Casual readers may not have paid much attention to a recent story out of Chicago where a hard-working journalist, Rick Westhead, exposed the Chicago Black Hawks and the National Hockey League for the cover up of a sexual assault story.
Westhead had been in the trenches doing good investigative journalism on the topic. Eventually it was proven that a professional hockey coach was guilty of sexual assault of a rookie hockey player, Kyle Beach. It was a shocking story and made public only following the hard work of this journalist. Then, in a subsequent related matter, when the commissioner of the National Hockey League (Gary Bettman) held a news conference on the subject, this same journalist was not permitted to ask any questions until one of Westhead’s peer journalists publicly demanded Bettman take Westhead’s questions. It was an attempt by the league to mute Westhead, this investigative journalist.
This attempted silencing of journalism by influential leaders such as Bettman is similar to when premiers, MLAs, MPs, mayors, and reeves at times are not willing or not available to take questions from reporters or the general public. It is common for these elected officials to not return phone calls, texts, and emails to avoid answering to reporters. Reporters are then expected by these same public officials to report on stories the politicians prefer using carefully crafted messaging of the communication specialists in these same governments.
Additionally, elected officials in Alberta (and Canada) seem to be performing their duties behind closed doors more often, which can be an attempt to hide stories and control the subsequent messaging. Not enough investigative reporters available, plus the stifling freedom of information laws, add to the difficulty reporters have in performing their investigative duties. Recently, Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek attempted to keep quiet her decision to scuttle the new Calgary arena deal, yet sharp journalists helped uncover the truth. Now in a sudden reversal, a Calgary arena deal is back on the table thanks in part to investigative journalism.
Social media commentary and bloggers are now accepted by some as honest reporting, and yet when a professional journalist reports on a story, it is often called “fake news.”
It was reported recently by the International Federation of Journalists that 904 journalists have been killed worldwide while doing their jobs in the past 10 years. This is shocking and a reason to reflect and assess the societal challenges causing this. Additionally, world leaders are being accused of hate speech and inciting violence and some of this rhetoric is related to the lack of civility at times. Journalists have become a target or victims of this lack of civility.
Democracy is under attack, journalists are under attack, the truth is under attack, and human respect is under attack. We are all worse off because of it.
During this upcoming 2023 provincial election, one wonders what the tone and rhetoric will be and how reporters will be able to investigate the stories that matter to Albertans. Social media commentary is already indicating how the conduct of many will likely behave, and much of it is not civil. Soon journalists will need to dive deeply into the 2023 election, and it will be a reporting challenge.
Nolan Crouse is a former St. Albert mayor.