Sunday, June 7, 2009

 

SECRET...OR NOT (SO) SECRET!

There is a debate amongst journalists in this country over whether the "secret" documents left behind at CTV's Ottawa News Bureau were indeed "state secrets"...and the implications for journalistic integrity to hold-on to them for 6 days if indeed they were.

One thing is clear - They weren't "secret" enough in the mind of the Prime-Minister to cost the Minister of Natural Resources her job as had, for instance the secret NATO documents left behind at Julie Couillard's condo by Maxime Bernier...almost a year to the day.

Writing for the Sun Newspapers this weekend, Columnist Greg Weston suggests that it's easy enough for a Federal Government obsessed with confidentiality, and a Prime-Minister obsessed with control, to stamp "Secret" on pretty much any document it wants to keep away from prying eyes - Journalists and opposition politicians included..."Truth is no one got excited about a breach of official secrets because there were none in the documents"...So says Weston.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council publicly chastised CTV-News recently after a full review of the broadcast of a television interview, three false starts and all, of former Liberal Leader Stephane Dion, with its Halifax anchor, Steve Murphy, during the fall 2008 Federal Election campaign. The interview was re-broadcast ad nauseum on "Mike Duffy Live" for which the CBSC also blasted CTV.

While I may subscribe to Greg Weston's interpretation about the value of the documents left behind at CTV by the Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt; I am having difficulty understanding why they were held-on to by the News Bureau for 6 days while it prepared a news story based on their content. It seems to me (As the CBSC seemed to raise in the Dion matter) to call into question CTV's journalistic integrity perhaps verging on an abuse of our journalistic freedoms...well at least it seems un-Canadian.

Regardless of the value, authenticity or worth of the documents; a year ago when in Maxime Bernier's case, Julie Couillard brought with her "his secret documents" to a TVA French language interview in Montreal, authorities there didn't hesitate...and sure as hell didn't read or copy the contents...they called the department of Foreign Affairs who sent the RCMP to retrieve the briefing book. To me it seems that is the "only" way to behave...I fault CTV for doing less (much less) with the documents left behind at their studio by Minister Raitt.

The documents may not have been so secret after all...they didn't hold Canada's nuclear bomb formula (as if we had one!)...but leaving them behind, and CTV's disclosure cost at least one departmental insider her job.

Somewhat like an acrobat walking the tight-rope, there are dangers inherent with stretching the limits of broadcast freedoms and calling into question one's journalistic integrity - Sometimes either the rope snaps, or the acrobat slips off.

To say the least: Either way I'll be making sure to hang-on to my wallet and credit cards if ever I am invited into CTV's Ottawa bureau. They're not so secret either, but I wouldn't want them in someone else's hands for 6 days without getting called.

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