I am writing in regards to a pair of decisions made of late by provincial government bureaucrats who seem committed to cancelling Frank’s Charter-enshrined free press rights.
While it would be difficult to imagine your not being aware of these decisions, the chain of events bears repeating.
At the conclusion of the March 29 Covid-19 teleconference, I called Tina Thibeau, director of media relations for the Province of Nova Scotia, to ask why a Frank reporter had been denied an opportunity to ask a question at any of the previous seven teleconferences.
“Look, I’ve been told where my focus is going to be, and I’ve been told my focus is not on bloggers, or on Frank. I’ll be honest with you,” was her response.
In need of further explanation, I emailed your deputy minister, Laura Lee Langley, on March 30, and copied N.S. Legislature Press Gallery president Jean Laroche, who added his own opinion.
“This unilateral decision by the provincial government to limit who can and cannot take part in these briefings is arbitrary and worrisome,” he wrote.
On March 31, Ms. Langley responded.
Because Covid-19 is not business as usual, and as there is limited time during the press conferences, she wrote that it is the wish of government “to focus on mainstream news organizations with the broadest reach and/or immediate deadline during the live question and answer periods… includ(ing) smaller organizations which reach audiences in rural Nova Scotia.”
For whatever reason, Maclean’s Magazine reporter Stephen Maher didn’t care to obsess over Frank’s mainstream-ness — or lack thereof — when he referred to a recent interview with the Nova Scotia shooter’s father in his May 13 article about the April 18/19 rampage.
“The RCMP may already have had a file on the killer because of threats he made about 10 years ago, according to an interview his father did with Halifax’s Frank magazine,” Maher wrote.
“The killer’s father told Frank an officer went to Portapique to talk to him after he threatened to go to Moncton to kill his parents.”
Pointing to the lack of fair media access shown by Communications Nova Scotia, Hayley McPhail - the Frank reporter who was ignored for seven days on the teleconference line - subsequently filed a complaint with the Nova Scotia Ombudsman, with my full support. On May 5, Ron Crocker from the Ombudsman’s office contacted Ms. McPhail to say work on their end had finished, and the office was simply awaiting a response from government. As of today, we have heard nothing further.
The situation sat dormant until the second week of May, when Communications Nova Scotia escalated its attack on Frank by removing this publication from the CNS media distribution list.
In response to my questions on May 15, Tina Thibeau explained this action in an email.
“Our focus is on using mainstream media with the most reach to get our messages out to Nova Scotians,” she wrote.
In addition, she pointed to the fact that the CNS media distribution list has grown to over 300, and government has “consulted with other provinces” before taking this action.
In closing, she said that although Frank has been removed from the media distribution list, our publication was free to view government news releases online.
In order to underline to you why this is so alarming, I have to point out that the news releases available on the government website do not include the ever-important “note to editors” releases, which are exclusively distributed via the media distribution list, and include notices of the date and time for news conferences, cabinet availabilities, and the like. In other words, while the decision to bar Frank from the Covid newsers in March simply sidelined our publication, this most recent decision has left us in the dark completely. Not only is Frank not allowed to ask questions, Frank is now not allowed to know when or where members of your government will be available to take questions.
Strange behaviour, for a premier who recently declared that he “couldn’t be more open and transparent.”
Treatment of this publication aside, Frank has previously reported that there are fears among Legislature Press Gallery members that post-Covid, your government will attempt to hold on to the level of control over the proceedings you currently enjoy with the heavily moderated teleconference “news conference” format.
In short, many reporters believe that your level of openness and transparency leaves something to be desired.
Premier, we both know you’re no fan of Frank.
But five years after your Premier’s Office staff ordered veteran Frank reporter Cliff Boutilier ejected from the N.S. Liberal Annual General Meeting in Membertou on a minor technicality (no press badge), it would appear that the search for justifications to stymie Frank has ceased.
“There appears to be no… logic in this move to exclude Frank,” Jean Laroche wrote in an email, dated May 20, to Communications Nova Scotia deputy minister Donna MacDonald and provided herein.
“It, instead, appears to be based solely on the fact someone in government has decided they don’t like Frank Magazine and don’t want to afford it the same rights and privileges as other media organizations.”
Widely canvassed opinion is that these latest actions are not only unacceptable and undemocratic, they are an illegal abrogation of Frank’s Charter rights.
Premier, please respond to this letter within seven (7) days with either word of the restoration of Frank’s Charter rights, or an explanation as to why the Charter rights of Frank Magazine have been officially revoked by the province of Nova Scotia.
Barring the reversal of both of these decisions — or a satisfactory reason for your refusal to do so — we reserve the right to pursue any and all legal remedies available.
403-5121 Sackville St.
Halifax, N.S. B3J 1K1