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How the Edmonton Journal won an honorary Pulitzer 80 years ago

Edmonton Journal columnist Paula Simons tells the story of how the paper came to be the only non-American newspaper to win an honorary Pulitzer Prize for its battling for press freedom in Alberta.

From the Edmonton Journal (“Eighty years ago, the Edmonton Journal won a Pulitzer Prize. Let’s remember why“):

The Press Act (more formally, the Accurate News and Information Act — Bill D.), as it was known, required Alberta newspapers to be licensed by the government. It forced papers to publish any “correction” or “amplification” issued by the chair of the Social Credit Board.

It gave premier William Aberhart’s government the power to compel reporters to turn over the names and addresses of their sources. It gave cabinet the power to suspend the publication of any newspaper, indefinitely.

“If this bill should pass and stand, where then would be freedom of speech and liberty of the press?” the Edmonton Journal editorialized. “Where then would be the liberty of the citizen to free expression of opinion?”

“The press bill now before the legislature is a dictatorial challenge to every freedom-loving Canadian whose home is Alberta.”

The act never became law; lieutenant-governor John Bowen refused to proclaim it.

In March 1938, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the Press Act unconstitutional.

Six weeks later, on May 2, 1938, the U.S. Pulitzer Prize committee awarded a special bronze plaque to the Journal for its defence of press freedom. The committee also awarded special certificates to five other Alberta dailies and 50 weekly papers, for their defiance of Aberhart.

Simons noted that today, there is raging debate over how to deal with fake news, which got its start during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign and has been hijacked by President Donald Trump.

More problematically, some groups “want the government to tell journalists how and what to write, to conform to their social values, whether the issue is how we report on suicide, or school test results, or domestic homicides.”

It appears the lessons of 1938 are fading.

Thu, May 3 2018 » Main Page, Media