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Christie Blatchford

Self-anointed G20 'journalists' should get real Add to ...

Random thoughts on the G20, the Toronto Police, the ongoing protests over the whole shebang:

First, journalism is not merely a collective of the self-anointed.

For all that it may not be a regulated profession, neither is it just a coming together of people with cellphones, video cameras and blogs as receptacle for an apparently endless stream of unfiltered, unedited consciousness.

In other words, just as you are not a physician or a lawyer merely because you say you are, much as you may want to believe it so, neither are you a journalist because you and your friends say you are or because your "writings" appear on a website.

You will have heard reports of various independent/alternative journalists who claim to have been illegally detained and threatened by the police.

Four of them, for instance, have formally complained to the office of the independent police review director, and as the insufferable Lieutenant Horatio Caine says ad nauseam on CSI: Miami, let us follow the evidence on that.

I am all in favour of their complaints, and anyone else's, being investigated, and I reserve my opinion on how well they were treated by the authorities, or not, until that verdict is in.

But let us not pretend that these folks are working journalists or that they are the equivalent. They aren't, for the most part.

Their work isn't subject to editing or lawyering or the ethical code which binds, for example, the writers at The Globe. The websites on which they appear don't belong, as do most reputable newspapers in this province, to the Ontario Press Council, a body which hears complaints against traditional journalists and publications.

We in the mainstream media make plenty of mistakes and bad calls, even given the safeguards (layers of editors and other sets of eyes reading our copy; lawyers too, in some instances; established standards) that are in place. Why should an alternative journalist (self-anointed, often with a demonstrable political agenda) be automatically assumed to be an infallible truth-teller or always accurate?

Second, the press pass doesn't grant even traditional journalists carte blanche access everywhere.

In the midst of a riot, it is not a shield that can be waved to keep either police or rioters at bay. It is neither an avoid-jail nor get-out-of-jail-free card.

One doesn't get to cross the yellow tape at a crime scene in order to have a really good look at the dead body even if one has a press pass. One doesn't get into cabinet meetings because one has a press pass. One doesn't get to march into the judge's chambers and sit in on the lawyers' private discussions that go on there because one has a press pass. Etc., etc.

Media accreditation sometimes allows reporters to go where the general public can't, such as sports dressing rooms and backstage at concerts and the like; it may give us better seats (as in a courtroom, where there may be a press row, or at a sports event, where there is a press box); it may get us closer to the action or the participants in the action.

Period.

Thus, in the G20 protests, journalists, real or self-appointed, traditional or otherwise, had no special rights to go where we wanted and no special badge of protection against arrest.

Third, I would point out that the area north of the Ontario Legislature was indeed designed as a protest area during the summit.

It was never, however, meant to function as a no-go zone, to which the darling practitioners of the Black Bloc arts could retreat unchallenged and un-interfered with by the police to change clothes so that they might blend back with the regular crowd.

Fourth, since with the wisdom of hindsight it is now apparent that everyone knew that the anarchists/Black Bloc types would try to wreak havoc on the city, why are the organizers of the legitimate protests not being questioned about their accountability? They too presumably knew - as did police and security forces - that their peaceful demonstrations likely would be disrupted; what steps did they take to stop such a hijacking?

Fifth, in Toronto Star lingo, since "the sweeping powers" granted the police via the "secret" law saw them, according to Toronto Chief Bill Blair, arrest exactly one (1) person under the temporary regulation to the Public Works Protection Act, isn't the angst-ridden, hyperbolic debate rendered, as someone brighter than me remarked recently, nothing but an intellectual exercise?

It would quite one thing if the 1,000 folks who were detained on G20 weekend were detained under the temporary regulation. The discussion would be meaningful.

But when it's all said and done, it will turn out that most of those detained were arrested for breach of the peace or to prevent a breach of the peace, which is an arrest authority, not a criminal charge.

In my view, it's a vile authority too, generally speaking easily misused by police, and it may have been misused here as well.

But the point is, it wasn't under the new secret sweeping power, which was only partly secret and not very sweeping. It was under long-established common-law police authorities, such as arresting people for breach of the peace or to prevent a breach of the peace that has yet to take place, that most people were picked up.

You want to be angry about something, be angry about that.

Finally, how amusing it is to see Toronto, press and public alike, whip themselves into a frenzy of outrage over alleged police inaction and then alleged police overreaction, when all of this, in terms even more stark, happened in Caledonia, Ont., from 2006 onwards, and no one gave a fig.



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