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Populist rebellion over vaccine mandates puts Canadian media in the crossfire

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When hundreds of vaccine-mandate protesters gathered on February 5 outside the downtown offices of CTV News Vancouver, Marcella Desjarlais had a message for them.

“I’m all for freedom,” the former People’s Party of Canada candidate, a.k.a. Marcella Williams, said from the stage. “I’m for truth and I’m for facts. And I just want to say, ‘The media sucks.’ ”

It was one of several demonstrations held that day outside Canadian television stations with the theme “The Media Is the Virus”.

Desjarlais, a charismatic speaker, delivered a carefully crafted presentation intended to counter some of the widely reported descriptions of people attending these protests.

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First of all, she pointed out that she’s a “First Nations woman” who has been speaking out since April of 2020. She also insisted that she’s not racist. (In the last federal election, she ran for a party that wanted massive cuts to immigration.) And she claimed that her movement is “not anti-anything”.

“We are for choice,” Desjarlais declared.

Last month, media outlets across the country reported Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s scathing denunciation of Ottawa demonstrators for the display of hateful messages at their event.

This included the appearance of Nazi swastikas, Confederate flags, and blatantly anti-Jewish placards.

On January 31, Trudeau said that there was “no place in our country for threats, violence, or hatred”.

Former People’s Party of Canada candidate Marcella Desjarlais, a.k.a. Marcella Williams, delivered a fiery speech denouncing the media outside CTV News Vancouver.
BitChute screen shot

Five days later, Desjarlais described Trudeau’s words as “hate speech”.

“Trudeau—Trudy, as I like to call him—has gone all zero-tolerance tough guy on us in dismissing antimandate protesters,” Desjarlais told the crowd near the corner of Robson and Burrard streets.

Then she turned Trudeau’s words around on CTV News Vancouver, accusing it of writing hate speech targeted at “freedom-loving Canadians”.

How was this done? By journalists reporting that the prime minister was “calling us misogynistic, racist Trump lovers”.

In doing this, Desjarlais asserted, media outlets are creating divisions in the country.

“They are promoting their propaganda of separation,” Desjarlais said. “They are guilty of indictable offences and are liable to imprisonment for their hate speech and divisionary words that they are propagating daily in the newspapers, on the Internet, and on TV.

“We will not stand for that, and that is why we are here today,” she continued.

Moreover, Desjarlais pointed out that the media keeps doing this in spite of the law that prohibits promoting hatred against any identifiable group. And she encouraged people in the large crowd to fill out “notices of liability” to media workers to make them aware of the consequences of their actions.

“Are the unvaccinated an identified group? Yes!” Desjarlais shouted.

The next set of “The Media Is the Virus” rallies across Canada is scheduled for Saturday (February 19). In the Lower Mainland, it will take place in front of the Global News B.C. building in Burnaby.

Some notices of liability to media, employers, health officials, the judiciary, and unions have included images from the Nuremberg Tribunal.

Doctors and researchers also troubled by media coverage

By now, journalists are used to getting trashed by leaders in the movement to lift all restrictions in response to COVID-19. The words “fake news” are no longer shouted only at reporters working south of the border.

But increasingly, media outlets are also coming under fire from the other side in the national debate over COVID-19 measures.

After Trudeau announced that his government is invoking the Emergencies Act to deal with protests in many parts of the country, several media commentators expressed a fair degree of skepticism about the need for such a heavy-handed measure.

That prompted a social-media backlash from those who support the prime minister.

“If anyone other than a group of white supremacists were engaging in an anti-democracy, hate-fuelled convoy, they’d have faced consequences long before now,” tweeted Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth. “Perhaps #cdnmedia can stop saying this is about vaccines or trucks now. Emergencies Act is for anti-government threats.”

Another message on Twitter simply stated: “Excuse me, but perhaps #cdnmedia should actually introduce the Canadian public to the Organizers of the #TerroristTruckers that are holding Ottawa, hostage, refusing to speak to any mainstream media outlets.”

Then there are those in the medical and research communities who feel that too many journalists have given public-health officials a free ride in underplaying the impact of COVID-19.

A growing number of physicians and researchers are characterizing this as an airborne vascular disease that initially presents itself as a respiratory infection.

Video of Vascular disease in COVID-19 is not caused by viral infection of blood vessels
Video: Australian researchers shows that COVID-19 does not infect blood vessels; the cardiovascular complications are actually caused by inflammation.

These same doctors and researchers, some of whom are part of a group called Protect Our Province B.C., think that if reporters did a better job reporting peer-reviewed scientific papers about COVID-19, the public, businesses, and government officials might take more precautions.

In the meantime, some have argued over Twitter that due to the media’s negligence, public-health officials and provincial governments are getting away with describing COVID-19 strictly as a respiratory illness.

This leaves much of the public under the mistaken impression that it’s like the flu—something that even Dr. Bonnie Henry raised in a January 28 interview on CBC Radio—rather than a disease that can cause disability, organ failure, and serious neurological problems months and possibly years down the road.

The critics’ argument unfolds along these lines: by failing to make a big deal about the science around COVID-19’s long-term effects in some patients, public-health and infectious-disease leaders across Canada have given governments a free pass to put a premium on maintaining economic activity.

This, in turn, caused COVID-19 case counts to rise to dangerous levels in various waves.

As these waves gathered strength, governments then imposed lockdowns, which are very blunt instruments to limit social and financial damage from the pandemic.

Had a more strategic approach been employed—such as introducing portable filters and carbon-dioxide monitors in classrooms and advancing policies to encourage as many people as possible to work from home—case counts might not have shot up quite as sharply in previous waves.

For the most part, Canadian media outlets are not putting this on the public radar in a big way. You have to go to Twitter to gain these insights.

Moreover, lower COVID-19 case counts would not necessitate the types of heavy-handed lockdowns that have fuelled people on the far right, such as Desjarlais and other People’s Party of Canada members, to organize demonstrations and recruit new followers.

Indeed, it’s conceivable that if public-health officials had done a better job containing the pandemic, there might not even be any of these large “The Media Is the Virus” protests taking place this month.

This, then, raises another intriguing question.

If large numbers of the Canadian public come to a realization that public-health leaders have disregarded scientific papers published in prestigious medical journals in responding to the pandemic, will this, in turn, bring the whole public health-care system into more disrepute? And will that only fuel more alienation?

Justin Trudeau’s right-wing opponents are going to greater lengths to discredit the media in advance of the next election.
Adam Scotti/PMO

U.S. tactics migrate north

For the past couple of years, Canadians could complacently look to the U.S. as the place where democracy is in peril. Republican lawmakers in many states are introducing measures to make it far more difficult for poor, racialized people to vote.

The upshot is that this could enhance the Republicans’ chance of winning back the White House in 2024, even if a majority of Americans would prefer that this didn’t happen.

Plus, many Republicans continue to insist, in the absence of any hard evidence, that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.

One of the Republicans’ tactics in advancing this story line has been to constantly disparage and discredit the U.S. national media.

By turning Republican voters against publications like the New York Times and Washington Post, anything these outlets report can be more easily dismissed as biased and pro–President Joe Biden.

But now in Canada, we’re facing our own democratic crisis. The prime minister is invoking the Emergencies Act—for the first time since it became law in the 1980s—to quell internationally funded protests aimed at thwarting trade with the United States and overthrowing the government. In Alberta, RCMP seized a large cache of weapons at the protest near the border town of Coutts.

And through “The Media Is the Virus” rallies and alternative platforms such as BitChute, the hard-right People’s Party of Canada is convincing more supporters that they can’t believe what they’re seeing on the news.

At recent rallies in front of CTV Vancouver and Global News B.C., “The Media Is the Virus” organizers even brought along media “whistleblowers”.

In front of Global, Common Ground publisher Joseph Roberts urged journalists to defect in the name of truth.

Outside CTV Vancouver, former entertainment and traffic reporter and morning-show producer Anita Krishna made the pitch that the mainstream media couldn’t be trusted in its coverage of COVID-19.

“I kept my mouth shut for most of 2020 because if you ever spoke up, you got into trouble,” Krishna said. “As soon as I started to speak up, I got suspended.”

She also claimed that Global News B.C. broke her heart with “bullshit reporting” on the pandemic.

“So don’t let anybody tell you that you are misinformed,” Krishna told the crowd.

The pandemic has provided cover for the People’s Party of Canada to borrow from the Republicans’ populist playbook by repeatedly disparaging the media.

At the same time, the media is also getting slammed by those who think governments are wantonly ignoring advancing scientific understanding about the very nature and transmission of COVID-19.

It’s creating a dangerous cocktail for Canadian politics and the Canadian public—and it’s still too early to tell how it all might play out.

Indira Gandhi’s decision to impose a state of emergency in 1975 to control disturbances came back to haunt her.
Anefo

Emergency rule harmed Gandhi’s career

Perhaps we can look to India as an example of what can happen when a national leader of a democracy declares a state of emergency.

When Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi imposed an 18-month state of emergency to quell disturbances in her country in 1975, it backfired on her less than two years later in the next national election.

Her once mighty Congress Party suffered its first electoral defeat, losing to Morarji Desai’s Janata Party—a coalition of opposing parties—for the first time.

One of those who went into hiding during this emergency declaration was none other than Narendra Modi, the current populist, right-wing prime minister of the country.

Modi, a Hindu, pretended he was Sikh to avoid being arrested.

The experience of India can serve as a lesson to Trudeau as he considers the longer-term consequences of his decision to invoke the Emergencies Act, no matter how popular it might be today.

For Trudeau, the biggest political danger is that it will encourage the People’s Party of Canada and the Conservatives, like the Janata Party, to set aside their differences to defeat the Liberal Party of Canada.

And for media outlets, they can only expect the attacks on them to continue—particularly now that they’ve become an effective organizing tool for some of those who want to take down Trudeau.

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Watch Live: Canucks GM Patrik Allvin speaks to media following Horvat trade – Sportsnet.ca

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Watch Live: Canucks GM Patrik Allvin speaks to media following Horvat trade  Sportsnet.ca

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Making a point: Hong Kong journalists regroup abroad – Al Jazeera English

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When Hong Kong’s pro-democracy news outlets Apple Daily and Stand News were forced to close by authorities in 2021 under a sweeping Beijing-led crackdown on dissent, Jane Poon made herself a promise.

Poon, a Hong Konger who worked in the city’s media for nearly three decades before moving to Australia in 2017, promised to do whatever she could to keep the spirit of the defunct outlets alive.

After more than a year of planning, Poon’s vision became a reality in mid-January with the launch of The Points, a new online media outlet dedicated to covering news about Hong Kong and its growing diaspora.

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Based entirely overseas, The Points, which publishes in Chinese, hopes to fill the gap left by the demise of most independent media in Hong Kong, where journalists now face the risk of arrest and imprisonment for coverage considered critical of Beijing.

The Points’s staff is made up of former employees of Hong Kong media, including Apply Daily and Stand News, who moved overseas amid the city’s crackdown on press freedom and other civil liberties.

With staff in Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom, the outlet hopes to be the first 24-hour news operation for Hong Kong that is based outside the city.

The Points’s recent coverage includes the Hong Kong Legislative Council’s unannounced decision to redact the names of legislators in transcripts of official proceedings, and a recent meeting between Hong Kong activists and Australia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Penny Wong.

“As some Hong Kong journalists disperse to other places, I think that although the Hong Kong media is in a difficult situation, it might also be a chance to turn a crisis into an opportunity,” Poon, who worked for Apple Daily’s parent company as the head of digital news for Next Magazine, told Al Jazeera.

“We could set up a media platform for the journalists in various places who may work together to cover stories across countries for the Hong Kong diaspora, and also cover stories which are not allowed to be published in Hong Kong anymore.”

Media hobbled

Hong Kong, a British colony for more than 150 years before its return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, was long regarded as one of Asia’s most vibrant and freewheeling media scenes until the imposition of a Beijing-drafted national security law in 2020.

Since then, most of the city’s pro-democracy media have been forced to shut down or decided to close out of fear of being targeted by authorities.

Jimmy Lai, the garment-factory owner turned media tycoon who founded Apple Daily, is facing up to life in prison in a sedition and foreign collusion trial scheduled to begin in September following repeated delays.

In November, six of Lai’s former employees, including Apple Daily’s editor-in-chief, pleaded guilty to conspiring to collude with foreign forces by advocating for sanctions against the Hong Kong and mainland Chinese governments.

Two former editors of Stand News, which closed in December 2021 after its offices were raided by national security police, are currently on trial for sedition.

Last year, Hong Kong’s global press freedom ranking plunged nearly 70 places to 148, according to Reporters Without Borders. The territory, which was promised a high degree of autonomy and civil liberties that do not exist in mainland China for at least 50 years after the handover, ranked 18th in 2002.

A woman hands out final editions of the Apple Daily as people queue to buy it.
People queued to buy the final edition of the Apple Daily, which was forced to close in 2021 [File: Vincent Yu/AP Photo]

More than 1,500 journalists in Hong Kong have been put out of work in the crackdown, according to an analysis carried out by Bloomberg News last year, with many former media workers moving into other industries or migrating overseas.

At the same time, the growing Hong Kong diaspora — about 150,000 Hong Kongers have moved to the UK alone since the passage of the National Security Law – has created opportunities for new ways to report on Hong Kong.

The Points follows the launch of a number of other Hong Kong-focused outlets located abroad, including Flow HK, which is based in Taiwan, and Commons Hong Kong, which is based in the UK and Taiwan.

“There’s always a need for a vibrant, independent press. It’s hopeful to see resilient journalists inside and outside Hong Kong continue their excellent journalism,” Iris Hsu, China representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists, told Al Jazeera.

“If the overseas media outlets provide a safer platform for Hong Kong’s critical journalism that has been under attack for years, it would help preserve Hong Kong’s press freedom and slow the government’s deliberate erosion of checks and balances of power.”

The Hong Kong government has repeatedly insisted that the city’s press freedom remains intact. Hong Kong’s leader John Lee last year said there was no need to talk about defending press freedom because it “exists and we attach great importance to press freedom”.

Reaching across the divides

For now, The Points has a modest size and reach.

The outlet relies on six full-time journalists and freelancers, according to Poon, who said the website attracts about 3,000-4000 readers each day, although that number is growing fast.

Finn Lau, The Points’s executive director, said the outlet relies on a small pool of reader donations to pay its staff and is exploring other sources of revenue, which could include government grants or wealthy donors.

“Financial sustainability is one of the key issues, that’s why it took us around 15 months to prepare our media before launch,” Lau told Al Jazeera. “For the upcoming two years, our top priority must be to get the media [outlet] to be financially sustainable.”

Despite its links to Apple Daily, The Points is also keen to reach Hong Kong people from across the political spectrum and to avoid charges of political bias and sensationalism that critics levelled at the defunct tabloid, said Lau, a Hong Kong activist known for his opposition to Beijing.

“We don’t want to overly politicise our media outlet,” said Lau, who popularised a protest strategy of escalating violence known as “Lam Chau” during anti-government protests in 2019 and 2020.

“On the other hand, we don’t want to self-censor. So we are trying to find a dedicated balance between being a tabloid or being a so-called … intellectual newspaper.”

Journalist Bao Choy speaking to the media outside court. She is wearing a black face mask. People behind her are holding up signs reading 'Fearless'.
Journalists have come under increasing pressure since the national security law was passed. Bao Choy Yuk-Ling was convicted of accessing public data for a documentary on a mob attack during the 2019 protests [File: Tyrone Siu/Reuters]

Apart from financial challenges, The Points has had trouble getting the word out on social media.

Soon after its launch, the outlet’s Twitter account was suspended without warning or explanation, Lau said.

Lau said the account had not violated Twitter’s terms of service, but it may have been targeted with vexatious complaints by pro-Beijing figures or fallen victim to the shortage of staff at the platform following Elon Musk’s takeover. The account has yet to be reinstated.

“We are very frustrated with Twitter and we are still considering what we should do with this platform,” he said.

Still, Lau has big ambitions for the media outlet.

“I am rather optimistic about the visibility of this project. Actually I am a pragmatic dreamer,” he said. “That’s why I believe it might take one or two years to stabilise.”

For Poon, the launch of The Points is about more than upholding press freedom. She hopes the outlet can help preserve Hong Kong’s distinct culture and values.

“We have our next generation. We have to look after our children,” she said.

“That’s why it’s important to have our own media, to tell our own stories. Then our history and everything can be given down to our next generation.”

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'More uncertainty': Sask. journalists weigh in on changing print media landscape – CBC.ca

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As large corporations make headlines showcasing an apparent decline in Canada’s newspaper industry, Kevin Weedmark and the Moosomin World-Spectator continue to thrive. 

Weedmark purchased the southeast Saskatchewan weekly paper in 2002, with a circulation of 1,700. Today, that number sits around 5,000, bringing overall circulation to 43,000 when the publisher’s two additional regional papers are included. 

“When I bought this newspaper, I didn’t think of it as a business-first. I thought of it as a community service-first,” Weedmark said Monday. 

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“There’s nothing magical about Moosomin, or what we’ve done here, that you couldn’t do anywhere. I mean, a proper newspaper that’s there to serve its community first is going to be successful.”

It’s a stark contract to the reality playing out for some major papers owned by Postmedia Network Corp.

The company announced last week it is laying off 11 per cent of its editorial staff, among other changes to printing presses, office spaces and publishing schedules. 

Postmedia employs about 650 journalists across Canada, and also owns Saskatchewan’s two major urban daily newspapers: the Saskatoon StarPhoenix and the Regina Leader-Post. 

It’s selling the historic StarPhoenix building and all remaining journalists will work from home. The papers’ printing press will also be moved from Saskatoon to Estevan, Sask., located around 200 kilometres southeast of Regina.

LISTEN | What does the future of newspapers in Saskatchewan look like?

Blue Sky50:02What does the future of newspapers in Saskatchewan look like?

It’s a time of great change for Saskatchewan’s two biggest daily papers and those changes are very alarming for the people who work at those papers and those who depend on them for local news. Today on the show we take a look at what is to blame for the latest Postmedia problems and we talk to weekly newspaper editors across this province who say the future is hyper-local. We heard from Journalism professor Patricia Elliott, Moosomin world spectator Editor Kevin Weedmark, Prince Albert Daily Herald Editor Jason Kerr, and Steve Nixon Executive Director of the Saskatchewan Weekly Newspapers Association.

Austin Davis, a journalist with the Regina Leader-Post since 2014, tweeted about the changes on Jan. 25.

“It’s more uncertainty for beleaguered, resilient newsrooms and hardworking reporters,” Davis wrote.

“I can’t and won’t defend these decisions. In nine years, I’ve seen dozens of colleagues take buyouts or leave due to burnout, stress and low pay. The survivors are expected to continue publishing the same standard of product. It is impossible.”

‘Maddening and frustrating’

Trish Elliott, a distinguished professor of investigative and community journalism at First Nations University of Canada and an executive member of J-Schools Canada, wrote an opinion editorial for CBC Saskatchewan published Monday and joined Blue Sky later that day to share her thoughts. 

“It’s just madding and frustrating. The state of media concentration in Canada has been this like growing train wreck,” Elliott told CBC’s Heather Morrison. 

“It seems like every 10 years we have a commission saying that the way media is owned here needs to be better regulated. But nothing ever happens.”

Trish Elliott, shown in a photo from 2015, believes Canadian newspapers are being plundered by monopoly capitalism. (Jordan Bell/CBC)

Elliott pointed to the fact her local newspaper in Saskatchewan is currently owned by a hedge fund in the U.S.

“We’re not being protected from foreign ownership, obviously, as the majority shareholders are in the U.S. for Postmedia. And again that is a regulatory failure,” she said. 

Steve Nixon, the executive director of the Saskatchewan Newspapers Association, also pointed out the impact large corporations are having on the overall state of print media.

“Good journalism costs money,” Nixon said. 

“The money that’s being used to pay journalists is being sucked out, mainly, by two major companies, neither of which are owned by a Canadian entity.”

Independent daily seeing success

Jason Kerr is the editor of the employee-owned and operated Prince Albert Daily Herald, one of Canada’s few independent daily newspapers.

In 2017, a group of employees reached a tentative deal to buy the paper from Star News Publishing Inc., preventing the paper from folding. The deal was completed on May 1, 2018, with the Prince Albert Herald beginning operation under FolioJumpline Publishing Inc. 

“It’s definitely been a lot of work, but it’s been very rewarding and the community has responded by backing us,” Kerr said. 

Kerr, who has worked at the paper since 2015, said being employee-owned and operated has allowed the paper to focus in on local stories and support community events. 

Still, he noted the number of newspapers in northern Saskatchewan has been on a slow decline. He pointed to the end of the La Ronge Northerner, a weekly paper that closed after 41 years in 2015. 

“It just left a huge gap, so there’s not a lot if you want to get your news from a print newspaper,” Kerr said, adding the north is often referred to as a “media desert.”

“A place where there’s just a ton of stuff happening, a ton of news, both good and bad, that’s going unreported because there aren’t enough reporters up there.”

The independent publishing company behind the Herald has looked to fill that void. It prints a monthly stand-alone newspaper called The Northern Advocate, which is distributed across northern Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Kerr said the other great thing about being an independent entity is having the choice to reinvest in the community and support local events.

“There’s really no discussion,” he said. “We just look at and go, ‘Yeah, this is something we want to support and we support it.'” 

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