where the media is an extension of political parties.’’
To Harper and the government, it is a simple matter of “accountability” where politicians are held accountable for everything they say in public. They say the footage will be available to all parties; the video doesn’t have to be negative.
That argument falls apart with the censorship bogeyman, which clearly implies this government believes the nation’s broadcasters and publishers could release footage damaging to the government, but balk at damaging releases to Trudeau or NDP Leader Tom Mulcair.
There is no evidence of this.
There will be a treasure trove of Trudeau video that the Conservatives clearly want, but in pushing back against the use of news without authorization, the nation’s broadcasters certainly did not give any hint of favouritism.
• Click here to read internal documents leaked to reporters this week detailing a proposal from Heritage Minister Shelly Glover to change copyright laws
But this government sledgehammer appears aimed at those who deigned to push for journalistic integrity.
Last May, those broadcasters (expect Quebecor, which owns Sun News and TVA) informed the country’s political parties they would no longer accept political advertising using their content without their express authorization. And, they added, they would not air any ads that used any other broadcaster’s content without authorization.
They could have challenged the political parties in the courts, but they took their own action. They may yet have to end up in the courts.
Heritage Minister Shelly Glover surely wanted to skulk around in the weeds of an omnibus bill, where the Conservative government likes to hide its grenades.
But once flushed out of the weeds by an embarrassing leak of a cabinet document to CTV News, the minister deserves credit for one thing. She jumped from the bunker, didn’t blink in the unfamiliar daylight, and took direct aim at Canadian broadcasters.
“Major television networks should not have the ability to censor what can and cannot be broadcast to Canadians,’’ she said. “We believe that this has always been protected under the fair dealing provisions of the (copyright) law and if greater certainty is necessary, we will provide it.’’
This government likely hopes every media commentator in this country scales the peaks of dudgeon and beyond, the better to take on the “media elites” again.
But the Conservatives have spelled out their motives in broad daylight. They have moved themselves to the front of the legislative buffet line and dismissed other priorities. Their legislative priority is plain and simple, re-election in 2015.