July 30, 2008
POLICE POSING AS REPORTERS ERODES PRESS FREEDOM, SAYS CJFE
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) and other media
organisations are concerned about an undercover police tactic that puts
officers at the scene in the guise of journalists.
Last week, local reports in Canada revealed that an Ontario police officer
had masqueraded as a reporter to get close to Mohawk Indians who blockaded
a highway as part of an Aboriginal Day of Protest in 2007.
In sworn testimony given as part of Mohawk protester Shawn Brant's trial,
the officer, Steve Martell, said there are no real guidelines for
undercover officers as to what roles they can or cannot play.
CJFE says the practice of impersonating journalists is "underhanded". Not
only does it threaten journalists' safety and their ability to do their
job, it also erodes freedom of the press in Canada - it makes it harder
for journalists to gather and report the news and compromises the media's
position as an independent party, says CJFE.
As Mary Agnes Welch of the Canadian Association of Journalists put it, "If
someone at an anti-globalisation protest, a gang meeting or a hockey riot
looks at the woman with a spiral notebook in her hand and wonders if that
journalist is really a cop, they'll never speak to a reporter again.
"That dries up access to information the public needs to understand the
nuance and depth of an issue, vital balance that catapults a story beyond
what's said by officialdom at well-choreographed press conferences."
It isn't the first time police have used this ploy. The day before an
Ontario Provincial Police sniper killed native rights activist Dudley
George at Ipperwash Provincial Park in 1995, OPP officers were caught on
video pretending to be working for a fictitious media outlet. CJFE points
out that when the tape came to light in 2004, the OPP promised to"revisit" the tactic.
CAJ remembers the incident last year when a Vancouver police officer posed
as a reporter from a free daily to lure anti-poverty protester David
Cunningham to a meeting, where Cunningham was arrested. A couple of years
earlier, RCMP posed as a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)
documentary crew to track down, interview and then arrest escaped convict
John Bjornstrom. "And those are just the ones we know about," says Welch.
Nor is the practice confined to Canada's borders. Last week, the Colombia
Defence Minister acknowledged that a soldier from the Colombian Army
pretended to be a cameraman for the international television station
Telesur during the recent rescue operation of 15 people held by the
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). But he also said the use of
Telesur's logo was "an insignificant detail given the magnitude of the
IFEX member in Colombia the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP) said the
impersonation intensifies the already vulnerable position of journalists
in Colombia and implies a refusal to recognise that, in armed conflicts,
journalists have the status of civilians. The impersonation "stigmatises
the press' role covering the armed conflict, and in particular, endangers
Telesur international television station's journalists."
In Canada, the cops can't even make the argument that impersonating a
reporter was the only way to save a life, says CAJ. "It amounts to little
more than laziness, ham-handed attempts to trade on the trust people place
in journalists instead of doing some basic police work."
CJFE, as well as CAJ and the CBC, has called on the Minister responsible
for the Ontario police to step in and direct the force to end the
practice. "Surely, there are enough police resources and proven
investigative procedures available that misrepresentation and underhanded
tactics such as these do not have to be used," says CJFE.
Visit these links:
- CJFE: http://tinyurl.com/5b6rds
- FLIP: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/95704/
- CAJ via J-Source.ca: http://tinyurl.com/6s9fvy