Canadian journalists continue to be challenged by the institutions they report on and are not immune to attempts from government officials to deny them access to events of public interest, according to a new report by a press advocacy group.
Reporters Without Borders on Thursday released its 2019 World Press Freedom Index, which showed a deterioration of media freedom around the world as the number of countries where journalists can work safely declines. Although Canada ranks 18th out of 180 countries for the second year in a row, the group has concerns about the state of press freedom here.
“Despite its high ranking in this year’s World Press Freedom Index, Canadian journalists are not immune to attempts from government officials to deny them access to events of public interest, and the relationship shared between authorities and journalists is particularly tense,” the report said.
Reporters Without Borders cited three press freedom cases in Canada, including an effort by the RCMP to block journalists from covering a protest against the construction of a natural gas pipeline on First Nations territory in January. The Mounties assembled a roadblock near camps set up by members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation in northern British Columbia and told APTN News reporters that if they tried to cross it, they could be arrested and charged with obstruction. Reporters also alleged that communications signals were jammed in the area, preventing them from reporting on the situation – which the RCMP denied.
The report pointed to the Supreme Court’s ruling against VICE reporter Ben Makuch last November that compelled him to give the RCMP all of his communications with an alleged Canadian terrorist who fought for the Islamic State.
It also highlighted the case of Radio-Canada reporter Marie-Maude Denis, who will be the first journalist to challenge the Journalistic Sources Protection Act in the Supreme Court. The act shields the confidentiality of reporters’ sources, but allows exceptions. Radio-Canada appealed a Quebec Superior Court decision in March, 2018, that would have forced Ms. Denis to reveal her sources in her coverage of Quebec’s corruption scandal.
The Quebec Court of Appeal sent the case straight to the Supreme Court.
Globally, the Americas had the greatest deterioration in journalistic freedom during the past year, the report said. It showed that Nicaragua fell 24 places from the previous year’s list due to attacks on journalists covering protests against President Daniel Ortega. Some journalists fled abroad, fearing they might be jailed on terrorism charges.
El Salvador had the region’s second steepest fall – 15 places – because journalists suffered armed attacks, harassment and intimidation by politicians, according to the report.
Venezuela, Brazil, United States and Mexico also were rated poorly. The latter is one of the world’s deadliest countries for the media, with at least 10 journalists slain in 2018.
The press group found a record number of arbitrary arrests and cases of violence by the authorities in Venezuela, and many journalists left that country to avoid retribution.
The report said that never before in the United States have journalists been subjected to so many death threats or turned so often to private security companies for protection. An armed man walked into the newsroom of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md., last June and killed four journalists and another employee.
The situation in the Americas reflects a global trend in which the number of countries regarded as safe for journalists continues to decline, given the hostility expressed by political leaders.
“If the political debate slides surreptitiously or openly toward a civil war-style atmosphere, in which journalists are treated as scapegoats, then democracy is in great danger,” said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire.
Costa Rica continues to be the best-ranked country in the Americas at 10th place. Cuba is at the other end, ranking 169th.
The World Press Freedom Index assesses six separate benchmarks, including media independence and transparency of public institutions, and assigns each country a score calculated from answers to a questionnaire in 20 languages that is completed by experts around the world.
With reports from the Associated Press