Monthly Archives: September 2014

SHOULD REPORTERS DO MORE TO SHAME SECRET KEEPERS?

One possible punishment for public bodies that violate Canadians' right to know. (Photograph by Shutterstock.com)

One possible punishment for public bodies that violate Canadians’ right to know. (Photograph by Shutterstock.com)

NAME THAT SHAME Like Canadian reporters, students journalists in the United States have seen their freedom of information requests frustrated.

But, six months ago, a legal aid group for those students decided to something clever about that frustration.

The Student Press Law Centre launched a Tumblr blog called FOIA Shaming, inviting campus reporters to share stories about university administrators who have violated the public’s right to know.

Only five such stories have posted on the blog so far. Nevertheless, I wonder whether a similar initiative to shame Canadian public bodies that charge excessive fees for freedom of information requests or are laggards in responding to them might be worthwhile?

CANADIANS CAMERA SHY In the United States, television cameras are allowed in state courts but not in the Supreme Court. By comparison, in Canada, cameras have been rare in trial courts but our highest court is televised. However, public attitudes towards expanding such coverage are very different in the two countries.

Last week, the Washington, DC-based Coalition for Court Transparency released poll in which 74 percent of 1,000 respondents said they would support having the Supreme Court’s proceeding broadcast “live to the American people.”

By comparison, when Angus Reid Public Opinion asked 1,017 Canadians in 2010 for their opinion on whether “cameras and recording devices” should be allowed inside our courts, just 49 percent said they would support such a decision.

A MADE IN CANADA SOLUTION? Is The Atlantic’s David Frum suggesting the United States should be more like Canada if wants to cure its political ills?

In a column published last month, Frum — the son of former CBC journalist Barbara Frum and brother of Canadian Conservative Senator Linda Frum — argued, “When government seems to fail, Americans habitually resort to the same solutions: more process, more transparency, more appeals to courts.”

But, according to Frum, “Each dose of this medicine leaves government more sluggish,” weakening political authority and yielding “more lobbying, more expense, more delay, and more indecision.”

Of course, as readers of this column know, Canadians don’t seem as prone to the same kinds of reformist tendencies.

As a result, our system of government — with its secret cabinet meetings, rigid party discipline and antiquated freedom of informations laws — remains comparatively efficient if somewhat undemocratic.

Frum did not respond to a tweet asking whether his column was inspired by that system.

Have a news tip about about the state of democracy, openness and accountability in Canada? You can email me at this address.

TORY DONOR PITCH MAY RISK PRESS FREEDOM RANK

What price will Canada pay so the Conservatives can fill their coffers? (Photograph by Shutterstock.com)

What price will Canada pay so the Conservatives can fill their coffers? (Photograph by Shutterstock.com)

In its repeated attacks on the media, the governing Conservatives may also be undermining Canada’s international reputation for press freedom.

This week, the party’s fundraising and membership director Jaime Girard claimed in a fundraising email that, “Unlike the Liberals, [the Tories] don’t have the Ottawa media elite backing us.”

That followed an earlier fundraising email, distributed in August, claiming “the urban media elite are mobilizing against” the Conservatives.

Eight months before that, the party also exhorted supporters that they couldn’t “let Liberal attacks and the media stop us from reaching our [fundraising] goal.”

And, in November 2013, Justice Ministry Peter MacKay wrote that the Conservatives needed donations to “fight back” against Liberal leader Justin Trudeau “and his allies in the media.”

Such claims may seem to some like par for Canada’s increasingly partisan political course.

But they are also one of the indicators Reporters Without Borders uses to measure attacks on press freedom worldwide.

Its World Press Freedom Index questionnaire asks respondents how often the government of a country has attempted to publicly discredit or publicly insult journalists within the past 12 months.

The results of that questionnaire — which is sent to 18 freedom of expression groups, Reporters Without Borders’s 150 correspondents, as well as journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists — are then used to assemble the index.

The most recent index ranked Canada’s press freedom 18th out of 180 countries examined, although its methodology hasn’t been without criticism.