Sunday, August 28, 2011

Licensing journalists? Non, merci

The Quebec government’s proposal to regulate journalists is a bad idea.

Christine St. Pierre, the province’s communications minister, is inviting comments on a proposal, based on the Rapport Payette, that would discriminate between journalists whom she and her fellow Liberals deem legitimate and others, such as mere bloggers.

No, thank you.

There are already laws to control damage caused by any news medium, principally the law of defamation. Penalties are quite stiff in Canada – as I hope some irresponsible bloggers will discover.

A defining strength of journalism is that it does not kowtow to governments or special interests. Journalists are responsible to their audiences, which are not shy about criticizing any online, published, or broadcast work.

Just look at user-generated content such as the comment sections of any news medium.

Governments do not shrink from making such criticisms, either. That’s fine.

But they should not control who writes what.

Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
(a) freedom of conscience and religion;
(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication …
What could be clearer than that?

“Everyone” includes bloggers, tweeters and users of other media.

Of course, Section 33 of the Charter allows governments to override these rights for five years at a time.
Quebec has employed this “notwithstanding clause” to justify controlling commercial communication, with the province’s French-language sign law. 

Fortunately, controlling online publication is much more difficult than controlling physical signs on buildings.

One of the wonderful aspects of social media and other “new media” is that they are difficult for anyone to control.

Dictators in the Arab world are learning this lesson the hard way.

Quebec should not emulate them.