Evidence of meeting #130 for Subcommittee on International Human Rights in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was funding.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Chair  Ms. Anita Vandenbeld (Ottawa West—Nepean, Lib.)
Philip Tunley  President, Board of Directors, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression

1:20 p.m.

President, Board of Directors, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression

Philip Tunley

I think it's created opportunities that some media have yet to fully exploit. I think that's one of the reasons why they are investing in the Internet as a way of getting their word out.

Of course, the challenge is how do you charge for that? So much of the Internet is free. If you are going to fund a fact-gathering activity that has validity, as journalism does, you can't give it away. I think that's the challenge. The Internet is a wonderful thing. It's like the printing press. It's like all the things that eventually will make free expression greater and more effective and reach more people, but its first introduction is causing some serious disruptions, which I think are a reason to consider measures to sustain what we truly value in the media.

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Iqra Khalid Liberal Mississauga—Erin Mills, ON

In this subcommittee, we hear a lot from journalists as they try to report on abuses that occur around the world, often risking their lives to do that. Can I get your thoughts on the international community's response or proactive measures to protect journalism and freedom of the press?

1:20 p.m.

President, Board of Directors, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression

Philip Tunley

One of the greatest initiatives that I've been involved in at CJFE—I became involved after its initiation—was the creation of the IFEX network. International Freedom of Expression Exchange is a group of, I think, now over 100 journalism organizations worldwide, which exchange information and actively intervene to protect journalists. At CJFE, we have a program called journalists in distress, where we contribute funding when journalists in foreign countries are persecuted or face death.

We're really privileged, in a country like Canada, to be able to play that role. We are constantly looking for new ways to intervene and support the free press in other countries, which is so critical to their emergence from dictatorship into mature participants in the international community.

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Iqra Khalid Liberal Mississauga—Erin Mills, ON

In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge of our time for journalists, given the climate, given the opportunity of social media and the Internet, and also given the rise of extremism and extremist views across the world, like fascism and populism? What do you think is the biggest challenge that journalists are facing within our time and how can we address those challenges?

1:25 p.m.

President, Board of Directors, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression

Philip Tunley

I wish it was just one. You've listed many. Unfortunately, many governments around the world feel they can act with impunity and they wish to act against journalists because they are the first line of critique. Very shortly, after the free press in a given country is undermined and is subverted, you will find the independent bar and the independent judges are the next in line.

Journalists are the first to be exposed, when a government is seeking to implement repressive measures, because what they want to do is protect what they are doing from scrutiny from around the world and from pressure from the United Nations. It's really a critical gatekeeper and I think that's why it needs to be maintained with all our efforts. Not only in Canada, but we have a role to support journalism around the world, if we want to have vibrant economic and political partners in the community of nations.

1:25 p.m.

Ms. Anita Vandenbeld (Ottawa West—Nepean, Lib.)

The Chair

Thank you very much.

Now we'll go to Ms. Hardcastle for seven minutes. We will be doing another three-minute round for everybody afterwards.

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Cheryl Hardcastle NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair; and thank you, Mr. Tunley.

I want to stay on the international human rights lens of press freedom right now.

We do know that the independence of major print and broadcast outlets is being undermined. We know that the press freedom we deal with in international human rights is coming under pressure, not just in major democracies but in repressive states as well. There was a time when our major democracies had healthy and viable news outlets that had international bureaus. What is your observation on how that is changing and how that is contributing to weakening the coverage of human rights and the link of that?

I would like it if you could try to focus on that thread instead of this business model aspect and these other pressures, because we could go down a rabbit hole. I have a journalism degree. I think we should be teaching how to tell the difference between journalism and opinion columns that are polished up. We should start doing this probably when kids are learning how to read.

That said, let's talk about some of the international coverage done by bona fide news sources, and perhaps even the threats to journalists who try to do so today.

1:25 p.m.

President, Board of Directors, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression

Philip Tunley

The ideal of one journalist organization that can cover news all around the world is very challenging to support today. Fewer and fewer media can rise to that level of activity.

What we're seeing, and we see it in investigative journalism within Canada as well, is a lot more collaboration. There's a lot more networking, which is essential. What it requires is the creation and encouragement of a community of journalists where we recognize and respect good journalism wherever we find it and we agree to use the best of the profession within Canadian media.

That's a critical point.

There are other points you're raising as well. It's linked to the economic model, unfortunately, because we can't afford to do it outlet by outlet anymore, if we ever could.

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Cheryl Hardcastle NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Do you see a correlation to the assertion or the attack on journalism when it's at its weakest?

In the heyday of traditional media, meaning before social media started to be used more often and before that kicked in, would there be something such as Egyptian authorities blocking hundreds of websites for allegedly supporting terrorism, including news sources? This is a fairly new form of attack on journalism, isn't it?

Can you differentiate or expand on that idea of why there's such....?

1:30 p.m.

President, Board of Directors, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression

Philip Tunley

First of all, you have to realize where the problem comes from.

Actually, social media or citizen journalism of all kinds is a fantastic new resource for reporters and journalists around the world to get a view of current events in distant places. These types of initiatives by governments that you're describing are designed to shut that down, are designed to stop the sources of information that are now becoming available that were never available before. It was very easy to stop people leaving the country or newspapers leaving the country. It's very hard to stop video from spreading through the Internet, video that is, of course, high-quality, fact....

The difficulty that journalists face, and which still requires a lot of discipline on their part, is to separate what's real video, genuinely taken and unedited, untampered with, from the vast amounts of false information that governments and others are generating and circulating on the Internet.

There's still a challenge. Part of it is a technological challenge. However, that's what good journalism is about. There's actually an opportunity here. The reactions of governments such as the one you've mentioned have to be seen in that context.

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Cheryl Hardcastle NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Thank you.

Further to that, in your opening comments you mentioned the things happening in the Middle East. That was an early onset phenomenon so that we could all start thinking about journalism and some of these implications.

Do you have any take-aways or recommendations for this committee, basically coming from that, on what you think our approach should be in terms of international human rights facilitation?

1:30 p.m.

President, Board of Directors, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression

Philip Tunley

A very hard choice has to be made as to how far you push other countries. There's a diplomatic choice to be made, but I think that for journalists, the murder of Mr. Khashoggi is so brazen and extreme that it needs more than just a kind of indignant reaction. It needs more than just words, and that's the perspective that I think every journalist would bring. This is a very serious crime, an international crime, a crime motivated by someone who was pursuing his profession as a journalist. It was an attempt to silence him, and that makes it very egregious.

1:30 p.m.

Ms. Anita Vandenbeld (Ottawa West—Nepean, Lib.)

The Chair

Thank you very much.

Now we will do a second round, but we will limit the questions to three-minute rounds because we have some committee business to do at the end.

We will start with Mr. Tabbara, for three minutes.

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Marwan Tabbara Liberal Kitchener South—Hespeler, ON

Thank you very much, and thank you to the witnesses for being with us today.

Overall, the world rankings of press freedom fell in 2018, and Reporters Without Borders reported that it was due to a variety of factors including war, growing threats from non-state operatives, civil unrest, economic crisis—the list goes on.

Could you mention a bit about that and add your perspective to that?

1:30 p.m.

President, Board of Directors, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression

Philip Tunley

I think the process of reporting on press freedom on an indexed basis is a good one. It's not very scientific. It's not completely accurate, but it gives you a general measure of whether things are trending up or down, and I think there's no doubt that in recent years we've seen a trending downwards. There are a lot of reasons for that, and I think you're right. The report doesn't just focus on one thing. There are a number of factors involved.

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Marwan Tabbara Liberal Kitchener South—Hespeler, ON

Do you think that this is a new phenomenon? Does it have to do with the rise of technology? Can you give us a breakdown of what we've seen in the past 30 or 40 years? Has there been more of an attack on journalism?

How has that changed over 30 to 40 years?

1:35 p.m.

President, Board of Directors, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression

Philip Tunley

I think that much more information is available to me as a viewer today, if I go looking for it, than was the case 30 or 40 years ago. In that sense, we've had a massive increase. The problem is how that gets filtered through some kind of editorial, journalistic process, to separate out what is really going on from lots of stuff that's out there. The big challenge is that—the business of journalism, which is to select the stories that are important, to get the facts and report them fairly and accurately, and to editorialize around the messages that Canadians or audiences around the world need to hear.

November 27th, 2018 / 1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Marwan Tabbara Liberal Kitchener South—Hespeler, ON

In terms of states that have authoritarian regimes, what are some of the tools and methods that they're using? My colleague across the way mentioned that regimes can block websites, and there are other measures. They could be monitoring what you're posting on a certain blog that you've putting up.

Obviously, they're threatening journalists and even activists, but what other measures are they taking?

1:35 p.m.

Ms. Anita Vandenbeld (Ottawa West—Nepean, Lib.)

The Chair

Unfortunately, you're going to have to hold that answer because that's your time.

We will go to Mr. Sweet.

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Conservative Flamborough—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Tunley, thank you for your testimony here.

I wanted to do a pitch for our committee. One of the challenges we face is that we hear story after story internationally about people who are suffering, whether it's the Uighurs or Christians or Tibetans or Rohingyas. They're always desperate, and we find there's an under-representation of that suffering in Canadian journalism.

I would like to ask you to maybe encourage your colleagues to cover these stories. If they wanted to do one or two more stories regarding international human rights, we would certainly appreciate it. Sometimes we do press conferences, and we show up down at the press gallery and there's no one there.

There is an appetite, from the discussions I've had with Canadians over the last.... This is my 13th year on this committee. They're always surprised when I tell them a story about it. They ask, “How would I ever hear about that?” Maybe that's something you could take back to your colleagues.

For the last part of my time, I want to give you the opportunity to share with us. For journalists who are persecuted, incarcerated or maybe killed, I understand that your organization will send a letter to ambassadors in Canada when there are journalists who are mistreated. Do you have other initiatives whereby your members contribute so that you can support families of journalists who are being abused, etc.?

1:35 p.m.

President, Board of Directors, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression

Philip Tunley

The main one is our journalists in distress program. We provide funding to selected candidates who are in distress. Either they are threatened or they are having to flee from threats of violence, and they need money for medical support or for travel to a safe place. As part of a global community of free speech and journalism organizations, we contribute to that process.

The other is the journalists who arrive here in Canada. We have a journalists in exile program. We work with the journalists in exile group to try to get training for journalists so they can continue their careers here, and so on.

I will just briefly comment on your first point, because I'm almost out of time. One of the issues is that people actually have a lot more access to stories around the world, particularly of suffering around the world. One of the problems the media has is that there's a feeling that, “I've had enough of this. I don't want to hear it,” at a certain point. It doesn't sell newspapers.

If you want that journalism, it's part of this economic problem that I started with. You have to incent that kind of reporting, and I really feel it's important to do so. I agree with the sentiment underlining your comments.

1:40 p.m.

Ms. Anita Vandenbeld (Ottawa West—Nepean, Lib.)

The Chair

Thank you very much.

We will go for three minutes to Mr. Saini.

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Raj Saini Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Thank you very much for your comments, Mr. Tunley.

I wanted to talk to you about something we are seeing in the world, especially in Europe. We are seeing this rising level of populism in democratic countries. You have ambitious leaders who are populist leaders and whose intimidation of the press works in very subtle ways. Their supporters, or people who are aligned with their way of thinking, tend to spend the resources and operate either newspapers, radio stations or TV stations. There's a different, more subtle way of controlling the media in other ways also, by oppressing certain dissent and making sure that certain news does not come forward, whether through social media or other means.

We can understand that in strong democratic countries there is a certain element of press freedom, and there are countries where there is going to be very little press freedom.

What is your comment on those countries that have democratically elected populist leaders whose supporters are in many ways using the press as a tool to continue their populism by either intimidating journalists or exercising greater control of the media outlets? What happens in that middle ground, in those countries where you have democratically elected leaders? How do you deal with that phenomenon?

1:40 p.m.

President, Board of Directors, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression

Philip Tunley

You have to view it as a marketplace of ideas. You have to rely on people to critically assess, and not everyone does of course. First of all, it's social media rather than the mainstream media that feed the populism, and to some extent you can't criticize that. There are groups that can now communicate and share ideas in ways they could not in the past, thanks to social media. That's partly behind the phenomenon.

What should be the reaction of major media or governments in that circumstance? It is a democratic process. It is a marketplace of ideas, and the only credible response at the end of the day is a political one and a journalistic one: to report facts, to correct errors and to make sure the discourse comes back to things that matter to Canadians and others.

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Raj Saini Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Thank you very much.