A coalition of news organizations and press freedom groups plan to file a court application guaranteeing journalists substantive access to cover the ongoing old-growth logging demonstration in the Fairy Creek watershed, near Port Renfrew, B.C.
The coalition includes APTN, Ricochet Media, The Narwhal, Capital Daily, Canada’s National Observer, The Discourse and IndigiNews, in addition to the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE).
“Over the past week, we’ve repeatedly seen the RCMP shift the goal posts on how it plans to allow journalists access in order to cover this important public interest story,” said Brent Jolly, CAJ president, in a release. “Every day is a new day with new excuses from the RCMP about why access is limited. Enough is enough.”
“The RCMP have been using broad exclusion zones to interfere with members of the media for at least eight years, across multiple provinces,” added Ethan Cox, an editor with Ricochet Media. “Legal precedent and the RCMP’s own oversight body say doing so is beyond the authority of the force, but it keeps happening. What’s at stake here is nothing less than the public’s right to know.”
Last week, the CAJ issued a statement calling on courts to limit RCMP power when granting injunctions. The coalition has now sent a formal letter to the RCMP requesting that media be provided fair access.
In the letter, the coalition says journalists have had access to the site restricted in ways that materially prevent them from doing their job. It demands that the RCMP take steps to minimize enforcement practices on the work of journalists, calling for an immediate end to exclusion zones for journalists (and not contingent on the availability of a media liaison officer); that journalists be allowed close enough to unfolding events to record video and sound, conduct interviews and take photographs; that the RCMP refrain from using physical obstructions that block the view or prevent the media from capturing audio, including holding up tarps around arrests, placing loud generators between journalists and arrests, or positioning officers to block cameras; and that arrest or detainment of journalists and seizure or interference with equipment cease.
“Journalists are not participants in the protests, or advocates for the protesters against whom the injunction is being enforced. It is not our intention to interfere with police operations in lawful execution of a court order. Our role is to serve democracy by documenting activities and conveying that information to the public,” states the letter. “Journalism is an essential service and is, accordingly, given constitutional protection. We have no intention of interfering with your work. We ask that you allow our journalists to do their work without undue harassment or obstruction in accordance with the law.”
The CAJ said as of Wednesday afternoon, the letter had not been acknowledged.
The coalition says it’s ready to proceed with an application to the B.C. Supreme Court to vary the injunction order to specifically set out protections for the media.
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