Hey parliamentary press and national media – wake up!

Above: RCMP officers physically remove Keean Bexte, a Rebel News journalist, from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's daily press conference. Inset, Justin Trudeau and CBC's Rosemary Barton taking a selfie together.

When a journalist is arrested at a protest, the free and fair gathering of the news is arrested, too. When a journalist is arrested by the RCMP at a news conference called by the Prime Minister, our democracy is at risk.

Friday's brief arrest of CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez, producer Bill Kirkos and photojournalist Leonel Mendez by state police while they giving a live television report on during the third day of protests over the violent death of George Floyd by Minneapolis police was met with an immediate and harsh reaction by both American and international media. The CNN team clearly identified themselves and video clearly showed that they were not interfering with law enforcement. Despite this, Jimenez was taken into custody along with producer Bill Kirkos and photojournalist Leonel Mendez. CNN immediately worked to secure their release. CNN Worldwide president contacted Minnesota governor Tim Walz, who apologized for the infringement and took responsibility. The crew was released about one hour after they were detained. At a press conference Gov.Walz  said there is "absolutely no reason something like this should happen," adding that he takes "full responsibility" for the incident. “In a situation like this, even if you're clearing an area, we have got to ensure that there is a safe spot for journalism to tell the story. The issue here is trust." Walz said the mission to clear Minneapolis streets of protesters was carried under his direction, but that the arrest of journalists "is unacceptable" and that he would "make sure it doesn't happen again."

In Canada and the United States police may not prevent journalists from covering protests if the journalists are in a place where the public is allowed, and they are not disrupting or interfering with law enforcement. Simply being near a protest or other newsworthy event is not a crime. The police cannot arrest journalists in retaliation for negative coverage or to prevent reporting on a public demonstration. In the United States, detaining journalists who are covering protests or other news is viewed as an infringement or attempt to restrict First Amendment rights. In 2014, President Barack Obama reaffirmed his support for journalists on the ground saying "Our constitutional rights to speak freely, to assemble, and to report in the press must be vigilantly safeguarded. ”Walz went further personally apologizing to the CNN crew, saying “You are essential to our democracy and your ability to report must be unhindered."

As the media in the United States  expressed  their disdain and outrage at the arrests, a similar incident that happened in Ottawa on Thursday  was met by a deafening silence by Canada’s media establishment. 

An RCMP officer physically removed Keean Bexte, a Rebel News journalist, from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's daily press conference. Bexte's arm was twisted behind his back as the  RCMP escorted him away from Rideau Cottage at Rideau Hall, where Trudeau lives and has been hosting daily coronavirus briefings for the past two months. A video, published by Bexte, shows him being forcibly removed after refusing to provide his cell phone to the RCMP officer. “This is Ottawa, Canada, 2020 when Justin Trudeau is having his RCMP throw out a journalist for no reason because I wouldn’t show him my phone,” said Bexte as he was manhandled out.

Bexte self-identifies as a cultural conservative and has publicly expressed views that many associate with discriminatory attitudes towards other races and cultures.He attended the press conference to ask Trudeau questions on behalf of Rebel News.

The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has encouraged the media to attend the daily news conferences saying there is open media coverage. However, open media means all media organizations and journalists who represent a variety of view across the entire political spectrum from left to right. For a government that has based its mandate on representing the diverse people of Canada, their actions in this matter are troubling. Diversity does not just mean the ‘left’. It includes those Canadian citizens whose views may be culturally, fiscally, and socially conservative.

Trudeau and the Liberal government have shown a disdain for Rebel News and True North which are very conservative right-wing publications.The Federal Court has already issued an injunction requiring the government to accredit True North and Rebel. Therefore Bexte, as their reporter, had every right to attend the press conference and as long he was following the press conference protocols, there should have been no issue.If Bexte is not engaged in hate speech or criminal activity and is a member of a legitimate news organization,he has the right to participate in all of Trudeau’s media events. This very notion is the bedrock of any democracy. Free speech is sacrosanct and is based simply on the age-old adage that, “I may not agree with what you are saying but will fight to the death for your right to say it.” When you begin to censor and arrest people because they express  views for which you do not agree, the slippery slope toward tyranny is in play.

This  incident, in and of  itself, should have been lead story on CBC, CTV, Global News, Toronto Star, Globe and Mail and every other media outlet in Canada. It would have been if the  editors and producers at these organizations were doing their jobs properly. By not reporting the incident they only reinforce a widespread view in Canada that many large media companies can't be trusted because they curry favour with the Trudeau Liberals and have an innate bias against those on the right side of the political spectrum.

Concerns continue grow about the reticence of the national media in Canada to criticize the Trudeau government. Many are on a list that will soon accept taxpayer’s money from a special hand-picked committee of the Liberal government who will disperse over $600 million to selected media organizations across Canada that the government deems ‘worthy’. The Toronto Star, Huffington Post, Globe and Mail, Bell Media (CTV) and/or their subsidiaries are all queuing for some of those funds.In addition to this slush fund, the Trudeau  government has increased the funding to the CBC in the hundreds of millions of dollars over the past four years.(This year the crown corporation will receive just over $1.4 billion).

The mandate of Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC/Radio Canada) is to inform, enlighten and entertain; to contribute to the development of a shared national consciousness and identity; to reflect the regional and cultural diversity of Canada; and to contribute to the development of Canadian talent and culture.

Despite the massive increases in government revenue, CBC management has used the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to close most local newscasts across Canada, eliminating more than 75 hours a week of original local news reporting. In shutting down the local news and regional reporting, executives at the CBC claimed that they are 'pooling our resources' into one core national news offering. They did not explain how cutting regional news coverage and laying off local people and replacing it with one national news offering from people sitting in offices at the ritzy CBC headquarters on Front Street in downtown Toronto contributed to a shared national consciousness and identity or reflected in any true way the regional and cultural diversity of Canada. When it was pointed out to them that  those resources were already pooled into the CBC News operation, they had no comment.

As a result of the decision, thousands of local stories have gone unreported during the pandemic and the CBC national news ratings which were already in a steep decline, continue to collapse. The CBC’s propensity in recent years to ‘interpret the news for us’ instead of just reporting, combined with their Toronto-centric mentality and the cumulative effects of  a decade of waste, news bias and gross mismanagement by CBC brass have caused it to lose the trust of  a large part of the very audience that enables its existence. The CBC editorial team tilts hard left and sees all news though that lens. They ensure we get the news with the proper philosophical slant that fits their narrative.Proof of the continuing problem of CBC editorial bias was their decision to completely ignore the story of the Bexte expulsion by the RCMP. One can only imagine the outrage they would have shown had one of their own reporters been physically removed by the state police solely because they wanted to ask the PM a question.

This is not conjecture. In the middle of last year's election, the CBC filed a lawsuit against the Conservative party, claiming its use of excerpts from the broadcaster violated the “moral rights” of then news anchor Rosemary Barton and reporter John Paul Tasker.The Conservative party responded by accusing the CBC of not providing fair and objective coverage and of having a bias towards the government. At the time, Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, said the Conservative party has a strong case for arguing “fair dealing” in use of the material.

That the brass at the CBC thought it was appropriate to file a lawsuit against the Official Opposition in the middle of a federal election is mind boggling and speaks volumes about their lack of impartiality and judgement. That they did this on the taxpayer dime is unconscionable. The CBC braintrust who made the decision should have been investigated by Elections Canada. However, Elections Canada was too busy spending hundreds of thousands of dollars investigating author Ezra Levant's book,The Libranos, released before the election that was critical of the Liberal government. Levant advertised it via billboards and lawn signs which led the Elections Canada Commissioner to wrongly accuse him of “contravening the (Canada Elections) Act. He ridiculously claimed Levant's book promotion was an elections advertising expense. Levant was not running in the election. Yet, Elections Canada did nothing when the CBC spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars in a frivolous lawsuit during the election to make the Official Opposition look bad. I’m not making this up.

And things are not getting better. CBC Parliamentary Chief Rosemary Barton’s daily “breaking news" of Prime Minister Trudeau’s Covid news conferences are more than embarrassing and seem at best like a morning chat show or a scene from a “Coffee Talk" skit on Saturday Night Live,  than ‘real news’. For the very cynical they come across as a syrupy nationally broadcast daily pep rally for Justin Trudeau. Keep in mind this is the same Rosemary Barton who has previously gleefully posted selfies of her with Trudeau. Nothing wrong with that according to the CBC . . . ah . . . except judgment and perception. Somehow, I can't  imagine Peter Mansbridge ever thinking it would be appropriate to pose for a selfie with Trudeau and then post it, but I digress.This bias is further reinforced when editors and producers CHOOSE to ignore issues like the Bexte story, especially when it is literally playing out right in front of them.

The mere fact that the RCMP can accost a journalist (from a media outlet that the federal court has determined has a right to be there) in the middle of  a ‘daily national press conference’ and it is ignored by the national media in Canada, is quite incredible.Ironically, this was the same day that CBC, CTV, Global and other national media pundits were in overdrive expressing their disdain and concern for new legislation in Hong Kong that would curtail the freedoms of the people and the press in that city. 

Most members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery and their editors and producers in Ottawa and Toronto dislike Rebel Media so they chose to ignore the story. And that is the trouble with the very biased national media in Canada. They should have reported it.That is their job.