World Press Freedom Day shines spotlight on Canadian reporting challenges
The UN’s World Press Freedom Day on Thursday worked to shine a spotlight on the dangers and obstacles reporters face while on the job -- and while the challenges in Canada are not as great as those faced internationally, they appear to be growing.
Canada ranks 18th of 180 countries on press freedom according to Reporters Without Borders. Delays with Access to Information requests are the major reason for the ranking, but there are plenty of other reasons for Canadians to worry about press freedom on home soil.
In 2016, Newfoundland and Labrador-based journalist Justin Brake was arrested and charged over his reporting of a First Nations occupation of a Muskrat Falls construction site.
In Quebec, RCMP officers conducted surveillance of two journalists working with La Presse in 2007.
While the Liberal government has promised to improve Access to Information regulations, Joel-Denis Bellavance, one of the La Presse journalists who the RCMP spied on, says it’s becoming increasingly hard to acquire a meaningful document.
“(The documents) dealt mostly with previous government’s records,” he told CTV News. “As time passed and as this government has its own record, when we ask for documents, the documents we get are mostly all redacted.”
Challenges are growing south of the border as well. U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly made a point to discredit reporters who cover him, calling much of the negative publicity “fake news.”
Internationally, the threat against press freedom can be much more violent.
Thirty-three journalists have been killed so far in 2018, according to the International Federation of Journalists. Among the journalists killed include 10 in a single day in Afghanistan and an investigative reporter in Slovakia who was working on a story about political corruption.
An estimated 262 journalists are currently in jail, the highest level in three decades. Most incarcerated journalists are in the Middle East and China.
While covering the Iranian election in 2009, Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari was detained and spent a 118 days in Iran’s Evin Prison, a place known for housing political prisoners.
“I’ve been through psychological and physical torture in order to confess against myself,” Bahari said.
In 2014, Bahari’s story was turned into a movie written and directed by Jon Stewart called “Rosewater.” A satirical interview with Stewart on “The Daily Show” concerning American-Iranian relations is said to be part of the reason behind Bahari’s detainment.
Bahari currently works with Journalism is not a Crime, which works to document human rights abuses against journalists in Iran.
“The worst thing for a prisoner is thinking he or she is forgotten,” he said.
With a report from CTV News’ Omar Sachedina