Top News

Freedom of the press vital to democracy

Commentary with Geoff deGannes
Commentary with Geoff deGannes

Delegates to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland last week saved their most enthusiastic applause for President Donald Trump’s assault on the news media and his continued claims that they are nothing more than purveyors of “fake news.”

Unfortunately, his message has been resonating with a large number of Americans even beyond his conservative base. His rantings were followed up later in the day by a decision from the White House to exclude a number of respected media outlets from a press briefing with spokesman Sean Spicer including the New York Times, CNN and the BBC. 

Unfortunately, his message has been resonating with a large number of Americans even beyond his conservative base. His rantings were followed up later in the day by a decision from the White House to exclude a number of respected media outlets from a press briefing with spokesman Sean Spicer including the New York Times, CNN and the BBC. 

While chastising the media during an election campaign is one thing, continuing to view them as the so-called “enemy of the people” is chilling to say the least. Such attacks by a U.S. president are unprecedented and are what one might expect of a “tin pot dictator” with no regard for a free press.

In the midst of this ongoing battle with the media has been the issue of the use of anonymous sources as one element of investigative journalism. As President Trump railed against the use of such sources in his address to the CPAC conference, the issue of protecting sources was being addressed on this side of the border. 

A Senate committee in Ottawa is holding hearings on Bill S-231, the Journalistic Sources Protection Act, which seeks to “protect the privilege of journalistic sources, and secrecy.”

Surprisingly, Canada is one of only a few western democracies that don’t have some form of “a shield law” that protects the journalist-source relationship. It’s understandable that the public is oftentimes sceptical of the credibility of a story that originates from an unnamed “so-called” reliable source. 

But as Toronto Star editor Cathy English points out, “The reality is that some sources who have vital information they believe the public should know often cannot reveal their identities to the public. They require anonymity and journalistic protection.”

The anonymous source has been a crucial element to the workings of a free press in democracies around the world including Canada and the U.S.

The Watergate scandal, which brought down President Richard Nixon, would likely not have seen the light of day without the contribution of the anonymous source. Ironically, while Donald Trump so despises the use of unnamed sources by the American media, his own Twitter feed reveals at least five occasions where he cited anonymous sources to make racially charged slurs that President Obama was not born in the U.S. In August 2012, Mr. Trump claimed that “an extremely credible source” had called his office to tell him President Obama’s birth certificate was “fake.”

With press freedom very much under attack, it is all the more reason why the mainstream news media must be undeterred in its efforts to, as Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein says, continue its in depth investigative reporting.  

Allowing Donald Trump to manipulate and denigrate the fourth estate simply leads the country down a road to totalitarianism.

 

Geoff deGannes is the past chairman of the Tantramar Radio Society. His daily commentaries can be heard on 107.9 CFTA.

Latest News