In Istanbul on Oct 25, 2018, activists protested the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Turkey. (Lefteris Pitarakis/AP Photo)

Canada must act to protect independent journalism, says lawyer

A Canadian lawyer is calling on the government to change Canada’s law so that a criminal act against a journalist carries a stiffer than usual penalty. Toronto lawyer David Butt says this would send a message to the world about the need to respect independent journalism.

‘Dark times for journalists’

“A series of factors…lead me to believe that these are dark times for journalists,” he says. “We see, for example, the U.S. president frankly abusing his position to call independent journalists the enemy of the state. We see acts of violence directed towards journalism with the delivery of a pipe bomb to CNN headquarters…

“And of course we have the very high profile death, it appears to be murder, of (Saudi Arabian journalist) Mr. (Jamal) Khashoggi. We see a culmination of acts out, both verbal and actual acts of violence against journalists. And that’s really what prompted my thoughts.”

U.S. President Donald Trump excoriates CNN reporter Jim Acosta as an aide tries to take away the microphone. The Whitehouse later took away Acosta’s credentials barring his access to future briefings. (Evan Vucci/AP Photo)

Sanctions, diplomatic messages suggested

Butt thinks journalists in Canada work in relative safety. But he thinks Canada should be bold about deterring threats to a free press abroad by levying sanctions on countries that act against journalists and by sending diplomatic messages of disfavour.

Journalism crucial to a healthy democracy, says lawyer

“The function of a journalist is to seek out the truth, to avoid partisan considerations, to be independent and to simply give the public accurate information about what’s going on in the halls of power, be they in business, government, politics and so on. And that is a crucial function for any healthy democracy,” says Butt.

“Democracy empowers its citizens to make decisions about their leaders. But if the citizens don’t have good information about their leaders, their decision-making can be deeply flawed.

“So…independent journalism is a crucial component of a healthy democracy. And that’s why journalists need to be protected.

David Butt says Canada should change its own law and speak out internationally to protect independent journalists.

The interview was recorded before the U.S. Whitehouse banned CNN reporter Jim Acosta after President Donald Trump castigated him during a news conference on Nov. 7, 2018.

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