Journalists Must Debate Press
By Esther Crandall
Ottawa politicians, led by Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, want
to entrench our freedom of the press in a human rights charter of a new
Canada's journalists may have bought, holus-bolus, this part of the
proposed constitution package. If so, there's no problem. But
journalists being the way they are, I can't image them as a group
anything, just like that, once they've thought about it.
What bothers me is that I can't tell how much thought this nation's
journalists may have given this part of the Trudeau proposals. I don't
believe anyone else can either ,the
that next to nothing has been said publicly about journalists' views on
this aspect of the constitutional proposals.
Mind you, this is not to say there is anything
wrong with the proposal.
I simply have the unsettling feeling that as a group, we really may not
have turned our minds to it. Understandable. Gathering reactions and
comments from others on the proposal Trudeau revealed on nationwide
television last October 2 can't have left many with time to look at it
But I think it would be great to meet with a lot
of journalists from
all corners of the country at some central location where we could talk
about the thing. If journalists gauged interest locally/regionally,
then linked together, a meeting should not be that difficult to arrange.
Late last October, in six cities between Saint
John, N.B. and
Vancouver, B.C. I met with close to 100 journalists. A large majority
expressed the view that journalists should be talking together
nationally, at the very least should be asking questions.
Are we happy with the context in which politicians
have proposed the
entrenchment of our freedom? If not, what should be the context? Do we
want our freedom of the press entrenched in the constitution in the
first place? Should this freedom be defined? Would freedom of the
press, entrenched in a new constitution, take precedence over existing
laws (libel, defamation for example)? Or, would the reverse be true?
Are we content to leave the whole thing in the hands of politicians? Or
is this our responsibility? And so on ...
After all this is our freedom of the
talking about; that
freedom, vital to working journalists, and important therefore to the
people we seek to inform. We can expect that whatever way it is
handled, whether inside or outside of a new constitution, it will
govern journalists for generations to come.
I acknowledge, as quickly as anyone, that
journalists tend to become
preoccupied with what goes on out there; we are not given to looking
over our shoulder at what Big Brother might be doing within our own
business. But this preoccupation may be a luxury we can no longer
afford, notwithstanding it could go against the grain to behave
Remember when somebody sneezed twice a while ago,
and two major
Canadian dailies disappeared? How many stories did you read or hear
then which quoted newsroom people with those dailies as saying they
didn't know their newspapers intended to stop publishing until it
Then there's the so-called poor image of the
press; every time we turn
around, it seems, somebody is saying that our credibility is suffering.
Should we take this lying down, or should we stand up and be counted at
least among ourselves, as we expect others to do, then work to correct
We know we are not the most popular people in the
politicians. And it would probably come as a distinct surprise to us if
the public rallied behind any cause we might have.
Yet here we have the government proposing major
moves affecting our
all-important freedom of the press. My question is: if we don't look
after ourselves, who else will?
Having gone this far, I'll put my money where my
mouth is to this
extent: anyone interested in a national meeting on the proposed
entrenchement of our freedom of the press in a human rights charter of
a new constitution, can say so on a postcard addressed to me, 999
Seawood Lane West, Saint John, N.B., E2M 3G8 or by telephoning me at
(506) 672-2617. But time's passing, so do it
Crandall is national president of Media Club of Canada. On Dec.
11 she and Alison Hardy of Ottawa, the club's historian, personally
presented a brief to the joint committee on the constitution on behalf
of the club. The brief was simple: it requested more time for
journalists to consider their responses to the government's
constitutional proposals as they affect freedom of the press.
in Sources, Winter 1981
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