Common Sense Comes to Town!

Common sense is the most fairly distributed thing in the world, for each one thinks he is so well-endowed with it that even those who are hardest to satisfy in all other matters are not in the habit of desiring more of it than they already have. (Descartes)

You Can’t Handle the Truth: Media, Information, Regulation

Posted on | July 13, 2011 | No Comments

Two pieces of news revealed today reminded us that there are still a few things to fix in Canada’s media landscape. On one hand we learned that Sun Media’s newspapers would pull out of the Ontario Press Council. On the other hand, the federal Minister for Transportation Denis Lebel looked a bit ridiculous when he released a report on the status of the Champlain Bridge, a few hours after he had claimed that the public at large wasn’t ready to handle such information.

The underlying theme here is of course the public’s right to quality and purposeful information. For now, only one bit of legislation focuses on quality: a CRTC article which prevents media from publishing false or misleading information. The only recourse for citizens who need to assert their other rights against the media is the provincial press council, a self-regulatory board which media
join on a voluntary basis. When Sun Media leaves such an organization (like all Quebecor’s newspapers in Quebec did in the past) it is simply put a denial of the public’s rights.

This same public (that is, you and me) also deserve access to all information, no matter what elected officials may think about it. The Access to Information Act rightly aims to prevent the hiding of important facts by our government. This law has numerous flaws, of course, and it doesn’t apply to all societies of state, which is a good thing for those that operate in a highly competitive
context.

Oddly enough the two episodes I mentioned earlier remind us of a senatorial committee’s recommendation in the Report on the Canadian News Media, deposited in 2006. The report highlighted the importance of press councils and ombudsmen to protect the
rights of citizens. It should have gone a lot further by making membership in such self-regulatory organizations mandatory for all news media. When a media conglomerate reaches the size that allows it to remove itself from regulatory boards in all impunity, the need for stricter regulation is clearly felt. The touchy issue of media ownership and disclosure of owner’s interests was also raised.

Given their ever growing size, our media play a crucial role for millions of Canadians. Such a role necessarily brings about clearly defined responsibilities. Of course, their rights must be well-defined as well, and enforced with zeal and efficiency.

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