By now, news of Rebel Media reporter David Menzies’s Jan. 9 arrest in Richmond Hill, Ont. has likely reached many of our readers, as news tends to do. And good thing, too — although some of you may have rolled your eyes, or pricked up your ears, at the mention of Rebel Media, the publication itself is not the focus of this editorial.
For us, news makers and news publishers, Menzies’s arrest does not fall onto the political spectrum. There is no left- or right-wing at play when a journalist is handcuffed, taken into police custody, and charged while walking down a public sidewalk, microphone in hand. There should be no left- or right-wing at play here for those who read news, those who listen to news, those who watch news, or those who scroll past news, either.
That’s not to say political bias doesn’t exist, or shouldn’t exist, in Canadian publications; as a consumer, I like to know who I’m buying from. But when a journalist’s ability to tell the news is forcefully removed, the foundation on which our industry stands starts to crack.
‘Gotcha’ journalism, like the reporting practised by Menzies, is sensational by nature, but it’s by no means out of the ordinary in Richmond Hill, as it is in other political centres with a strong free press. How often do you see clips that start much the same way as the viral video of Menzies’s arrest populate the evening newscast? Likely on a regular basis.
Chrystia Freeland and every other politician in Canada are well within their rights to continue the tradition of “no comment,” that’s existed as long as ambush interviews have. In fact, most reporters like Menzies expect it, and rely on the absence of a quote as an answer in itself. Staff, or even un-involved bystanders are free to stand in the way, blocking camera or reporter access — all fair game.
But news publications and journalists themselves function as watchdogs for various levels of government, holding those in power accountable to the public. That ability is granted in the job description, not by what party they vote for or whether they identify as left or right. And when one journalist has that ability taken away, our entire industry’s role is compromised, and the cracks appear under every journalist’s feet, not just David Menzies’s.
Yes, journalists can be biased, and yes, the resulting journalism produced can be biased, but censorship under the threat of criminal charges is a threat to all Canadian journalists and the content we produce. The act of committing journalism has no political affiliation.