The coronavirus pandemic has illustrated the ability of both social media and mainstream news coverage to amplify and exaggerate the influence of extremist groups that reject science-based policies, says Aengus Bridgman.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau highlighted the work of journalists working under pressure in Hong Kong and Belarus at Monday’s international conference on media freedom.
Canada has been vocal in condemning the clampdowns on democracy and free expression by the Chinese government in the former British colony of Hong Kong and the fraudulent presidential election in Belarus that has given rise to pro-democracy protests.
“Today, we see citizens calling for change, from Hong Kong to Belarus, only to have the authorities attack the freedom of the press,” Trudeau told the conference co-hosted by Canada and Botswana on Monday.
Trudeau denounced the imprisonment of Reuters journalists Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone for reporting on military atrocities committed against the Rohingya people in Myanmar, and of Philippine journalist Maria Ressa.
The Reuters journalists have since gained freedom and have been awarded a Pulitzer Prize. In June, Ressa was convicted of “cyber libel” and sentenced to six years behind bars after complaints from her country’s strongman president, Rodrigo Duterte, and other officials from his government.
“It is never acceptable for a journalist to be attacked for doing their job,” said Trudeau.
“A crackdown on the media puts democracy in danger. It puts lives in danger.”
At the same event, a coalition of international lawyers, led by a former Canadian attorney general, called for a new global charter to protect the rights of imprisoned journalists in an increasingly hostile world.
Irwin Cotler, the former Liberal justice minister and international human rights lawyer, made the recommendation in a report he authored for a coalition of independent international legal experts.
The new charter would upgrade legal obligations on a country that arbitrarily imprisons a journalist and impose new legal duties on the home country of a journalist who has been rounded up.
Cotler says the new measures are needed because the current international laws designed to protect diplomatic access to people imprisoned in foreign countries are not adequate.
“We meet today on the occasion not only of a global COVID pandemic, but a global political pandemic, characterized by a resurgent global authoritarianism, the backsliding of democracies and global assaults on media freedom, where journalists are increasingly under threat and under assault,” Cotler told the video conference.
“Although some states already do this to some extent, the system is haphazard and weak,” said Amal Clooney, an international human rights lawyer who has represented imprisoned journalists
Cotler and Clooney say the COVID-19 pandemic has emboldened authoritarian governments and created new risks to journalists working internationally.
“So the report proposes a new charter of rights for detained journalists and a new code of conduct for governments to be overseen by a newly appointed international commissioner who would be tasked with monitoring states compliance,” said Clooney.
Clooney and Cotler are the leading figures on a panel created last year by the Canadian and British governments to find ways to increase protection to journalists and prevent abuses of media freedom.
Trudeau called the work of their committee “a great example of the power of working together – as civil society, government, and global organizations – to stand up for the kind of future we all want to build.”
Neither Trudeau nor Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, who chaired the day-long meeting, veered close to addressing the abuse that American journalists have had to endure during the presidency of Donald Trump, who has called journalists the “enemy of the people.”
An American journalist who questioned Champagne during the event’s closing teleconference asked the minister if he had any advice for her colleagues who recently covered large events with people “not doing the COVID-19 thing with their mask” while being harassed and called fake news and that also included “instances of journalists just being beaten up on the street.”
Champagne replied that “we probably need to change the narrative when it comes to journalism and journalists.”
Champagne was also asked to address the periodic media freedom issues that arise in Canada, including a September incident that saw the Ontario Provincial Police contact an Indigenous journalist in Caledonia, Ont. to tell him he was facing charges of mischief and disobeying a court order.
Champagne said he wasn’t aware of the specifics of the Caledonia incident.
“What I would say is that what we said around the world, we should also reflect in Canada what we can do better,” the minister replied.
“The protection of journalists, the independence of the media across Canada is certainly top of mind.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 16, 2020.
Anti-mask fringe movement getting more media coverage than warranted: expert – Nipawin Journal
It only took 30 people dancing without masks last week in a Rosemère shopping centre for the anti-mask movement to make headlines across Quebec.
On Saturday, anti-maskers were in the news again when Quebec City police handed out 34 tickets to demonstrators protesting against anti-COVID-19 measures in front of the National Assembly.
And on Sunday, a small group of maskless protesters gathered outside a house in Westmount they believed was the home of Premier François Legault. Legault does not live in Westmount.
Now, a two-week-old anti-mask group is planning another flash mob in Laval on Dec. 6 or 12, and is asking people to shop without masks at a grocery store in Ste-Thérèse on Dec. 5, according to information posted on YouTube Friday. The group Sans Masque boasts 517 members in different regions of the province, according to another video.
But while news reports might give the impression the group is gaining momentum, it remains a fringe movement, said Aengus Bridgman, a PhD candidate at McGill University who studies online political participation.
“It’s really important to note that from 85 to 90 per cent of Canadians are wearing masks regularly,” Bridgman said.
The coronavirus pandemic has illustrated the ability of both social media and mainstream news coverage to amplify and exaggerate the influence of extremist groups that reject science-based policies, he said.
For example, the flash mob in Rosemère on Nov. 21 received widespread media exposure despite the small number of participants, he noted.
“I think it has received too much coverage,” he said.
Bridgman was among the authors of a McGill study released in July showing that Canadians who get their information from social media instead of traditional news sources are more likely to believe misconceptions about COVID-19.
Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Reddit have enabled once-marginal movements to reach audiences numbering in the millions, he said.
The study surveyed 27,615 Canadians on where they got their news and on their attitudes toward COVID-19.
It also looked at how anti-intellectualism — the generalized distrust of experts and intellectuals — influences attitudes on the risk of contracting COVID-19 and prevention measures like mask-wearing and physical distancing .
Mainstream media are also contributing to the increased visibility of anti-mask groups, Bridgman said. One reason is that media constantly seek another side of every story as a means of advancing the news, he said.
For example, at the beginning of the pandemic, when health authorities around the world were counselling against the general public wearing masks, mainstream media outlets did reports suggesting masks could help prevent the spread of the virus. When governments switched course and called on citizens to don masks, the media raised questions about how effective mask-wearing was, Bridgman said.
There are no easy answers when it comes to combating misinformation on social media, he said. While Twitter flagged many tweets by U.S. President Donald Trump before and after the Nov. 3 election, rooting out false statements is not always feasible, he said.
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Law professor endured racist taunts in wake of social media clash with UCP staffers – Edmonton Journal
Article content continued
But Duane Bratt, political scientist at Mount Royal University, said the UCP government is using its own “hyper-partisan” press secretaries and issues managers to silence critics by focusing on party identity, labelling them as biased or affiliated with the NDP or prime minister.
“That allows the more unsavoury people to then go off with racist, homophobic, misogynist comments. Those are not coming from the premier’s office … but by coming out with partisan critiques, it opens the door and targets people that the more crazy ones will then go after you.”
Bratt doesn’t agree with comments Ogbogu made about the leak in Dr. Deena Hinshaw’s office, but criticizing his arguments is different than attacking him personally, he said.
In the 1980s in federal politics, the Liberals used some backbenchers as “attack dogs,” and Pierre Poilievre is used by Conservatives in a similar way. Now the UCP is putting its issues managers and press secretaries forward to fulfil a similar role, Bratt said.
“I think it is a deliberate strategy in distancing yourself in those sorts of attacks and using people like Matt Wolf as your pitbull, as your attack dog,” he said. “It’s a way of saying it’s not the leader, it’s these other people. This has always been a strategy, but instead of using … MLAs or backbenchers, you’re using political appointees.”
Bratt has been doing public commentary for decades, and he’s no stranger to people disagreeing with him. But he’s seeing more antagonism, in general, because of a divide in public opinion on pandemic and from COVID-19 deniers. He also sees more women and people of colour facing more pushback online.
Australia demands apology from China after fake image posted on social media – TheChronicleHerald.ca
By Kirsty Needham
SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday Canberra is seeking an apology from Beijing about a Tweet containing a false image of an Australian soldier holding the knife to the throat of an Afghan child.
Morrison said Australia was seeking the removal of the “truly repugnant” image posted on Monday by Zhao Lijian, a spokesman at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“It is utterly outrageous and cannot be justified on any basis… The Chinese government should be utterly ashamed of this post. It diminishes them in the world’s eyes,” Morrison told media at a press briefing.
He said countries around the world were watching how Beijing responded to tensions in Australia’s relationship with China.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)
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