By: KIRSTEN FENN
Following what the United Nations called the deadliest year on record for journalists around the world, Ottawa’s World Press Freedom Day luncheon, held on May 3, recognized the importance of protecting press freedom at home and abroad.
Organized annually by the Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom (CCWPF), the luncheon is an occasion to evaluate the state of press freedom around the world and commemorate journalists who risk their lives in its pursuit.
Glen McGregor of the Ottawa Citizen and Stephen Maher of Postmedia News were honoured at the event with the 15th annual Canadian World Press Freedom Award for their investigative reporting into the “robo-calls” scandal that resulted from the 2011 federal elections.
The two reporters faced a series of personal attacks after breaking the story in 2012.
While journalists in Canada do not face the same challenges as journalists in Mexico or Syria, said Maher, threats to press freedom in Canada are real and should be recognized.
Keynote speaker Charles Sennott, a long-time foreign correspondent for the Boston Globe and founding editor of Global Post, complimented the day’s theme with a discussion about “Ground Truth in a Digital Age.”
Sennott pointed out the value of eye-witness reporting to understanding what happens around the world, and to upholding the values of press freedom.
While we live in a technological age full of complex information, Sennott said, “we can’t make sense of it if we don’t have that read from the ground – if we don’t have journalists on the ground who, every day, get us that ground truth.”
As foreign bureaus continue to disappear at news publications across the U.S. and Canada, Sennott said, keeping reporters in other countries becomes a challenge. But without them, he said, we lose access to the kind of truth that ground reporting uncovers.
With correspondents in over 57 countries, Sennott explained his hope that Global Post will be a model for effective foreign reporting. Journalists for the publication live in foreign countries, speak the languages, and understand the culture, Sennott said.
“If we’re going to have journalists go out there every day, whether that’s on a local level … or correspondents in Syria, we have to have the resources for them to do the work that matters.”
Otherwise, he said, they end up like James Foley, a freelance videographer for Global Post who was kidnapped on Thanksgiving Day and has not been heard of since.
“World Press Freedom Day is a day to really think about James and all of those journalists – nearly 300 around the world – who are being held captive right now for the work they did,” Sennott said.
“People who are detained, people who put their lives on the line to go out and get the ground truth, and who this day is about.”