The NDP government of Alberta violated the basic principles of a free press and open government this month when it announced it was banning a right-wing media outlet from attending its news conferences and events.
The government says it doesn't consider the outlet, a website called The Rebel, to be a journalistic endeavour. "Those who identify as being connected to [The Rebel] are not journalists and are not entitled to access media lock-ups or other such events," a lawyer for the Alberta Justice Department wrote in response to a letter from a lawyer for the aggrieved website.
This is beyond deplorable. It is not the place of a government to decide what constitutes a journalist or a media outlet. This is not Russia, not Egypt, not Iran – countries where government controls the media through bogus licensing regimes or outright censorship.
In a free society, the term "media" must be loosely defined in order to limit restrictions on speech. The term also has to take into account the realities that cutbacks have reduced the number of local, full-time, traditional media reporters in the Alberta Legislature press gallery to under six (columnists not included), and that today there are other players in the game.
The Rebel is one of them. Run by well-known provocateur Ezra Levant, it is completely partisan, entirely hostile to the NDP, and usually unwatchable to anyone but its most fervent followers. But it is also self-evidently a media outlet. Its reporters cover the news, criticize the government, and comment on society. You can like it or despise it, think it amateurish or low-budget, but that's irrelevant. It shouldn't get to disrupt government press conferences. But it's impossible to argue it shouldn't be allowed to sit in on one.
The Alberta Legislature's press gallery agrees. It said on Tuesday that its practice is to allow any reporter who shows his or her credentials to cover news conferences in the Legislature.
Premier Rachel Notley is showing contempt for the media, and more importantly Albertans, by banning The Rebel. Since taking power, the NDP government has often been more Stephen Harper than Justin Trudeau, curtailing reporters' access and ending press conferences when it didn't like what was being asked. What began as petty has evolved into something far worse.