Statement by CWA Canada President Martin O’Hanlon on World Press Freedom Day

World Press Freedom Day graphic (Courtesy UNESCO)

Today, we honour our colleagues around the globe who are fighting for a free press, truth, and democracy, and we commit to redouble our efforts to defend freedom of expression.

In dozens of countries, media workers are harassed, jailed, attacked or even murdered by governments, terror groups or criminal gangs. In the vast majority of cases, no suspects are ever caught or punished. We must end the impunity.

Globally, more and more governments are cracking down on freedom of expression, using technology to quash dissent and block the sharing of information on social media.

We have long expected this from repressive regimes in China, North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Cuba. But alarmingly, formerly progressive countries like Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Turkey are now openly hostile to the media, and in the case of Turkey, hundreds of journalists are in jail.

Then there’s the U.S. where the ugliness of Trump and his Republican enablers are a threat to both freedom of the press and democracy.

Here in Canada, it’s more benign but still worrying.

We recently saw Radio-Canada reporter Antoine Trépanier arrested by Gatineau police simply for doing his job and asking questions — based on a frivolous harassment complaint by someone who didn’t like what he was reporting.

And a short time later, a judge ordered Radio-Canada journalist Marie-Maude Denis to reveal her source in a corruption case.

We’ve also seen reporters barred from municipal council meetings because local politicians didn’t like what they were writing.

Who’d have thought we’d be fighting these battles in 2018 on top of all the other challenges we face — news industry woes, fake news, vulture-fund control of newspapers, etc.

This sort of thing cannot be tolerated in a democracy and we, as a media union, will fight it with all our power, including partnering with our allies.

CWA Canada is already part of a group that has been granted intervener status in a Supreme Court case involving an attempt by the RCMP to force VICE Canada reporter Ben Makuch to identify a source.

Let’s be clear: The media is not, nor should it ever be, an arm of the state.

As journalists, we must fight any attempt by anyone, especially authorities, to interfere with freedom of the press.

As journalism goes, so goes democracy.

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