Congratulations Canada, for being ranked in the top 20 by Reporters Without Borders in their annual World Press Freedom index. Canada rocked the competition, finishing just behind Hungary, Austria and New Zealand… no, wait, there was also Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Latvia, Switzerland. They also did better than Canada, but other than that we outshone. That’s if you don’t count Portugal, Ireland or Denmark either– ok, how about just all of Europe. Minus Europe completely, in a Europeless world, Canada is the creme de la creme, a beacon of hope for freedom of the press everywhere (AKA 18th). Trinidad and Tobago (19) put up a good fight, but they’ll have to ride our coattails yet again as we storm forward, trailblazers of the free press.
Here are some Canadian examples of exceptional merit that other countries can learn from, such as the UK (24. And we used to be part of their empire. Who’s laughing now, UK?), the US (I can’t believe we share the 49th parallel with a country ranked 48) and Eritrea(169), who nudged out defending champ North Korea(168) by a nose to take the Worst World Press Freedom title for 2007.
Example 1: A recent story in the Globe and Mail states that the Canadian government received 29,182 requests for access to information. They managed to disclose all of the information 23.1 percent of the time, using the “international affairs and defence” exemption to black out information 14.5 percent of the time. Apparently, public release of information generally decreased and slowed down since the Conservatives came to power. In fact, Montreal’s La Presse reported that the government responded to one of their access to information requests saying it would cost them $500,000. Way to go Canada!
Example 2: Canada is one of the most concentrated media markets in the world. Only four corporations distribute 70 percent or our dailies, three control most of the tv news market and one company owns the majority of all our radio stations. So what does this mean? A 2006 Senate committee said it best when they stated the “concentration of [media] ownership has reached levels that few countries would consider acceptable.” A recent CRTC hearing on media diversity has recognized that our media market is so concentrated that it is seriously damaging Canadian’s access to more than one opinion.
Example 3: As we all know Prime Minister Harper loves the media as if they were his own children. To show his love he has plans to build us a brand new press gallery, right in an old shoe store a few blocks away from the current one, where the government can control the whole show. Maybe they can just write the stories from now on and feed them to the newspapers, which should be easy since the same company owns most of the papers anyways. I guess the current press gallery isn’t cozy enough, which would explain why Harper’s only ever had one press conference in it. During that monumental day Harper had his own people handpick the reporters who were allowed to ask the questions, a practice usually handled by the gallery. Talk about freedom: freedom to only ask polite questions, freedom to sit nice and quiet on your hands while the government dictates who gets to ask questions. I can only imagine how special those few reporters who were picked must have felt, as if it was the first day back to school and the teacher picked them while all the other kids frantically jolted their arms straight into the air, shouting “me me me me me me.” Harper’s office has said plans to build the shoe store press gallery are off, conveniently after this story came out in the Toronto Star.
So if Eritrea wants to challenge us for the World Minus Europe title next year there’s a few things they have to do first. Have one massive company buy all the major media organizations and continually pump out corporate friendly fluff; gradually censor more and more access to information requests, until eventually all government documents look like a giant black line; and hold one press conference a year, dictating who gets to ask what questions. It seemed to work for Canada.