I can’t understand a damned thing that Angelo Persichelli wrote about in the Sunday Star.
It seems to be something of a swipe at the opposition on Parliament Hill and the Parliamentary press gallery. I read it several times over the course of the day, but it made my eyes tired and my mind foggy.
At this point, we have to look at the role of the media as well. A free and well informed news media is a vital component of a healthy democracy, but that’s not the end of the story. Writing against a dictatorial government requires courage. Writing against a democratic government requires responsibility. In a dictatorship, the future of the nation is on the shoulders of the opposition. In a democracy, the weight of the nation is on the government. In a dictatorship, opposition leaders risk their lives. In a democracy, they only try to get back into power by making promises they cannot keep and making life hard for every government.
Some believe the news media is the opposition. That might be true in a country where the opposition has been erased by tyrants.
Some people perceive the media to be free and journalists courageous only when they write against governments. Well, personally, I also feel free when I write against the opposition and, if I want to feel courageous, I’ll move to Iran, North Korea or China.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but WTF?!?!
Who was arguing his counterpoint, namely that the news media in a democracy has a right to be irresponsible when writing something critical of a democratically-elected government?
Who believes the news media is “the opposition”?
Who believes the media is only being free and courageous when it takes stances that oppose the government?
Although frankly, is Persichelli aware of why the Edmonton Journal won a special Pulitzer Prize in 1938? It opposed the Press Act of the Social Credit government of Alberta of the day. Premier William Aberhart (“Bible Bill” to his friends) didn’t like the tone of the coverage from the province’s newspapers and wanted some legal control over what they said (they wanted a “responsible” news media, no doubt). The Journal fought it to the Supreme Court of Canada and won.
Personally, I think the Journal struck a courageous blow for media freedom — although I suppose Persichelli would have been equally courageous to opine in favour of the Press Act, had he been alive at the time.
If I remember correctly, the Journal, under the irrepressible publisher J.P. O’Callaghan, rather presumptuously declared itself the official opposition after the 1979 provincial election in Alberta — a time when there were, er, almost no opposition MLAs in the Alberta legislature. The Progressive Conservatives of Premier Peter Lougheed won 74 of 79 seats that time.
(OK, maybe Alberta isn’t the best place to use for an example when talking about democracy. :) )
In the larger scheme of things, while the press isn’t the “opposition,” it has the duty to be skeptical of government and opposition blather. I don’t know if I inhabit the same world as Persichelli, but both sides try to “control the message,” as they say. Since the media has limited resources, unless there’s an election looming, they should focus on holding the government to account. The government is the entity spending the public’s dollars, ostensibly on the public’s behalf.
At the very end, Persichelli drops a hint about why he was musing about journalistic courage:
I believe that the federal Conservative government could do better but, considering the difficult times we are now in, I believe it’s doing a pretty good job. I guess, according to some, this makes me a Conservative. But, then again, I feel the same way about the Liberal government of Ontario, and I don’t agree with the opportunist Conservative opposition at Queen’s Park. And this, according to the same logic, makes me a Liberal. Oh well …
It’s brave of him to say that out loud. Journalists in Iran, North Korea and China will be inspired.