By Grant Buckler
The Alberta government has reversed its earlier position that reporters for Ezra Levant’s online publication The Rebel were “not journalists” and will admit them to government media events.
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression welcomed the government’s about-face, but said it was “concerned that this violation of freedom of expression occurred at all.”
“CJFE is encouraged that the government has announced they will be reviewing their media policy, and strongly urges the adoption of measures to prevent this kind of occurrence in future,” the CJFE statement continued.
An editorial in The Globe and Mail called the abortive ban ‘beyond deplorable.” The Globe described The Rebel as “completely partisan, entirely hostile to the NDP, and usually unwatchable to anyone but its most fervent followers. But it is also self-evidently a media outlet. Its reporters cover the news, criticize the government, and comment on society.”
The government is also appointing Heather Boyd, former western Canadian bureau chief for The Canadian Press, to recommend what its media policies should be, CBC News reported
As J-Source reported on Feb. 18, The Rebel’s Calgary reporter, Holly Nicholas, and Alberta bureau chief, Sheila Gunn Reid, were ejected from a government press conference on Jan. 29. On Feb.3, Reid was denied access to a joint press conference with Premier Rachel Notley and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
"We've heard a lot of feedback from Albertans and media over the course of the last two days, and it's clear we made a mistake," Cheryl Oates, communications director for Notley, said Wednesday in a written statement.
Earlier, the government had defended excluding The Rebel on the basis that its founder, Ezra Levant, testified in a 2014 libel trial that he was a commentator and pundit, not a reporter. The Canadian Association of Journalists rebutted that argument in a statement pointing out that the owner of a news organization does not have to be a journalist.
“The Canadian Association of Journalists reminds every government official who controls access to media lockups and press conferences that they do not control who gets to hold government to account,” the CAJ statement said.
Grant Buckler is a retired freelance journalist and a volunteer with Canadian Journalists for Free Expression and lives in Kingston, Ont.