A private member’s bill now before the House of Commons would undermine CBC’s independence and threaten the ability to do hard-hitting journalism in the public interest. Bill C-461, introduced by Conservative backbencher Brent Rathgeber (Edmonton-St. Albert), would change Access to Information (ATI) and privacy legislation as it affects the public broadcaster.
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, who favour improved access to government information, call Bill C-461 “unnecessary” and say it “appears to be aimed at doing damage to the CBC because it favours the commercial interests of private media outlets that compete with the CBC.”
The changes would mean that any deep-pocketed ATI applicant could take the CBC to court to get access to documents the public broadcaster deemed exempted from release, including the names of sources. The amended law would require CBC to prove to a judge that releasing a document would do harm to its independence. CJFE points out that such rulings would be open to subjective interpretations of what affects CBC’s independence and not focused on protecting its journalism.
Right now, journalistic, programming and creative matters are simply excluded from the ATI Act, similar to provisions for public broadcasters in other countries, and the Information Commissioner decides if the CBC is making the appropriate call if an applicant complains. What’s more, even the Information Commissioner will not see information that reveals the identity of a source.
Under the privacy bill change, the subject of a CBC investigation could ask what a news investigation may have dug up about them even before the report aired.
“In such a situation, what whistleblower would approach a CBC reporter?” CFJE asks. “How could CBC journalists in good faith promise to protect their sources? How, both commercially and ethically, could the CBC sustain any investigative journalism if the process and the research could be revealed to CBC competitors or to the subjects of CBC investigations? In fact, a chill would fall upon CBC journalists and the broadcaster’s ability to produce journalism with integrity would be seriously jeopardized. A bill that ostensibly aims to increase accountability would destroy the public broadcaster’s ability to hold government and the powerful to account.”
You can read the full CFJE statement here. The Rathgeber bill passed second reading on March 29 (155 to 127) and will now be referred to a parliamentary committee for hearings.
We urge you to get in touch with your MP and ask them to oppose Bill C-461, which is against the interests of public broadcasting and the public interest.
For more information, get in touch with the Guild (firstname.lastname@example.org) at 416-591-5333 and 1-800-465-4149.