Cherise Seucharan, Howl Staff
On May 4, people around the world gathered to celebrate World Press Freedom Day. First proclaimed by the UN in 1993, this day honours those who fight for freedom of the press and brings awareness to violations of free speech around the world.
Here in Toronto the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, an organization which monitors press freedom both nationally and worldwide, released its annual Review of Free Expression in Canada. This report analyzes the most pressing free speech issues in Canadian media and assigns grades based on how well various sectors are doing in this regard. The Howl sat down the CJFE’s President, Arnold Amber, to discuss the issue of press freedom and its relevance to Canadians.
Howl: Why should World Press Freedom day be important to Canadians?
Arnold Amber: Canadians don’t think much about the level of rights that exist in Canada regarding free expression and media. However, the issue of access to information is very important—every year the federal government has received an “F” from CJFE’s annual. Canadians are not hearing what they have a right to know. Government regulations make it hard to learn about how the government is carrying out that role. Even for journalists it is difficult to investigate, because many of these government reports have crossed out information, for various reasons, so when you receive a report most of it is blacked out. However, in the Annual Report there are there are “A”s and “B”s as well as “F”s – there are both positives and negatives in Canadian media.
Howl: In the coming year, what do you predict will be the major issues concerning freedom of the press?
AA: There are two major issues in Canada: one is the information flow when you ask for documentation from the government. The second is the fact that scientists who work for the government are being muzzled completely.
There has been a lot of shutting down of opposition opinion in the country.
Howl: With the increase of global digital communications, are we more or less free to express ourselves?
AA: I think in general we are better off. We can tackle major problems as part of social media. When there are barriers to access, people in other countries discover how to break the embargo on it, allowing access. For example, in West Africa people figured out how to use social media to be able to get though that embargo. This is concrete evidence that freedom is greater now.
However there are still countries like China that are barring access. More than ever we have to diligently fight for freedom.
Howl: Why do you think WPF Day is not widely recognized in Canada compared to other nations? What can we do about it?
AA: There is an issue that’s going on in mature democracies involving the whole concept of democracy in the world, compared to those who are new to it. In colonial societies they are just beginning to discover real democracy, but in the West we have had it for a long time. In many mature democracies people are complacent about it.
For example, in Toronto there are 4 daily newspapers, so people assume that there is freedom. But when you think about the concentration of the media we are one of the countries with the most concentration. We have many newspapers, but they are owned by big chains that also own the radio and television stations. A lot of western democracies have that problem of being complacent. The thirst for free media is stronger in places where it has historically been denied.