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Commentary: Free democracy dependent on free press


Recent articles published in the Innisfail Province made a passionate plea that an unrestricted and free press must be allowed to exist. It’s a democratic right, one allowing us to challenge governments and to make opinions publicly without fear of retribution, censorship or restraint.

This is a fundamental freedom afforded to all of us under Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Earlier this year, Steven Guilbeault, federal minister of Canadian heritage, faced a barrage from reporters over the government’s plans to license (read regulate) news and media organizations. But any move that attempts to restrict the freedom of the press is unconstitutional, unless of course we all agree to live in an Orwellian society; this being a totalitarian state as described in George Orwell’s 1984 where there is no free and open society, or free press.

Worryingly, the demise of an independent and factual free press may already be at a crisis point, not because of government interference but by the growth of social media. Last January, the CBC reported the demise of three community newspapers in Hinton, Edson and Lacombe, the latter founded in 1901 and its 119 years of recorded history at an end.

Local newspapers in Canada have been in serious decline for the past 10 years. This crisis is borne largely from the emergence of generation Z into adulthood. This generation has no recollection of a pre-internet world or any appreciation of pre-digital news organizations. Wikipedia describes them as “comfortable with internet and social media but not digitally literate.”

Teenagers today receive their news from digital outlets, with many based on gossip, opinion and hearsay. Clearly digital media outlets do not employ political correspondents or fund investigative journalism or send reporters to local council meetings. Modern media instead consist of celebrity opinion and influencers and minority groups, who believe law breaking is a freedom, and a right (such as the recent rail blockades). Social media influencers care more about promoting personal brand and transforming young people’s identities. Unfortunately, ill-informed celebrity journalists are in abundance and continue to progressively serve up their version of opinionated daily gossip (news) through digital media outlets such as Twitter or Facebook.

Real journalists, however, keep politicians in check, expose scandals and even report on local town council business and affairs. The self-appointed showbiz reporters are the argument that says we still need traditional newspapers.

 The continuation of our free democracy may depend on the existence of the press. However, I fear the biggest challenge the press faces today is whether it will continue to remain a relevant and factual source in a competing world where everyone is now their own self-appointed editor, journalist and news source.

Arno Glover is a resident of Innisfail.