It’s a funny thing, freedom of press. It’s one of those fine lines that can easily become blurred and can be taken advantage of when a journalist finds him or herself in muddy waters.
What exactly is freedom of press and how does it protect journalist values without ignoring the law?
In October 2016 Nalcor got a court order to arrest land protectors occupying the Muskrat Falls site. Justin Brake, editor of The Independent, who had filmed the occupation, was also named in that court order.
In the case of Brake, the freedom of press is clearly presented as a lawful and justifiable action in which a journalist was trying to present the story at hand and give a live unveiling of the action that took place. This isn’t a story, but rather a realistic view inside the walls of a peaceful occupation of Nalcor, that directly affects all the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. This was important and vital news coverage.
When it comes to breaking the law, you have to consider the purpose of an individual’s action and whether or not it had unlawful intend. Brake had an unbiased footstep into Nalcor’s doorway and his purpose was to give the rest of us some insight. He has been documenting the land protector’s trials and tribulations for many months and suddenly the story was unfolding but out of his reach. He decided it was his job as a journalist to film the occupation – an occupation that affected everyone in this province.
It’s an understanding that a journalist’s rights will be protected when covering vital stories and that is exactly what Brake was doing. If he wasn’t there, the residents of our province would not have a very important part of history accurately documented. In fact, we would likely get Nalcor’s side of it and never hear or see what the land protectors had experienced.
Brake’s footage clearly provides evidence of a very peaceful walk through Nalcor – his live Facebook video gave us the most real insight to what was happening up North. If he hadn’t been there, a peaceful occupation could have easily been labeled a protest with inaccurate general characteristics given to the land protectors – a common portrayal made by multimedia.
Brake has truly been the only person following the Muskrat Falls land protectors in an honest and altruistic form. Rather than grabbing quotations from business sources and fudging headlines that protect all bodies, Brake has flown to Labrador and met with the people who are directly affected by Nalcor’s Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project.
It’s obvious to say that our province is saturated and monopolized by media platforms that are influenced by the corporate logistics. I don’t fault any news sources for providing information that is accurate, yet hesitant due to head office’s ploys and advertiser’s contributions. We all have to be careful with our words and aware of our surroundings.
But that is why there is a fundamental need for independent media that provides the news from the ground up, without caution nor influence from the suits signing their cheques. It’s not very often we have the ability to get to the grit of the story and ask those who are directly impacted by the issues at hand, without offending those who make the laws and provide the money.
However, we are lucky enough as a province to be provided an advocate to human rights through Brake. His motivation is not through advertisement, he gains no points on his resume if he ignores the politics and deals with the people who are directly affected by the dangers within this province. Therefore, he provides independent media coverage that is important to all residents of Newfoundland and Labrador
Let’s be honest for a moment and consider the land protector’s story – before Brake landed in Labrador did any of us truly have any comprehension of what was actually happening with Muskrat Falls? Did we actually know that this project was directly harming food sources for the residents of Lake Melville? It’s important to know that projects on our shared land are infringing on the human rights of some people within our province, but without Brake, we never would have had a notion of how impactful this project was on the day to day lives of the people of Labrador.
As a journalist, I support Justin Brake without a doubt. He is who journalists intend to be when we first start out- we have a passion to provide gritty stories with sources directly impacted by grand issues, we want to expose the truth and provide the public with information to formulate an adequate opinion. We get lost sometimes, we falter into the pressures of advertisers and a need to pay our own mortgage gets the best of us. Therefore we should stand steadfast by Brake knowing that he represents us all and we are lucky to have The Independent within our province.
This was not a crime. This was journalism.
Photo credit: Janet Cooper