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Letter from Branch president Colin Perkel

Dear colleagues and fellow CMGers:

Online News Association Conference
The branch recently approved funding to send some Guild members to the Online News Association conference in Toronto in October. With the increasing media emphasis and importance placed on the online world, your executive felt it would be valuable to have representatives at the conference. The aim is to help further our understanding of emerging developments in this important area while providing feedback, as required, about the realities of performing online work in a complex, multifaceted and fast-paced environment. The company has generously agreed to cover wage expenses for attendees. The Branch Executive will select from among the members who express interest, with the final number dependent on the costs involved. Preference will be given to candidates in the online/video department. So, please consider this an initial invitation for expressions of interest, which should include a short submission on why you should attend. A separate note further detailing requirements and deadlines for submissions will follow shortly.

Quebec Election Video
A post-mortem of online video on the recent Quebec election – the first time The Canadian Press has offered clients video during a campaign – helped reveal some of the technical and other pitfalls of this added duty during a hectic schedule. However, almost all the reporters and photographers who covered the vote provided at least some video. As a result, The Canadian Press produced an average of two or three full video reports each day, five days a week, during the five-week campaign. This is impressive given the almost complete lack of preparation and our francophone colleagues are to be congratulated. Nevertheless, issues such as workload, the juggling of competing reporting and filing demands, and concerns about editorial quality and integrity remain constant themes. The Guild continues to address these issues with senior management. Your feedback is both important to us and the company, so keep it coming.

National Desk
After some expected false starts, teething pains and diverse hiccups, the new National Desk is largely operational. Still, several members have expressed serious concerns about lack of training, finding themselves on shifts for which they were not remotely qualified, or about being obliged to watch others struggle with unfamiliar material to force them to learn new skills. We have raised these issues with management and the National Training Committee, especially since we were given assurances that this would not occur. Again, please keep us informed of any ongoing issues.

Freedom of Speech
A Guild member on the National Desk recently wrote a letter to the editor, under his own name but without any company identification, about the Guantanamo ruling on Canadian detainee Omar Khadr. The Toronto Star published the letter, which could be considered politically controversial. The employee, who has no public profile, asserted his right to express a personal opinion. Management took the view that the letter could bring the impartiality of The Canadian Press into question should someone make the link between the employee and the company.

Consequently, at a recent Employee-Employer meeting, the Guild and the company discussed the broad issues of outside activity, new technology, blogging ? and the reputation of the enterprise. We are going to try to establish some broad principles, starting from the principle of freedom of speech, which can be endorsed by all editorial staff of The Canadian Press, both Guild members and managers.

The larger issue – and it’s a critical one that goes well beyond The Canadian Press to all media employees – is the degree to which an employer’s right to defend its business interests can infringe on the constitutional guarantees we all have under the Charter of Rights. The right to express ourselves freely and participate in the affairs of our community or country is a bedrock right that is also the cornerstone of a free media. Any limitation should be regarded with deep and inherent suspicion.

We will keep you posted as developments occur and welcome your views in the interim.

CanWest Freedom
By the time you read this, CanWest will no longer be part of The Canadian Press and we will, for the first time in a long time, be into a different kind of competitive environment. Members of the Canadian Media Guild at The Canadian Press are fully prepared. We will, as always, do our part to meet the competitive threat head on and help ensure the company’s editorial and financial success. However, we also intend to be vigilant in ensuring our recently negotiated collective agreement is respected. Be sure to let us know of any violations, or of pressure to violate, any of its terms.

Finally, please have a safe, happy and enjoyable summer!

Best regards,

Colin Perkel
President ? The Canadian Press Branch

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