Professional journalists are that- professionals

The face of journalism keeps changing and there are days I do not like what we see in the mirror.

A recent decision by Canada’s Supreme Court ruled that journalists do not enjoy a special constitutional protection to shield the identity of sources of information during police investigations.

The decision means a National Post reporter is now required to hand over documents to police that he received while writing about a land deal by a former Canadian prime minister. Tonda MacCharles of the Toronto Star’s Ottawa Bureau did a really good streamlined job explaining the decision and I highly recommend it. Kirk Makin at the Globe and Mail also did a strong detailed piece too.

I’ll admit the decision is a concern. As professional journalists we need to understand what it means now, as we move forward, when we receive envelopes surreptitiously and sources seek anonymity.

However, what bothered me most about the decision is that solid, grounded, professionalized and educated journalists are having their integrity and rules of governance and conduct being lumped in with basement bloggers, tweeters, citizen journalists and internet media cowboys.

The court explained that there are “cogent objections to the creation of such a ‘constitutional’ immunity” for protecting sources found in a recent case and that…

“the protection attached to freedom of expression is not limited to the ‘traditional media’ but is enjoyed by ‘everyone’ who chooses to exercise his or her freedom of expression on matters of public interest whether by blogging, tweeting, standing on a street corner and shouting the ‘news’ at passing pedestrians or publishing in a national newspaper,” the court explained.

“To throw a constitutional immunity around the interactions of such a heterogeneous and ill-defined group of writers and speakers and whichever “sources” they deem worthy of a promise of confidentiality and on whatever terms they may choose to offer it (or, as here, choose to amend it with the benefit of hindsight) would blow a giant hole in law enforcement and other constitutionally recognized values such as privacy,” the court stated.

There is the final rub for me, right there in the paragraph directly above, “to throw a constitutional immunity around the interactions of such a heterogeneous and ill-defined group of writers and speakers and whichever “sources” they deem worthy of a promise of confidentiality.”

As a professional journalist I can confidently say that I and fellow counterparts in real media outlets are not an “ill-defined group” of writers and speakers. We are journalists. We are trained professionals entrusted and expected to have the judgment to use “off the record” comments and anonymous sources both efficiently and effectively. The fact we get lumped in with a bunch of rag tag pseudo reporters is what drives me crazy.

“Look at it this way, just because I own and know how to follow suggestions in the Doctor’s Book of Home Remedies, it does not make me a doctor…”- On Deadline

Look at it this way, just because I own and know how to follow suggestions in the Doctor’s Book of Home Remedies, it does not make me a doctor and it does not make me qualified to make educated diagnoses based on experience and with expertise.  Also, it certainly does not allow me the privilege of using a scalpel or to write prescriptions.

A trained professional doctor has the above privileges and such respect should be afforded to trained, professional journalists- our tools of the trade should not be hindered by those who blog and tweet without journalist credentials.

If you do not believe so, drop me an email when you have a five inch open gash in your thigh, I’m sure I can find a way to fix you right up via Google or the home remedies book.

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One thought on “Professional journalists are that- professionals

  1. Is your concern with the decision itself or the fact that professionals are lumped in with non-professionals? I think despite considering them together, the court did not necessarily infringe the right to use anonymous sources except where other matters of public interest were at stake. Anonymous source are themselves often unreliable and have sometimes been disastrous for even professional journalists, so they’re not absolutely integral to journalism in all cases so as to merit blanket protection.

    Also, while there are trained journalists and non-professionals, as far as I know there is no actual body or association of journalists in Canada which imposes uniform standards for all journalistic professionals. In the end, the pros and bloggers are often capable of doing the same work of disseminating information and to simply give them free rein when it came to using anonymous sources would have been a disaster in the SCC’s opinion. I think you agree with this given your post.

    Anyway, that’s just my quick take. I hope it made sense. Enjoyed your post.

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