PHOTOS: Right-wing commentator Ezra Levant in a typical pose, photo by David Stobbe of the University of Saskatchewan. Below: stringer Sheila Gunn Reid in a screen shot of The Rebel’s approach to journalism; Mr. Levant in another familiar pose, a few months before Sun TV folded its tent; and Edmonton Sun-Journal political columnist Lorne Gunter, also in full rhetorical flight.

Can we get one thing straight? The fight with Ezra Levant the Notley Government got itself sucked into this week is not about is freedom of speech.

Anyone who tells you otherwise – and that’s now a large group that includes Mr. Levant, the army of online trolls he appears to command, some conservative politicians and many in the mainstream media who really ought to understand the difference between access and censorship – is probably pulling your leg in the hopes it’ll get you mad at Premier Rachel Notley.

But this is not actually about muzzling journalists, as the headline on a tendentious column by anti-NDP Postmedia political columnist Lorne Gunter claimed yesterday.

It’s about privileged access to information and government officials by people who are not journalists in the traditional sense of the word, but who nevertheless are now playing in the journalistic sandbox. This group includes Mr. Levant at his far-right online publication, The Rebel, and it includes me, here at AlbertaPolitics.ca.

It’s an important question in an era when traditional media are dying off faster than we’d expected, and it deserves to be considered thoughtfully so we can ensure access to information by non-traditional journalists is balanced with the need to ensure order and public safety at events like government and private-sector news conferences.

Of course, nothing of the sort is happening. Doing what he does best, Mr. Levant has led government and mainstream media down a psychedelic rabbit hole in which he claims the government is trying to censor crusading journalists like him who don’t agree with them and that Ms. Notley is a bully. Here’s Mr. Levant’s version, which you can also reach, tellingly, by clicking on irfansabir.com.

This is all a bit rich coming from a fellow who, in my personal experience with him, is one of the biggest bullies in Canadian public discourse, although I certainly admire his ability to spin public relations silk purses out of factual sows’ ears.

What’s astonishing to me, though, is that the Alberta Legislative Press Gallery – which not so long ago kicked out a political newsletter editor for basically the same kind of sophomoric bloviating Mr. Levant regularly provides to his online audience – seems to have taken the former Sun TV talking head’s bait, hook, line and sinker.

In reality, everyone, including the Notley government, recognizes Mr. Levant’s fundamental, Charter-protected right to say pretty much whatever he pleases about the Notley Government.

What is at issue is the far thornier question of who in the media – broadly defined to include traditional journalists, Press Gallery members, bloggers, Twitterati, Youtube video publishers, Facebook posters and unapologetic political activists like Mr. Levant – has privileged access to the government. Reporters and commentators with such access have never been clearly defined in Alberta, but historically have required some connection to mainstream media.

One would have thought any government has a legitimate need to exercise some control over who has the run of the Legislature Building as well as government events at other locations.

Until Mr. Levant came along and sprinkled gullibility juice in their eyes, the Press Gallery also worked hard to preserve its traditional monopoly on access to government media-relations information and access to politicians.

Meanwhile, bloggers and their ilk with a following – Yours Truly and Mr. Levant alike – want to be able to attend government media functions and have access approximating that of Press Gallery members.

Rebel Media claims that one of its freelancers was thrown out of a government “lock-up” at which advance technical information about the royalty review was made available to journalists, and that another was denied access to a meeting of stakeholders to which, government sources say, no media were admitted.

The circumstances are murky and several well-known mainstream media journalists who were there and presumably know what happened have been conspicuously silent about what actually went on. Alas, I wasn’t there, so I can’t really say. But I’d bet that if I’d tried to get into the same stakeholder meeting room as did Sheila Gunn Reid, one of The Rebel’s reporters, I would have been tossed too.

In his piece yesterday, Mr. Gunter stated that “the NDP government doesn’t question the legitimacy (nor should it) of online lefty journalists such as David Climenhaga of the NDP-friendly Rabble.ca or Dave Cournoyer, a communications advisor for the United Nurses of Alberta, whose Daveberta.ca blog is a must-read on Edmonton and Alberta politics.”

While I was grateful for the shout-out, this is not strictly true. I have been consistently treated with respect by both the NDP and the Tories before them, but I do not have the same access as Gallery members or mainstream media journalists.

So, for example, like Ms. Gunn Reid, I was also on what Mr. Gunter termed the “no-go list” for the news conference with Ms. Notley and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The policy, I understand, came from the Prime Minister’s Office. Unlike The Rebel’s reporter, I chose not to whine about it.

Mr. Gunter, it must be noted, didn’t bother to check with me about any of this.

So does this mean I think the NDP is playing this the way they should, or the only way they could? I’m afraid not. They walked right into a fight with a skilled agitator determined to make monkeys of them, and they should have known better.

As Liberal commentator Warren Kinsella, also no admirer of Mr. Levant, said on his blog yesterday: “Ezra lives for this stuff. In a battle with bureaucrats, he always wins.”

I don’t know who advised the government to get in this unwinnable fight, but it was bad advice. If it had been me making the call, I would have welcomed The Rebel, and waited for its representatives to misbehave sufficiently to be tossed with cause. This wouldn’t have taken long, if you ask me.

One only hopes Heather Boyd, former Western Canada bureau chief for the Canadian Press asked by Ms. Notley to examine how this is dealt with in other jurisdictions, can find a reasonable way out of this that balances the needs of the public, the rights of non-traditional journalists, and the government’s responsibility to provide security and order. With Mr. Levant stirring the pot expertly, I am not optimistic.

Right now, remarkably, Mr. Levant has the mainstream media to a man and woman cheering on his effort to establish the principle that no one, least of all the government or the Press Gallery, has the right to determine who is and who isn’t a real Legislature journalist!

He claims he’s going to sue the government to allow access to him and, presumably, anybody else with a website, a video camera or a pencil behind his or her ear. Not doing so, Mr. Levant says, “violates our constitutional freedom of the press.”

If that argument succeeds, good luck to the mainstream reporters who are now cheering Mr. Levant on! How will this new competition help their claim – stretched rather thin of late as it is – that the Legislature’s accredited media are the only unbiased, professional, reliable source of information about politics?

Plus, they’ll need to arrive early if they want to get a seat at those news conferences!

This post also appears at Rabble.ca.

Join the Conversation

59 Comments

    1. What press is that? In sworn testimony in court, Levant stated that he is not a reporter. Second, what is free about Rebel media? It’s free is you consider his contributors aren’t paid.

    2. There is a serious problem in this country when David Climenhaga can be considered a “far-left communist whacko” and what’s her name a “best-selling author” for her $9 self-published tract on how the NDP are literally an invasion of vampires from the pits of hell. Where in the Globe and Mail editorial page, the assumption is made that the Tyee and Rebel Media are in any way comparable. It’s a not a question of left vs right: it’s a question of which team is composed of the gibbering insane and paid liars.

      A

  1. Journalists eh?
    Like your piece yesterday, people are throwing around terms, like homophobes, bigots, and now today, ‘main-stream’ and ‘conservative’ journalists, as if they were describing something or somebody.
    let’s get one thing clear, in the English language words have meanings and definitions attached to them. If one wanted to use a new sound or an existing word in a new and novel way then one must supply the meaning and definition; otherwise no communication.
    So, there is no such thing as a main-stream journalist; these people referred to as such a simply propagandists or propaganda readers. Gunter and Levant are nothing more than agitators for their corporate pay-masters. They bring no journalistic product or value whatsoever.

  2. It seems like the reason Levant and his ilk always win is that they are loud and they stick one or two little sound bites. It gets too hostile and unpleasant for most people who try to reason with them so they win be dint of being the loudest in the room. Unfortunately, it seems like politicians listen to the loudest the most.

    I’m surprised the Notley government seems to be willing to deal with him again given that he whipped everything up so well around Bill 6. Hopefully they come out better this time.

    1. Over 20 years ago there were many predictions that the internet would have an effect of democratizing the media. What parties that are dedicated to real economic democracy – such as the CCF and the founding principles of the NDP must understand is that if they become very committed to the underpinnings of genuine people-centred policies, they will be able to win over many of the right wing troll acolytes. A corollary to the Rebel could be seen in Huffington Post. It was established by Ariana Huffington, whose academic background was economics at Cambridge, but who is a world leader in internet journalism.

      A lot of the Sun Media fans are simply Canadians who have tried to get answers out of political representatives, and have gotten stonewalled. I and many others, have gone to party websites only to be besieged by tons of donation requests – and when questions are asked on the website, it is invariably either ignored or a deflective, irresponsible canned answer is given. The NDP errs when it goes along with the corporatization hacks who are involved with the mechanics of political campaigns.

      The NDP will have the chance to prevail over the right wing ignoramus forces – if and only if – it is able to organize in support of things that restore the economic and social well-being of communities – and enable citizens to be a part of the political process, in a spirit of solidarity with public interest goals.

      I am in the process of organizing a pharmaceutical worker co-op with the active involvement of activists who are supporters of the Mondragon/United Steelworkers social economy project. If Labour Councils in Idaho, Washington, BC and Alberta are able to provide the foundations for this co-op, and if it is structured under the Multi-Stakeholder provisions of the Alberta Co-op Act, then there will be an example of a company that is capable of putting the advancement of the sciences ahead of hoarding and extorting, based on dated patents, as in the Shkreli and Valeant fiascos of last year.

      A social economy form of incorporation such as this pharmacology worker co-op will also enable the voices of patients to organize and take an equity position in the company. This would enable real patient input into the design and priorities of clinical trials.

      The Alberta NDP could demonstrate the value to the lives of Albertans, what can accrue from being involved in the realization of social economy goals. This may be the only feasible way to get over the histrionics of the Rebel.

  3. David, as you say, they [government] should have known better. Open press conferences up to everyone (of course with proper security checks). The press gallery will complain about the metal detectors. Tell them it’s the price of free speech. And always remember the words of George Bernard Shaw. “Never wrestle with pigs. You both get dirty and the pig likes it.”

  4. So it really was online bloggers, etc., they weren’t allowing in? I thought they kept Gunn Reid out for being a security threat. She thinks it’s cute to call the PM’s father a “bitch” and to write her desire to take down NDP candidates and smite whole countries and to call herself Shotgun Sheila. I wouldn’t let her go near any government members.

  5. you can not pick and choose David, I don’t think your a journalist at all, just some guy that rants on the internet, for all I know in his mommy’s basement,and every now and then goes to work, when his parents allowance runs out. Unless you get a real journalist job say with CTV the I’ll believe that you are a journalist, hurts doesn’t it David

      1. Thanks, Lars. Larry’s answer is an interesting one, a specimen of a type I have most often received from gun nuts, for some reason. I think it’s supposed to make me feel unworthy and unsure of my career prospects if I don’t shut up. Well, yes, I do sometimes rant on the Internet, but not in mommy’s basement, and I don’t particularly worry about my allowance running out because I’m frickin’ 64 years old. I’ve had a very nice career as a journalist, thank you very much. Nevertheless, if readers would like to assure the continuation of my allowance, they are encouraged to click on the PayPal button and make a donation.

        1. David we love. Keep doing what you do. There is no one else in Alberta that comes close. I do follow Daveberta, but it’s not nearly as informative or entertaining.

          Thank you for doing what you do.

        2. Larry’s complaint is one more example of how our schools are unable to educate some students in the basic rules of grammar and sentence structure. David says the firearm lovers display a similar lack of communication skills. Both Larry and the gun types ought to familiarize themselves with punctuation and spelling, thereby giving more credence, maybe, to their talking points.

  6. NDP needs to keep RACIST Rebel media out of the legislature media scrums. They don’t need Rebel Media running around in that building causing havoc !

    Rebel media has too many followers that Goebbel up the Propaganda !

    1. And because of this NDP decision she handed Ezra a platform to rant louder on. This has made international headlines. Lit up FB and twitter all day yesterday. His following just had its chance to explode and it will. Just like he planned.

    2. Good for Ezra. Rebel is about the ONLY source for serious criticism of the left-leaning governments that have taken over the country. The media generally is supportive of the leftist agenda. Without Rebel providing some perspective, we risk not having freedom of the press in Canada. If you are only interested in one view on the issues, you may as well have state controlled media. There is little difference between the views presented on CBC, CTV, and Global. Ditto for the major newspapers. The exception there is Sun. You do not have to agree with Ezra, but it is useful to know what he has to say.

  7. In Alberta, the Wild Rose Party deals with media they don’t like by ignoring their questions in press conferences. Finance critic Derek Fildebrandt ignored Globe and Mail reporter Carrie Tait’s question after he didn’t appreciate her accurate reporting of his idiotic comments.
    The Alberta NDP are going down an even more seriously flawed road – that of deciding who are media and who are not. You don’t deal with cranks like Levant & Company by banning them, even though they failed to follow the rules twice and not register for news conferences. Deal with them directly, openly and with wit. Banning them gives them another “issue,” and the attention Ezra so desperately desires.
    This decision must be reversed immediately.

  8. Sheila Gunn Reid’s book “The Destroyers” has spent 11 days in the top 100 on Amazon. When I looked this morning it was at number 3. The only reason I bring this up is that there is obviously some public support for her viewpoint. The Alberta NDP government has been dealt a losing economic hand and the way they are shuffling the deck isn’t helping. Their dust up with Ezra only helped Ezra.

    1. its quite possible they did one of those things where they buy 300 copies themselves, and get all their cronies to do the same, therefore they get to a high spot on the amazon list. I don’t buy it that lots of ppl agree with these bigots.

      1. Yeah, rightwing climate change deniers have been freeping book reviews on Amazon since Donna Laframboise published a denier book some years ago Probably Levant games it every way he can.

    2. It’s actually very easy to game the Amazon rating system. About an hour of research can reveal how it is done by pseudo writers. I doubt that in this case it is a legitimate rating.

  9. There is ZERO way to justify trying to shut down freedom of expression, press or speech. Those are some of the core foundations of freedoms in this country. toy may not like what someone has to say but that right is guaranteed to us no matter what. This is a poor reflection on the Notley government in an attempt to do damage control. They are in a position at the moment where everything is being criticized and rightfully so. Time to step up your game Ms. Notley and look after the needs of your province! On a scathing side note, welcome to real politics. Time to take the good with the bad!

    1. This entire article starts out explaining why ‘free speech’ is not the actual issue here . The point being that there are many many people who want to be admitted to press gallery, who are not actual media. Can I go and sit in on the govs press conferences in order to post my little version of ‘news’ up on you tube? I think not

      1. Let’s get real here. These “Rebel” people were not banned from the legislature for pulling fire alarms and throwing snowballs. They were banned because of their political point of view. Any suggestion otherwise is disingenuous. This was a battle the NDP could not win against a loud-mouth who loves a good public spat.

  10. Let’s all thank goodness for public proceedings where all are allowed access …

    Such as Ezra Levant’s public Law Society of Alberta hearing starting Feb 29 in Calgary.

    Hopefully reporters/media folks of all stripes will attend and report back on what they see & hear …

  11. Couldn’t believe it when I saw the report this morning. Ezrant manages to crawl out from under every collapsed institution he’s written for like the proverbial zombie. How many is it now? I’ve lost count.

    I hope the Notley government has reserved the right to sue him for libel, slander and the deliberate spreading of misinformation which may cause serious damage to the public.

    Does he subscribe to a journalist’s code of ethics? (Just kidding. I almost did myself serious damage laughing at the thought.)

  12. Absolutely perfect! Notley’s Bat phone must have been ringing off the hook for the NDP to fold their tent and run so fast. Their incompetence is glaring. I sat through a propaganda laden yawnfest put on by the energy minister – whats her name, the blubbering one who claimed she was bullied by people she was busy bullying? Anyway as i was nodding I glanced around at my fellow business owners and saw the same disinterest in their faces. No one wants to invest the time to get to know these people as we all know they are a one and done error that will be corrected at the next election. There was one lame question and most never even woke up when she left. I have attended a lot of these functions over the past 30 years and I have never seen such stunning disinterest.

      1. Disinterest in the bumbling blubbering boob should never be taken for disinterest in the future election. There was plenty of knife sharpening and election planning going on at the event. I must say it is good to see my peers so invigorated with still 3 years to go. The money is already sloshing around in the right wing war chests and the machines are starting to gear up.

  13. The Notley government has backed down on this, with a refreshing statement that “we made a mistake”, in circumstances that in the past would have been accompanied by “mistakes were made”.

    Once again, though, they messed this up. There is no way they should have given Levant ammo like this. However loose a cannon he is, he can still shoot off his oral orifice, drowning out all reasoned discourse. That said, security considerations among others make it necessary that there be some sort of objective process for determining who is “media” for the purposes of deciding on access to media lookups and other closed events. On the other hand, it is unhealthy to leave this to either politicians or the bureaucracy. Perhaps this needs to be handed to the Leg. Press Gallery, just as is done in Ottawa.

  14. It is all so confusing these days! Who is a journalist and who is not? Previously, Levant testified in court that he was not a journalist, but now seems to want to attend press conferences. It seems somewhat contradictory. Perhaps he is just as confused as the rest of us too.

    Personally, I think he is sort of trying to be a journalist, although perhaps not a very good one. Therefore, If he really wants to spend his days hanging around government press conferences, I suppose he should be able to until we come up with a better solution. However, I do think some independent body, not the government, should ultimately decide who is a journalist or not.

    Perhaps the press gallery can come up with a membership application form for bloggers and they can decide whether they want to accredit him as a member or not. Perhaps they can also charge some sort of membership fee to help dissuade those who are really not serious that could be donated to charity or go towards the members Christmas party.

  15. I ask this in all seriousness who is Sheila Gunn Reid? I’ve heard of Ezra for years but it seems like she just appeared out of nowhere about a year ago. Do people who follow this stuff more closely know from whence she came?

  16. Ezra Levant saying he’s not a journalistic is in the same vein as Jean Chretien saying that he wasn’t a lawyer. Convenient hypocrisy. Perhaps he should clarify that he is merely not a good journalist.

    1. Do you hear yourself? You are comparing a sleaze merchant and hate monger poser to a real Prime Minister of Canada?

      Chretien never said he was not a lawyer. I challenge you to find that statement for the record. If you can’t than obviously you are making it up.

      1. “When Chrétien finally did call a press conference about the Oka crisis on September 23, 1990, he declared that he could not answer certain questions about First Nations land claims because “I’m not a lawyer”, which prompted widespread ridicule as Chrétien had been a member of the Quebec Bar Association since 1958.”

        http://www.worldlibrary.org/articles/jean_chr%C3%A9tien

        http://bitesizecanada.org/wp/prime-ministers/jean-chretien/

        And featured in the book:

        Divided Loyalties: The Liberal Party of Canada, 1984-2008
        By Brooke Jeffrey

        It was one of his more brazen, obviously false statements that as per character he never backed down from. In that specific way, he and Ezra do share some similarities.

  17. I’m all for freedom of the press and don’t believe the government should have the say in deciding who is and who is not a ‘reporter’. In my opinion anyone acting on behalf of a news media of what ever format be it a tabloid, newspaper, whatever, is in de facto a reporter…

    In my opinion the ‘rebels’ reporters had governed themselves in a professional manner and in no way had attempted to ‘disrupt’ or ‘impair’ Rachel Notley’s government from its actions, as such it was a grave mistake for Notley to impose a ban on the reporters.

    If Notley doesn’t like what the ‘Rebel’ news media says, why doesn’t she set up an interview with Ezra Levant… and make him look like a fool ?

  18. Ezra is one of the greatest freedom fighters of our time, fighting against human rights commissions, socialism, communism, and saying it like it is. Ezra should be our Premier!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.