Wednesday, June 30, 2010

People in their 20s with cameras: the new enemy?

Now that we are hearing more from those who were arrested or detained over the G20 weekend, it's becoming apparent that police were particularly irritated by people in their 20s documenting the protests in one way or another for alternative media publications.

Lawyer Julian Falconer announced yesterday he is taking on the cases of four such journalists, and the stories they tell are horrible.

Amy Miller was covering the demonstrations for the independent monthly Dominion when she says she was verbally abused, arrested and taken to the detention centre. Most alarmingly, she says one of the officers threatened sexual violence and added "you won't be a journalist after we bring you to jail".

Lisa Walter (who is the only one of the group not in her 20s) writes for the labour magazine Our Times. She says she was thrown to the ground and cuffed, her credentials challenged and was called a "f-ing dyke".

Adam MacIsaac was covering the same protest as Miller for the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition. He was arrested, taken to a hospital after telling police he had a pacemaker. He was handcuffed to a bed according to this profile of 20 detainees in the Toronto Star. When he was let go 7 hours later, police said they had no idea where his $6K worth of camera equipment went.

Cameron Fenton was also reporting for the Dominion. He told the Star that about 30 people near a protest were boxed in by police and all were arrested and put in the G20 detention centre to be released later the same day.

Then there's the physical abuse of independent journalist Jesse Rosenfeld, who I wrote about Monday.

There may be some gray area between activism and journalism in all these cases. These are young, independent reporters with a point of view. But it appears that those who aggressively pursued the G20 story, who were not backed by big media companies, and who were young and seemingly vulnerable were particularly targeted for abuse.

It's like the police were sending an ominious message to the journalists of the future: don't go there.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Why These G20 Media Arrests Should Concern Us All

On the day after a weekend of mayhem, it's important to focus on those who’ve been detained, arrested or imprisoned this weekend at the G20 summit just for doing their jobs: the journalists who were in the wrong place at the wrong time or looked the wrong way.

The hundreds of citizens, onlookers, and even joggers who were detained, arrested or imprisoned should be angry and have their stories told too.

But for the sake of solid information about these events, we should really be concerned about the people who had formal G20 media accreditation issued by the federal government’s summit office and who were still kept from doing their jobs.

• CTV News Channel producer Farzad Fatholahzadeh. He says he was looking to hand off his tape to another producer behind one of the police lines Saturday afternoon, and with his media pass clearly visible, a dozen police officers approached him. They asked him what he was doing there. Fatholahzadeh says he pointed to his news truck, the police told him to relax and then arrested him. His hands were fastened with plastic ties and he was brought to the Eastern Ave. detention centre. Six hours later he was released with no charges against him.
• National Post photographers Brett Gundlock and Colin O’Connor. The two were arrested and taken into custody Saturday at about 6 p.m. while taking shots of the clashes between police and demonstrators. They were charged with obstruct peace officer and unlawful assembly. They spent 24 hours in custody at the Eastern Ave. detention centre.
• Canadian Press reporter Terry Pedwell. He was detained for two hours in Huntsville while covering the G8 meeting, after police found he was carrying a standard-issue (for reporters covering demonstrations) gas mask in his trunk.
Jesse Rosenfeld a Canadian freelance journalist based in Ramallah. He was covering what had been a peaceful demonstration on the Esplanade when two police officers grabbed him at about 11 p.m. He did not have an official media accreditation, but that's no excuse for the abuse he suffered. The case is getting widespread publicity because TVO host Steve Paikin witnessed and tweeted about it. The following are Paikin’s tweets during the arrest and beating:
“they repeated they would arrest me if i didn't leave. as i was escorted away from the demonstration, i saw two officers hold a journalist.”
“the journalist identified himself as working for "the guardian." he talked too much and pissed the police off. two officers held him....”
“a third punched him in the stomach. totally unnecessary. the man collapsed. then the third officer drove his elbow into the man's back.”
“the officer who escorted me away from the demo said, "yeah, that shouldn't have happened." he is correct. there was no cause for it.”
the demonstration on the esplanade was peaceful. it was like an old sit in. no one was aggressive. and yet riot squad officers moved in.
Let’s get beyond the burning cars and smashed-in windows. Those acts of hooliganism come with G20 summits and they are completely predictable. By all accounts, the police simply let the cars burn and the windows be smashed. They were even lauded for their restraint by some. It was later Saturday and through the day Sunday that became really crazy. Because that’s when police, possibly frustrated at being ineffective with the Black Bloc when they were rioting, turned on activists, onlookers and just plain regular people randomly, people who happened to be in the way at the wrong time. Including journalists doing their job.

There will be many official reports filed about this weekend of protest in Toronto. I ask that at least a portion of those reports be reserved for coming up with better ways to allow accredited journalists do their jobs – whether or not the situation is uncontrolled and frantic. If we go through the hassle of formal accreditation, let’s make sure it means something when it really matters.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Sun's idea of "news" a joke, but will the CRTC care?

I see that Quebecor/aka Sun newspaper chain isn't toning down its slanted "reporting" about CBC just because it's trying to get a license to compete with it in 24/7 news.

Check out this "news" story from Althia Raj , the Sun reporter who seems to be assigned the job of taking the Quebecor party line in these must-do anti-CBC pieces.

She writes: "CBC received almost 900 complaints from 2007 to 2010".

What Raj means is that 900 Access to Information requests were filed about the CBC in those three years. A big difference. Access to Information requests are routinely filed by reporters or citizens in order to get information from public corporations. They are not "grievances" which Raj also calls them.

Two paragraphs later, we learn that most of the requests were filed "on behalf of QMI Agency". That's Quebec Media Inc., Quebecor's own newsservice (Raj's employer), which Raj never points out.

In other words, this story is really about the fact that Quebecor filed hundreds of Access to Information requests about its competitor, the CBC. And it did so by abusing a process that's about making public corporations more transparent. The Access to Information process is NOT designed to be used by companies to get information to use as a competitive weapon.

You can count on more of this type of "news" on the 24/7 Sun TV News channel too. Wonder if the CRTC considers this type of "news" worthy of a must-carry cable designation?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Is Fox News North counting on a sweet deal from the CRTC?

It's good to see real questions being asked about Quebecor's new "straight talk" all-news channel. Forget whether we need another right-wing voice or not. Forget whether it's appropriate that the former communications director to Stephen Harper is the guy in charge.

People are rightly asking whether Pierre-Karl Peladeau is banking on a special deal from the CRTC that would allow him to convert his unsuccessful over-the-air channel in Toronto to a lucrative three-year "category one" specialty channel license.

That's the license that would force cable operators to carry the channel. And that "must carry" designation is big bucks. Automatic carriage fees can range between 15 cents and 65 cents per month per subscriber. That's steady income, steady enough that selling ads isn't so important.

There's no precedent for such a request at the CRTC, and the Commission says that to be ruled a "must carry" a service has to demonstrate "exceptional importance" to Canadians.

Surprise. Surprise. It looks like Quebecor is counting on being ruled "exceptional", judging by the excellent interview CBC's Kathleen Petty did with Kory Tenycke, Quebecor Media's VP for development. Love the way she doesn't back down . And how it exposes Tenycke's lack of a back-up plan and his disdain for Canadians and their ability to understand CRTC regulatory lingo.

I can tell you this: Canadians may not know the difference between a cat 1 and a cat 2 license digital TV license, but they know when there's one set of rules for us, and another set for people who used to work for the prime minister and whose boss happens to be a close friend of a former prime minister. And they know when something stinks.

Quite apart from the discussion about whether this network is "Fox News North" or not, what we should really be watching for is whether the CRTC degrades itself and defies its own directive to give yet another sweet deal to powerful friends.

If you care about this, check out the media reform group, It's all about making sure independent media and solid information survive in this age of punditry and spin.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Quebecor dilemma

After two years of layoffs in this industry, word that Quebecor’s Pierre-Karl Peladeau is investing in news with a third all-news channel should be seen as a good thing. Jobs. Jobs. Jobs. We all need them.

There’s no question the journalism will be from a conservative right point of view, but my main concern is that the channel will probably serve a much narrower interest: what’s good for Quebecor and Pierre-Karl Peladeau. There’s no other media owner in this country who injects their own business interests into “journalism” as much as Peladeau does.

Talk to anyone who works at le Journal de Montreal, also Quebecor-owned. Reporters there filed a complaint with the Quebec Press Council because they felt pressure to give prominence to Quebecor’s mega-hit “Star Academie” on TVA. Quebecor-owned papers (Journal de Montreal, Journal de Quebec, the Sun chain) are frequently filled with rabid reporting about the CBC/Radio-Canada, Peladeau’s only real competition in Quebec, because he owns almost all of the rest of the media in the province.

And what’s good for Quebecor and Pierre-Karl Peladeau is rarely good for the rest of us. He’s cut the guts out of the Sun newspaper chain since he bought it, he’s cut beyond the bone to newspapers across Ontario, leaving the people of Kingston, Sudbury, North Bay and other smaller cities with less real information about their communities.

At the same time, there’s no question we need the diversity of opinion that comes with a "Fox News North", whether or not we like that opinion. I just hope it means the other “mainstream media” will be freed up from kowtowing to the right in this country. I’m happy to see the right-wing audience served by Quebecor, as long as everyone else concentrates on the mainstream issues they’ve been ignoring in their quest for the same audience.