Archive for category Media Consortium

Legacy News is Threatened By Lack of Ethics Not Subsidies

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(CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais still clueless on journalism ethics)

This week CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais ripped into journalism industry executives for asking for subsidies all while owning private yachts and helicopters. This statement has come while the CRTC has been holding hearings on the future of local journalism and TV, however spoiled executives are only part of the problem. A lack of enforcement by the CRTC on ethical regulations seems to be the other part of the problem with broadcast journalism.

From a recent CBC article:

Blais said he is “not convinced” that citizen journalism and social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook will ever be able to challenge the supremacy of legacy news organizations.

“If the journalist — trained to professional standards, who subscribes to a particular code of ethics, and who aspires to the highest standards for gathering and interpreting facts to create valuable, intelligent news analysis — disappears, in the absence of a proven alternative, I fear the future of the fourth estate as a pillar of democracy will be at risk,” he said.

The problem with Canadian journalism is it has become an arm’s length political propaganda machine rather than informative, fact driven reporting. We saw a lot of this during the election and with the debate over the debates. The main reason for this is the fact we do not have an independent body to investigate complaints around journalism ethics.

Most TV and legacy news organizations (the exception is the CBC) are part of an industry owned organization that is tasked with investigating its own conduct under CRTC regulations on complaints of false and misleading facts, inaccurate reporting, or failure to adhere to ethical standards. This self-investigating organization is called the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC). What’s worse is that there are no ethical regulations for legacy print media news, only for broadcast news.

If Canadians are that concerned about the fourth estate, than we need to properly regulate ethical standards in news. Blais should look no further than in the mirror for that, and not pivot the blame towards technological diffusion which is far easier to do than to admit the CRTC holds a huge part in the downfall of journalism ethics due to lack of enforcement of those ethical regulations, especially with the CBC. The fourth estate isn’t a pillar of democracy anymore; this is in part due to the CRTC not acting like a regulator and more like a “protector” to the industry elite since 1976.

In 2014 I reported that all the major networks including the CBC lead their newscasts in an effort to mislead Canadians on a matter Canadian law in which this consortium of broadcast journalists moved way outside their regulated ethical standards and intentionally attacked a political party by way of intentionally falsifying facts in their news reporting for corporate gain.  I broke this story on the blogosphere.

I complained to the CBSC, in which nothing was done. I also complained to the CRTC regarding CBC’s role in misleading Canadians. CRTC didn’t investigate even after the CBC somehow misplaced the newscast in question, and a huge e-mail chain was provided to the CRTC displaying intent from some of CBC’s elite news reporters and news editors to mislead the public in order to protect its corporate interests. This eventually led to the Conservative Party of Canada pulling out of the consortium debates. How’s that for citizen journalism challenging legacy news.

On top of this, CBC’s news editor continued her misleading campaign on a matter of Canadian law threatening to take down CBC owned content during the election period including material considered fair use by journalists and bloggers. This news editor is still employed at CBC. I’d love Blais to explain to Canadians why this news editor is still employed at the CBC when the CRTC has direct oversight of this public broadcaster.

Throughout the election it was quite clear that Canadians trust in legacy news was quite rightly eroded, whether you were a Conservative looking down at major networks behavior towards the party and intentionally misleading facts in top news stories, or Liberal, NDP and Green looking at the conservative approach to only agreeing to conservative friendly debate hosts. Either way you look at it, we have a failure of legacy news both in broadcast and in print to uphold the standards necessary for the survival of that pillar of democracy at the very time when it is so important for them to uphold ethical standards in news.

People have lost faith and trust in the fourth estate. Blais is rightfully concerned; however I’m not sure that blame lies on the industry elite looking for tax payer’s handouts, but rather the inability or inaction of their regulator to take meaningful action when ethical standards are quite clearly broken.

Here’s a news flash Blais. Most of our audience now takes in content from several sources including citizen journalists to formulate their own opinions. The supremacy of legacy news is already being challenged due to the way these organizations handle ethical standards. In many respects the void that has been left by the CRTC’s inability to do anything on the organizations it oversees, is being filled by citizen journalists, bloggers and by “ethical journalists” who have left the industry in disgust. That’s not going to change if these organizations continue down the path they are now. In fact it’s likely to fragment the legacy news industry even more which is what I think the CRTC is just starting to see through these hearings.

If anything the CRTC should have identified the problems with legacy news during the last election. The CRTC is still very much tone deaf to the problems it has created regarding journalism ethics in this country. This regulator doesn’t seem to be watching very closely if it has to conduct hearings on the matter and rake industry executives over the coals, rather than act within their own mandate when called upon.

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Did Big Media Play A Big Role In The Liberals Big Win?

I’ve been fairly critical of the media’s role in this election.  From the consortium threatening to pull Conservative Ads on false copyright pretenses, to political favoritism in the Munk Debates, and now the situation with the former National Post editorial editor Andrew Coyne when the post refused to post his endorsement of a political candidate.

I called last nights big win for the Liberals hours prior to the election taking place.  From the looks of things, the Conservative progressive vote (which is based around civil liberties) and the anti-conservative vote went to the NDP at the very beginning of the campaign as a result of the Liberal support for Bill C-51.  I think the tipping point for the Conservative progressives was the Liberal policy on TPP and trade in which the Greens and NDP wanted to kill.  All of the poll numbers suggested to me that’s when the NDP and Conservative vote started to go down, and Liberals went up at the time of the signing of the TPP.  Last night the anti-conservative vote, voted strategically and rallied behind the Conservative progressive move to the Liberals and oust Harper.

Besides getting screamed at for hours after my call for a Liberal win from my conservative friends on Facebook (too which now owe me a bottle of rum), this was a big shocker to some.  Did big media have any pull in the election? It’s quite clear throughout this election that the consortium has been acting inappropriately.  The Globe debates were some of the most horrible debates I’ve ever seen with Conservative leaning questions, and statements from the editor of the Globe (who’s editorial board ended up supporting the Conservatives days before the election).  Not to mention the lack of coverage Elizabeth May’s responses to debate questions on social media as a result of her being left out of several debates.  I think it may be too soon to tell to see if traditional media had the impact they were hoping for.

I think traditional media’s role here really depends on the break down of voter engagement.  If the youth voted in big numbers, than traditional media and poll results had very little pull with voter intentions.  Most in this age group get their media online and through social media.  The Liberals had a strong social media presence in this campaign.  I ran into it a few times, especially with MP Wayne Easter (which I congratulated last night on his re-election) debating C-51, not to mention many other potential Liberal MPs on the bill.  The Liberals weren’t shy on social media, and came out fighting (and most without per-scripted talking points), unlike most of the NDP and Conservative hopefuls.

If the voter engagement was more balanced, than I think there needs to be questions put by Canadians on exactly how the media and/or lobby groups played a role in trying to intentionally sway voter intentions to the benefit of one or more parties.  Do you think traditional media played a big role in the Liberal election win?  Post your comments/observations below.

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Election Called, Media in Crisis, International Observers Called In

Yesterday Prime Minister Harper dropped the election writ, and Canada is now in it’s 42nd election since confederation.  There has been much speculation around the timing of the writ dropping.  This election will be one of the longest and most costliest elections in modern times, which could cost Canadian tax payers close to $1 billion+ when all is said and done at a time of economic instability, and recession.

The majority of those costs (an est. $500 million) will be dished out to Elections Canada to handle the longer election cycle for staff, offices, and supplies.  The rest will be the tax payers shouldering costs to political parties.  50% – 75% of the expenses political parties incur during this election will be reimbursed by the tax payer.  With the longer campaign parties can spend a lot more money on advertising.  When Harper was questioned on the expenses to Canadian tax payers, he replied that there will be no cost to tax payers as a result of the length of the election period.  What?

The political influence in media is becoming a very interesting side story to the debates.  I’ve posted extensively on this here, here and here.  Over this past week the NDP dropped out of the consortium debates, and issued a list of demands for future debates. The NDP demands (emphasis added) are:

  • The host organization is credible and non partisan
  • The proposed topics to be discussed are varied and relevant to a large number of Canadians; and
  • The Prime Minister and other political party leaders are invited and have agreed to participate
  • The NDP will participate in an equal number of French and English language debates

This is an interesting update.  While many in the media focused on the NDP decision not to attend the consortium debates was explicitly due to Harper’s refusal to attend; from the above demands it looks like NDP want to debate ALL parties leaders including Steven Harper.  It also looks as though the NDP are having issues with the Consortium being bias towards the Liberal party, to which I’ve discussed in great detail in other blogs.

That bias was very visible especially with the CBC coverage of the election call which pointed to Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau being the most “ready” for the election, while Trudeau seemed extremely uptight, reading from cue cards, and late to his speech.  NDP leader Thomas Mulcair looked a bit rattled as well during his speech reading from a teleprompter and not answering any questions.  The leader that looked more ready out of the bunch to me was Green Party leader Elizabeth May.  May seemed rather relaxed, ready to go, and the only leader out of the opposition parties not reading from cue cards, or teleprompters.  I’m very curious as to why CBC pointed towards Trudeau as being the most ready out of the bunch, when that’s not clearly the case.

While the NDP hasn’t come out fully accusing the consortium of bias, the political messaging around their demands looks to be quite clear.  The Consortium debates are essentially dead now and other debates may fall by-the-way-side as well. From the looks of the last line of the NDP demands that might actually happen.  So far there has been only one French language debate confirmed.  That means right now the NDP will only commit to one English language debate, to which the first of those debates is scheduled for Thursday August 6th, and all political parties will be attending that debate.

On top of the media consortium having a crisis of ethics, we now have confirmation that the Organization for Security and Economic Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) will be monitoring our federal election. The OSCE is an international body that specializes in monitoring elections, and their presence in this election is to ensure that the election laws recently passed by the Conservatives allow for a free and fair election, and to ensure that these laws are consistent in ensuring democracy can take place.  The OSCE will release it’s final report to the Canadian public eight weeks after the election.

The Fair Elections Act which was passed by the Conservatives will not allow Canadians living abroad to vote in the next election.  Actor Donald Sutherland recently posted an op-ed in the Globe and Mail in which he blasted the Conservatives in taking away his right to vote.  Sutherland stated:

It’s very sad. And this new “Canada,” this Canadian government that has taken the true Canada’s place, has furiously promoted a law that denies its citizens around the world the right to vote. Why? Is it because they’re afraid we’ll vote to return to a government that will once again represent the values that the rest of the world looked up to us for? Maybe.

There was also a court challenge on the fair elections act.  The courts decided not to strike down the law so close to an election, stating that it might appear the courts would be influencing the vote if they did.  The courts determined that the issues with the fair elections act were extremely serious, and likely to be dealt with after the election.  This means that if there are any court challenges on the election (look to that also coming from Canadians living abroad), this will be one of the most costliest elections in Canadian history to Canadian tax payers.

While the Conservatives shoulder a lot of the blame for this, the media shoulders the other half.  If in fact we have media being influenced by any political party and not fully educating Canadians on the facts due to political influences and favors, than we’ve already lost our democracy, and I think that will play out with the OSCE report and substantive court challenges that are sure to follow as a result.

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Big Media Influencing Canadian Election For Political Favoritism

As the debates over the debates has raged on over the past several months, one thing is becoming increasingly clear.  Journalists in Canada seem to be throwing out their duty of independence and holding our political parties to account for political favors; thus Canadians can’t rely on the media to do their traditional role of independently reporting on the election and providing the public with proper facts on policy to make an informed choice at the voter booth.  Due to this, our democratic system looks more like a 3rd world two bit operation than a thriving democracy which depends on a free independent press as a major pillar to the democratic system of government.

I’ve reported extensively on this blog about how the consortium colluded together against the Conservatives, and how that collusion is highly illegal and has yet to be dealt with in law.  On the flip side, last week award winning Toronto Star journalist Paul Watson quit his job in protest after being silenced by the Star while trying to report misinformation on the Franklin expeditions and how the expeditions were being purposely influenced by ties to the Prime Ministers Office.  Facts during the expedition according to Watson were left out of this feel good story to purposely mislead the public in favor of the PMO’s preferred version of events.  According to Watson he was punished by the Star executives in trying to confront his superiors with misinformation on this story with a 6 week reporting ban.

It’s not just the Toronto Star or the broadcast consortium looking for political favors.  This week, the Globe and Mail responded to stark criticism of it’s readers not allowing Green Party Leader Elizabeth May in the Munk Debates.  The Globe replied to angry readers with this following statement:

The Globe & Mail is hosting a federal election debate in September in partnership with Google Canada.  The debate, to be hosted in Calgary, will be streamed live on The Globe’s website and distributed on YouTube, and will focus on the Canadian economy.

We have invited the major party leaders to this debate  – those who have official status in The House of Commons.  Prime Minister Stephen Harper, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau have been asked to take part, because we believe a more streamlined, effective conversation about the Canadian economy will take place in that format.

David Walmsley, The Globe’s editor-in-chief says,  “We’ve set up the debate this way because we believe that by limiting the format to Canada’s three main party leaders, we will create a truly focused, successful discussion about the state of the Canadian economy.”

There are now at least three independently organized leaders’ debates in the works. Politics reporter Steven Chase writes:

“Mr. Harper’s Conservatives kicked off a spat with major broadcasters including the CBC, Radio-Canada, CTV and Global when they announced they would refuse an invitation to participate in debates organized by the broadcasting consortium, instead opting for a variety of independent debates.‎ Kory Teneycke, a spokesman for the Conservative Party campaign, said in a statement that he hopes major broadcasters will cover the independent debates.”

Industry Minister James Moore yesterday announced the federal government will be forwarding $9 million in tax payers money to support the Munk School of Global Affairs.

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The “Munks”  are disallowing Green Party Elizabeth May to debate in their debates as well.  Most Canadians believed that the last time May got her time in the federal elections debate during the 2008 economic crisis, that she won that debate hands down regarding the economy and other election issues.  While I’m not a Green Party supporter, I remember those debates very well, and May brought forth an independent non-partisan view towards the facts, including the fact that we were in a recession in 2008, which all parties at that time were denying we were in.  Enter 2015, and all indications are pointing to the fact we are in a recession with the Conservatives dodging the bad economy at every step.  Readers can draw their own conclusions.

The story that’s emerging here is one where media executives who are in charge of overseeing our election debates seem to be acting without independence.  Watson in a recent interview had this to say regarding political interference over our “independent” media:

This is a symptom of a broader disease that is eating away at the core of our democracy. Experts on climate, on medicine, on things that are central to our society are being silenced by a government that does favours for the politically connected. And that is just very dangerous for our future.

Due to the current partisan nature of the politics in this country facts are being left out.  Media independence is not a left vs right or right vs left issue, it’s both.  The broadcast consortium back in October threw journalism ethics out the window with solid evidence  that the CBC was colluding with the other broadcasters against government regarding political advertising which is a highly illegal offense under the competition act.

At heart was the attack ad scandal, and the broadcasters threatened to not air political advertising using broadcast consortium materials.  The broadcasters claimed journalism ethics and independence was being threatened by misleading advertisements.  Today the CBC is still threatening to illegally take down any content that anyone uses without their permission.  The law allows the use for such material under certain circumstances.  This is called the “fair use” copyright exemption.  In some of my comments on my recent blog posts, I compared internationally accepted journalism ethics to that of the broadcasters used to justify not airing or interfering with political advertisements:

From the society of professional journalism’s code of ethics (ethics listed is here are the ones the consortium has been in breach of):

http://www.spj.org/ethicscode….

“- Take responsibility for the accuracy of their work. Verify information before releasing it. Use original sources whenever possible.”

Original reports in October 2014 on the copyright issue neglected to take into account on the record comments (provided links to internal CBC e-mails and cited those comments in a previous blog here’s the link http://www.scribd.com/doc/242543668/CBC-Political-Ads-ATIP Pg. 112) from legal experts disputing that fair use for political ads was stealing. Instead they went to air knowing the facts were wrong.

“– Provide context. Take special care not to misrepresent or oversimplify in promoting, previewing or summarizing a story”

As a result of not reporting on the legal experts in original news reports, context was not provided and facts were misrepresented.

” Gather, update and correct information throughout the life of a news story.”

This was done the day after, however CTV decided only to correct this information on CTV news channel, and went to air on their nationally syndicated newscast again without the context of legal sources throughout the life of this story back in October.

“– Support the open and civil exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.”

No explanation needed regarding the content of political ads.

“– Provide access to source material when it is relevant and appropriate.”

CBC misplaced their original lead story on this to avoid being punished by the CRTC

“– Avoid stereotyping. Journalists should examine the ways their values and experiences may shape their reporting.”

Fair dealing is stealing is a stereotype often used by copyright extremists and copyright trolls.

“– Label advocacy and commentary.”

Original consortium newscasts were not labelled as such further misrepresenting the facts when reporting on the political advocacy and commentary of the stations own views.

“– Never deliberately distort facts or context, including visual information.”

Again legal sources left out of original stories in October 2014, and CBC is again deliberately distorting the facts and context of copyright law in it’s most recent release.

This is a big one: “Act Independently

The highest and primary obligation of ethical journalism is to serve the public.

Journalists should:

– Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts.”

Never happened. Conflicts of interest is the fact they are rights holders.

” – Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment,
and avoid political and other outside activities that may compromise
integrity or impartiality, or may damage credibility.”

Peter Mansbridge and Amanda Lang the biggest CBC personalities to throw this out the window, yet they fired Evan Solomon for this.

And my favorite:

” – Deny favored treatment to advertisers, donors or any other special interests, and resist internal and external pressure to influence coverage.”

Most recently: http://canadalandshow.com/arti…

Role for broadcasters is to allow all parties equal air time in advertisements regardless of how distorted or distasteful the ads might be. CBC cites journalism ethics regarding the fair use of those materials, but the entire consortium has breached a fair amount of accepted ethics by the journalism community, to stop political attack ads that are pretty much backfiring anyway. Question is why? That needs to be answered.

Jessie and I were pretty much the only bloggers calling the CBC to account on political interference. Add Paul Watson to the mix, and a story is starting to emerge that Canadian newsrooms are no longer politically independent and are being sold to the public as such. That’s the story, and these news directors and editors would just love for the public to focus on the partisanship rather than what’s before us, and that is news is changing in Canada and becoming way too politicized and as a result, unreliable, and unpredictable.

Question is; if the traditional role of the media is to independently over see our election, and media executives are acting in a way that is bias to any political ideology and or party, who is going to fulfill the role of independently overseeing our election and ensure that Canadians get independent facts on matters of public policy to ensure that they make an informed choice on election day?  I think this media problem needs to be dealt with by all party leaders, or I think Canadians are within their rights to call for UN observers over our federal election.

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CBC Says “No One” Has The Right To Use Their Content Online

Last week former Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro was sentenced to one month in jail for his part in over spending in the 2008 election.  The judge thought that jail time was necessary to send a message to politicians ahead of an election that cheating election rules will have severe consequences.  After last week, most Canadians are expecting a “clean” election campaign, that is until the CBC published a blog post on Friday, warning that it was going to start taking down content posted online that uses any CBC material.

Jennifer McGuire CBC News Editor-and-Chief stated:

“No one – no individual candidate or political party, and no government, corporation or NGO – may re-use our creative and copyrighted property without our permission. This includes our brands, our talent and our content.”

It’s quite clear from this statement that it’s not just political parties the CBC has issues with, it’s Canadian copyright law.  Copyright law permits the use of clips from CBC and other broadcasters for political criticism and news.  The CBC’s decision to take down content regardless of current law that allows this, will have a profound impact on the online coverage of the consortium debates, since blogs like mine, political YouTube commentators even tweets will be subjected to false and illegal copyright take down notices.  This will impact freedom of speech and political commentary in the most profound way during the election, if mass take downs of copyright occur online.  These illegal take downs can be challenged, however it will take far beyond the election to resolve.

A lot of this started back in 2013.  Back then The Liberal “Democratic Reform” Critic Stephane Dion raised the possibility of shielding the Liberal party from political attacks using copyright.  Dion went as far as writing the Commissioner of Elections Canada on the issue which was seemingly rejected by Elections Canada.

Back last year, the consortium broadcasters again raised this concern, with starkly similar issues Dion raised to shield the Liberal party.  CBC, CTV, Global took to the airwaves in October 2014 after the Conservative government tried to “clarify” copyright law, by amending current copyright law to avoid the situation we find ourselves in now.  The amendment was later dropped by government.

Internet Law Expert Micheal Geist stated in his most recent blog:

“The CBC is simply wrong. Its guiding principle is wrong and its attempt to use copyright to take down an offensive advertisement is wrong. The claim brings to mind the story from last fall involving a government proposal (that was shelved) to create a specific copyright exception for the use of news content in political advertising.

I argued then that no exception was needed because copyright already provides latitude for political parties to use works without permission. That is because copyright does not provide the absolute rights suggested by the CBC. The CBC obviously has rights as the copyright owner in its broadcast, but those rights are constrained by limitations and exceptions under the law that allow for use of its work without the need for further permission. The CBC itself (like all broadcasters) regularly relies upon those exceptions to use the work of others without permission. Similarly, I just used the exceptions to quote the CBC policy in this blog post without their permission.”

The CBC needs to be reminded of the law, and that while the broadcaster owns the copyright it’s Canadian tax payers that pay for it!

A few weeks ago I blogged about exactly this, and how content ownership rules of the consortium debates could potentially have a very negative impact on free speech, and online coverage of the consortium debates.  It profoundly looks like those concerns have been well justified.  Both the NDP and Green’s have been stark supporters of these copyright exemptions in law.  The Greens in particular have been stark supporters of the consortium lead debates.  I’ve reached out to Green Party leader Elizabeth May on this issues, and she wasn’t available for comment.

We have exemptions in copyright law for a reason, and that is too ensure that free speech isn’t controlled by anyone.  Last week, Ontario Court of Justice Judge Lisa Cameron made it very clear in Del Mastro’s case that the courts would not accept deceitful behavior from politicians calling it “an affront to the principles of our democratic system”.  Similarly the CBC’s attack on free speech under the guise of “journalistic” principles months before an election, should be treated also as an affront to the principles of our democratic system by Canadians as well.  I highly doubt that with the message Justice Cameron sent last week, that media companies will be treated any differently by the courts if the consortium is legally challenged on this issue.

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Media Consortium Facing Potential Legal Action

Don’t be fooled by political discourse. The debates over the media consortium debates should be of utmost concern to Canadians of all political stripes, since the end game (if it plays out as expected) has the potential to shape how broadcast media covers political news, and what we as Canadians can use that content for. All political parties are playing politics (to no one’s surprise) over the consortium debates. So let’s cut through the spin, and get to the meat of what this is really about.

The Conservative’s decision to pull Prime Minister Harper from the consortium debates has created a lot of buzz and talk from us political junkies. The move has been widely criticized as undemocratic by the consortium, Liberals and Greens.

The NDP have been very careful around their messaging towards the debates on the debates opting to use words about debating Harper specifically (which seem to indicate the NDP is passing the ball to the Conservative court regarding the debates) and the more debates the better (making sure they don’t end up looking undemocratic). The NDP seem to be sitting on the fence with the consortium debates (for very good reason) and haven’t 100% committed to them yet. They have only agreed in principle to participate, not that they will show up for these debates. This seems like more of a stalling tactic to me.

Meanwhile the Liberals and Greens have gone full court press on how anti-democratic Harper’s move to pull out of the debates was. The consortium itself seems to be shielding the Liberals intentionally from the backlash Trudeau has received on social media from supporting Bill C51 by refusing outright to report on it even when current polls are strongly suggesting the Conservatives and Liberals have lost seats to an NDP surge as a result of the NDP position on the new anti-terror bill.

In order to really get some context around the politics of the debates around the debates, and how serious this has actually become, we need to re-visit when and how this all started. In October last year Global, CTV, and CBC the members of the media consortium took exception to the Conservatives planned use of news footage in attack ads. The consortium took advantage of political discourse around attack ads, and has since taken advantage of the Conservatives politically crying wolf quite a bit on media bias against the party to try to get away with breaking the law on a number of fronts. I’m not at all defending the use of attack ads. I hate them as well, however we need to shift away from attack ads and look very seriously on how this has played out in respects to the law, to fully understand how serious this situation has become for consortium members.

CBC internal e-mails were obtained through access to information back in October showing all three competitors knew the facts on law regarding the use of news coverage in political ads and went to air on news coverage that was used to intentionally mislead Canadians and drum up more public discourse on attack ads to gain support for the consortium position on copyright law. The three broadcasters were also trying to box all political parties in legally on this issue prior to an election by threatening to not air ads that contained any consortium news coverage (attack ads or not).   A court challenge towards the broadcasters position not to air ads with news coverage would have lasted well past the next election. The conservative knew this and moved to try and amend the copyright act and to clarify the law around the use of news material which was a mistake the consortium picked up on. That amendment was later rescinded by the Government as it was later deemed not needed. Current law clearly covers the use of news material for political criticism.

Internal CBC e-mails outlined that the CBC consulted its legal team which referenced to copyright expert Michael Geist in March 2014 and concluded that legally the use of news coverage in political ads was not stealing months prior to CTV, Global, CBC’s leading news coverage that it was stealing (pg. 112 of CBC’s e-mail thread).

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To put it bluntly, the consortium members CTV, Global and CBC intentionally mislead Canadians on a point of law, clearly manipulated news casts to that effect all while using discourse on an the unpopular subject of attack ads to make their point to the public.

Geist later strongly criticized the consortium’s policy around not airing political ads with news coverage owned by the consortium:

Documents obtained by others under the Access to Information Act reveal that the CBC was the instigator behind the April 2014 warning letter to all political parties that the broadcasters wold [sic] not accept political advertisements using their content without express authorization. The email trail reveals that the CBC recognized that it could not reject the advertisements on copyright grounds. Instead, the broadcasters conspired to adopt a policy to reject the ads anyway, an approach that smacks of copyright misuse and a potential Competition Act violation

 

Supreme Court Copyright Lawyer Howard Knopf also weighed in on how the consortium was covering the attack ad scandal stating:

 

“I’ve been involved with copyright law for longer than I care to admit – indeed, more than three decades. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much confusion and just plain WRONG commentary about a copyright issue as I’ve seen in the last week of Coverage of the issue of copyright and negative political ads.”

 

Knopf also said:

 

“My friend and colleague Prof. Ariel Katz of the U of T Faculty of Law, with whom I have worked closely on a factum that was quite influential in a landmark Supreme Court of Canada fair dealing case and other issues, is an internationally recognized leading copyright scholar and Canada’s foremost expert in the interplay of IP and competition law. Here’s his blog from October 14, 2014 entitled Attack Ads, Copyright, and Collusion: Have Canada’s Major Broadcasters Violated the Competition Act?

 

Prof. Katz discusses s. 45 of the Competition Act, which comes under the heading “Conspiracies, agreements or arrangements between competitors” and is perhaps the most feared and potent provision of the legislation. It is used in serious cases. It can put people in jail for up to 14 years and result in a fine of up to $25 million per count, or both, which is a very big time penalty by Canadian standards. Changes made by Parliament to the s. 45 provisions in 2009 that came into effect in 2010 may now make it easier in some circumstances to obtain a conviction. The new section provides for “per se” offences, which do not require proof that competition was lessened “unduly” and there is no need to prove any adverse market effects. There is no need to prove that the conspiracy in question was actually carried out – only that it was entered into. There’s also a less harsh new “civil” enforcement provision to be found in s. 90.1 that involves the Competition Tribunal, which may or may not be of interest in the current situation. To be crystal clear, nothing I am saying or have said accuses anyone of any offence or violation under this or any other provision of the Competition Act. I am merely pointing out that there are provisions in the Competition Act that may be relevant, depending on the facts, and that folks, including the Commissioner of Competition, may be interested in looking at this situation.”

 

Knopf, Geist and Katz are all leading heavyweight independent legal experts on copyright law. Katz as listed above is also one of Canada’s leading experts on Canadian competition law.

 

A few days after the attack ad scandal broke; Rick Mercer took to the airwaves repeating the consortium line that using news coverage for political advertising was stealing, in which CBC’s internal e-mails state their own legal team didn’t even support that claim. A day after Mercer’s rant aired, York University saw it fit to provide Mercer with an honorary law degree which could explain why currently the NDP are taking up issues with hosting any debates at universities. From the Huffington Post:

 

“The NDP had the same concern as the Conservatives, in that the venues being proposed are universities,” one source said, requesting anonymity. “The NDP’s argument was that universities are not really neutral.”

 

Fast forward to May 2015. The consortium is very publicly and noticeably trying to shield the Liberals from any backlash on bill C51 by not reporting on the social media backlash. The day after the Liberals supported bill C51 and at the height of the Liberal backlash on twitter, the consortium lead with a Liberal platform announcement. Even after almost a full week of social media protest, and Liberal members posting pictures of them burning their membership cards in protest to the parties support of it, the consortium instead attacked Elizabeth May on her failed attempt at comedy.

If you read in between the lines of the consortium moves, it seems as though they are pretty much daring the conservatives to move forth legally on consortium members. The consortium seems to think that it has the political upper hand here considering the conservatives have cried wolf on media bias several times, and that no one will believe the conservative position.

The consortium seems to also think that they have a much wider reach towards Canadians. Consortium journalists have used that line consistently when questioning the Conservatives after Harper pulled out of the debates. If the C-51 backlash and the current polls shows us anything, it’s that traditional media has very little influence on voter intention. You know what they say about playing with fire.

The Liberals, in their demand letter to the consortium on the debates, want “clarification” on how debate footage can be used from the consortium. That issue was settled in October with Geist, Knopf and Katz weighing in on the subject and with the CBC’s legal team back in March, 2014. So why are the Liberals asking for clarification on ownership of debate coverage?

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It seems like the Liberals are asking the consortium if they will continue to push the copyright issue to shield Trudeau from attacks (which could be a stark misuse of copyright law as Geist noted, and have a major impact on online commentary and coverage of the consortium lead debates as a result).

We have yet to know publicly what the real agreement was with the consortium between the Liberals, NDP, Greens, and the Bloc. That agreement needs to be made public by all parties now!

What completely surprises me about all of this is the political position the Greens have taken on the consortium debates. The Greens have been stark and solid supporters of allowing anyone to use copyright protected material to criticize politicians in the past, and are trying to frame an eventual pull out of the consortium debates by the NDP after the legal hammer drops on the consortium as a result of all of this, as a coordinated political attack by the Conservatives and NDP against the Liberals and Greens:

“In my view, there is an attempt to get the Liberals off the opposition map… and the NDP doesn’t want the Greens there,” one person involved with the negotiations said. “Two parties who are diametrically opposed are working together.”

There seems to be a lot of framing of the debate around the debates by all parties. What comes next will be probably one of the biggest stories about media and journalism we have seen in a long time, and has the potential to shape how political news is covered in this country. How this will play out is anyone’s guess, but it really doesn’t look good for the consortium. Those listed in the CBC internal e-mails which include lead CBC correspondent and anchor Peter Mansbridge could very well face the possibility of jail time if the competition bureau decides to investigate and warrants the situation serious enough to lay charges with a $25 million dollar fine for each count of infringement under the competition act.

Bill C51 will have an impact on our civil liberties, however media control over criticism of political leaders is a far worse infraction of our civil liberties.  How are we supposed to know what government is doing, if media is shielding these political leaders from that criticism and controlling the conversation.  How would we know our rights could be violated by future governments of any political stripe, if we have media intentionally misleading Canadians for political gain.

As someone with education broadcast journalism, a free press is a pillar of democracy.  We have laws in place to ensure those pillars remain standing.  Laws that need now to be enacted on this media consortium to ensure that after October, Canadians can fully trust the information they are getting from major media companies are accurate and without prejudice.  Otherwise the next time, we may never know about another type of bill that could be worse off from bill C51.  Once that free press pillar falls, we can not accept ourselves as a democracy.  This monster that CTV, Global, and CBC needs to be seriously dealt with.

UPDATE: Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s political adviser Gerald Butts has responded to this article, claiming it a “conspiracy theory”.  If all of this is a conspiracy theory, than why is Trudeau’s chief political adviser responding to it?

 

 

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