The National NewsMedia Council is deeply concerned about an Ontario Superior Court decision that forces Vice Media reporter Ben Makuch to hand his background material to the RCMP.
Police want screen captures of Makuch’s online conversations with Farah Shirdon, a Canadian who has been charged in absentia for terrorism-related offenses. The court has now ruled in favour of the RCMP request, saying that the reporter’s material is “important evidence in relation to very serious allegations” and that there is “strong public interest in the effective investigation and prosecution of such allegations”.
The NNC believes there is also strong public interest in a free and independent media. This ruling is not simply a setback for investigative journalism in Canada. It is a chilling precedent. As McKuch’s lawyer says, the credibility and independence of journalists will be undermined by a decision that means conversation with a journalist could easily become information for police.
A free and independent media is a cornerstone of democracy. That freedom and independence is seriously eroded when the courts compel journalists to become unwitting assistants of police investigations.