Letter to the Editor: Universality of free expression

I am writing to clarify some issues surrounding the New Brunswick Media Co-op and the recent event held at St. Thomas University, which has been reported in these pages and in the student media. I also want to comment on the subsequent criticism of the way our students reported the event.

First, to tell the short version of the back story, the Media Co-op and some STU faculty members recently organized a public forum about activist journalism and the shale gas protests near Rexton, N.B. No one from the journalism program at STU was invited to participate. I decided to attend. The event was mainly a polemic against so-called mainstream, corporate journalism, during which two of the panelists made remarks about me in particular and one of the panelists suggested I should, “Go back to bed.” I had no opportunity to respond, other than to say a few words during the question and answer session. The panelist was reacting to some comments I had made a while back on CBC Radio during a panel discussion about journalism, during which I said that in my view journalism requires that writers maintain some independence from the causes about which they write.

I also said that in my experience in Canada, journalists are not arrested for committing acts of journalism. There was a lot said that evening, but the student reporters at the event decided to report on this exchange involving me. Now they are being criticized by the organizers of the event and panelists for doing bad journalism, and expressing in their reporting the middle-class anxieties of Anglophone New Brunswickers.

Our students are smart, independent thinkers who are learning to be good storytellers and reporters and working hard at the craft. I’m pleased that they can recognize an ideological echo chamber when they encounter one. Our students are a diverse lot: French and English, First Nations, women and men, rural and urban, young and mature students, Canadians and international students. We also have a respectful learning environment and insist on it.

I have no disagreement with the Media Co-op or any of its writers. I am supportive of a diversity of views, and I have said that one of the gifts of the information age is that it opens doors for many narratives to be published. I may not want to call some of what is published journalism, but that’s my right. What I have a hard time understanding is how this group that professes to be a crusader for free expression, is intolerant of those who disagree with its points of view. And while it expresses contempt for most hard working journalists, it demands that its writers be called by the same name.

I would never presume to tell the NB Media Co-op what to write, nor would I would suggest I know better what other faculties should teach in their classes at STU. I would appreciate it if the organizers of this event and their comrades would afford us the same courtesy.

Philip Lee

Professor, Chair Journalism and Communications

St. Thomas University

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