Sackville councillors debate who should be recognized as a journalist covering town council

Councillor Sabine Dietz

Sackville councillors debated a proposed addition to a town bylaw Tuesday night that defines the “press” as “an individual reporting on behalf of an accredited media outlet including print, radio and television.”

The definition says that those who write for “personal, non-commercial or enthusiast websites do not qualify as accredited media.”

“When I saw this, it reminded me of the Conservative years in Ottawa when the then prime minister determined what the press was,” said Councillor Sabine Dietz referring to Stephen Harper’s wide-ranging restrictions on journalists who covered his government.

“I feel highly uncomfortable with that approach to limiting who is defined as having access to politicians etc. or receiving information at a certain time,” she added.

“Nowadays press, media includes the entirely online news outlets, bloggers, all of that. That’s what media is nowadays,” Dietz said after suggesting that the proposed definition be dropped from the bylaw respecting the procedure and organization of town council.

Councillor Bill Evans

Councillor Bill Evans said he supported dropping the new definition because what he called “alternative media” are playing an increasingly vital role in making the public aware of what’s going on.

“In Sackville, with the loss of our traditional newspaper, we’ve had a vacuum, so I would say that our problem isn’t too much media, it’s not enough,” Evans added.

In an apparent reference to The New Wark Times, he said he welcomed alternative media coverage.

“It doesn’t mean I always like it or agree with it, but I think it’s hugely important and the more the better as far as I’m concerned,” he added.

“There could be legitimate reasons on how we acknowledge that or grant privileges to certain individuals so I’m open to this discussion, but I don’t want to do anything that limits, let’s just call it, alternative media,” Evans concluded.

Press privileges

CAO Jamie Burke responded that the “press” needs to be defined in the bylaw because reporters get to go first during council’s public question periods and the town clerk has now begun sending council documents to the media at 4 p.m. on the day of special council meetings.

That means that journalists will have the privilege of receiving the background documents before the public sees them.

CAO Jamie Burke

Burke said the town has a good relationship with Warktimes as well as traditional media outlets, but staff felt it was important to define the press in case of future trouble.

“If we get somebody who thinks they are the press and they could have a belief system that is fundamentally different to our strategic plan and our community beliefs, we don’t want to be treating them the same as we’re treating the CBC or CHMA or the Times & Transcript.”

Later, during the public question period, Burke suggested the bylaw definition of “press” would give council more control.

“If there was an individual, maybe it’s a blogger who’s using racist, sexist and other commentary as part of the regular reporting, how do we have the ability to push back a little bit?” he asked.

“Or if somebody wasn’t showing professionalism or respect with the way our meetings are conducted or how they’re respecting individual staff members or members of council.”

Earlier in the meeting, Councillor Michael Tower said the definition of “press” excluded Warktimes which, he said, is now serving as the town’s online newspaper.

He added that if problems arise in future, council could deal with them then.

“I just find it restrictive,” Tower said. “It opens the door so that we can slam it on somebody because we don’t like what they might have published or put on the Internet.”

Councillor Ken Hicks

Councillor Ken Hicks disagreed saying he saw value in the new definition of “press.”

“The difference between [an] accredited media outlet in my understanding and let’s say, a regular blogger is that the accredited person that’s reporting on behalf of the media, they have someone overtop of them that they report to, an editor or something like that,” he said.

“Where a blogger reports to themselves, so there’s considerably less accountability.”

Hicks added that he’s not saying bloggers shouldn’t be able to report on town council.

“Of course, there’s tremendous value in that, but I think it’s important that we have a guideline like this in place so that it’s not the Wild West in here, that there is rules, there is procedures to follow.”

In the end, council agreed to consider the definition of “press” as well as other changes to the organization and procedures bylaw again in September.

Here is the proposed definition: “Press” means an individual reporting on behalf of an accredited media outlet including print, radio, and television medium. (Personal, non-commercial or enthusiast websites do not qualify as accredited media.)

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15 Responses to Sackville councillors debate who should be recognized as a journalist covering town council

  1. patrick allaby says:

    This is pretty horrifying to read! The press’s role is to hold government accountable. Government has no role saying who is or isn’t press.

  2. Virgil Hammock says:

    Bruce, you are the ‘press’ in this town.

  3. Erna Ricciuto says:

    Bruce, I rely on your reporting to find out what is happening in Sackville and at Town Council meetings but I also like to read some of the reporting from others who attend and post on some of the facebook groups. I don’t think there should be a bylaw preventing them from doing that. I am impressed with people from the community that take the time to attend or listen to the Town Council meetings.

  4. Geoff Martin says:

    To Town staff, where this seems to be coming from: In the interests of being forward looking, why don’t you declare that the only legitimate media outlet is the Sackville Tribune-Post!

  5. Les Hicks says:

    I am happy to read that Councillors Dietz, Evans, and Tower expressed concern and reservations about the proposed by-law that would give Council the ability to define who is and who isn’t a member of the ‘press’.

    Councillor Dietz’s comparison of the proposed by-law to Harper’s past attempts to muzzle the press should serve as a warning to the other Councillors and Sackville residents of the risk of limiting access to information that such a by-law could present.

    Councilllor Hicks’ comment that an ‘accredited’ person has editors who control what they report on, and CAO Burke’s mention of The Times and Transcript as a recognized traditional media outlet, brings to mind the problem with the “mainstream’ media outlets”, many of which, like the Times and Transcript, are owned by multinational corporations like the Irving Corporation, which exert control over their journalists as to what they can report on and what slant the reporting takes. Surely an independent journalist would be desirable to these corporate controlled entities.

    In reference to CAO Burke’s comment ““If there was an individual, maybe it’s a blogger who’s using racist, sexist and other commentary as part of the regular reporting, how do we have the ability to push back a little bit?” – that is a freedom of speech issue that has been debated ad infinitum in terms of what is the best approach to deal with those people who use ‘hate speech’ or promote falsehoods or violence in their writings or broadcasts. One approach that has been considered to be effective without inhibiting freedom of speech is to publicly counter the comments made by these individuals with facts that point out the obvious fallacies in the comments that they presented. I think that this would be a much better approach than to give Town Council the ability to define who or who isn’t allowed to pose questions relating to Council business.

    • Jocelyn says:

      I totally agree with this statement but would like to add that those on the council should be up to date on regulations regarding the media, social or otherwise. Section 319: Inciting or promoting hatred
      Section 319(1): Publicly inciting hatred—makes it an offence to communicate statements in a public place which incite hatred against an identifiable group, where it is likely to lead to a breach of the peace.
      Seriously, councillors should be more informed. I just shake my head.

      • The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom fails to define what “hate speech” is, ambiguous nominalism. Regulations can be changed arbitrarily and mid-stream they are not guaranteed rights.

        Voluntary acceptance by simple suggestions, regulations. Can lead to the justification for the sensation of trampling on a helpless enemy and can be rather intoxicating.

        Ill-treatment and seek to abuse. For example, imposing intent on other’s they do not have to destroy their reputation by publically shaming them. A mere challenge does not constitute hate speech nor harassment. Imagined wrongdoing is not good it is likely to lead to “Menticide” a breach of democracy.

        For the record “The Town of Sackville” is not “A State within A-State” like the military. So they don’t get a say in what constitutes “freedom of the press” nor the term “press” via a bylaw if they choose to do so. Regardless of the pretext of ambiguous nominalism terms or terminology
        they justify it under, intoxicating as it may be.

        The ribbons, the flags raising them or lowering them the pins and the hashtags. Maybe we should be wearing a ribbon raising awareness about the growing epidemic about raising awareness?

        I just shake my head.

  6. In 2009 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that journalism is no longer the sole domain of professionals — https://jarche.com/2017/09/our-collective-learnscape/

  7. Rob LeBlanc says:

    A solution in search of a problem, and something that I’m sure made perfect sense to Mr. Burke…that is before he said it out loud and in public. It would probably be best for him and the Town if Council were to forget that this discussion even took place.

  8. Marika says:

    It’s always nice to see Evans on the right side of an issue, for a change.

    Maybe the petition that got started about him and the “wife-swapping” comment has caused him to become less dictatorial? Whatever the reason is, I hope it lasts.

    As for Jamie Burke, his line is all the MORE outrageous given that he’s not even an elected official.
    Who runs this town, anyway?

    These problems have happened elsewhere, for example to Rebel Media:

    https://www.rebelnews.com/alberta_press_gallery_lawsuit_competition_bureau_tyler_dawson_postmedia

    https://www.rebelnews.com/canadian_association_of_journalists_censorship_ban_rebel_news_alberta_press_gallery

    and so Wark Times is in good company.

    The Town of Sackville seems to want to find itself on the wrong end of a constitutional case.

  9. Joanne MacPherson says:

    It is funny how society can conclude quite easily that nobody should be able to pass themselves off as a police officer or a doctor but we are not sure there needs to be a similar standard imposed on journalists. There should be. We need to ensure all publishers are fair, accurate and balanced. Political activists need not apply. I would like to see all levels of government determine who is accredited media and then apply the standard, controlling where ads can be placed, who gets in for interviews, etc. Bruce is a retired journalist, I am sure he meets whatever standard exists and if not, it is probably something easy like being a registered business.

    • Les Hicks says:

      So you think all mainstream news outlets and publishers today are fair, balanced, and accurate? Have you read about the Irvings’ monopoly on printed news in New Brunswick? How about all of the mainstream news media outlets whose output is controlled by the multinational corporations that own them? Have you heard of Rupert Murdoch and Fox News? And you want the governments to determine who can and cannot ask questions? In other words, you want to live in a totalitarian state. No thank you.

  10. Pat Kipping says:

    Bruce Wark an “enthusiast” ?!? If it wasn’t so outrageous I’d be laughing. He’s an award-winning journalist with a career across Canada. He also held the esteemed MacLeans Chair in Journalism Ethics at the University of King’s College for several years. Sackville citizens are lucky he’s bringing his wit, experience and insight to your town affairs.

  11. The Town of Sackville nor Mount Allison University is not “A State within A-State” like the military is, but sure do act like it sometimes. So it is not up to them to decide such matters of what constitutes “freedom of the press”. So no “The Town of Sackville” simply has no jurisdiction to define the definition of the word nor the term “press” via a bylaw, nothing more than ambiguous nominalism it would not be legally binding anyway.

    No one has the right to impose intent on other human beings done through mob rule SJWs a very vocal minority. This is about dogmatic self-righteous individuals done under the pretext of what is termed “Noble Cause Corruption” to protect us from our own good, de-platforming culture. My fault I called them SJWs that might get them triggered. I think they preferred to be called “Progressives” even though their actions are in reality regressive.

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