Letter sent to members on January 8, 2021 by CAJ President, Brent Jolly.
Wednesday’s infamous events brought into focus the critical work journalists perform each and every single day around the world, in times of both peace and conflict. It is a journalist’s duty to seek and report the truth, bear witness, and explain complex events so that society can make informed choices.
Regrettably, we have been reminded that a free press is not something we can continually take for granted. It’s something we must continue to defend in the face of manufactured outrage and vitriolic epithets that seek to undermine our collective credibility.
Journalists are not so-called ‘Enemies of the People’. We are agents who weave together the fabric of our democracy through sobering images, candid questions, and honest words.
At the same time, if we are truly being honest with ourselves, journalism’s flaws have become distressingly clear. Whether it’s our failure to confront issues of race and inequality or our inability to tackle the volumes of online mis/disinformation, we can no longer abdicate responsibility for the consequences of decisions we make in our newsrooms. We cannot assume that our existence, as a stronghold of democracy, is guaranteed.
These flaws have real-world consequences. The storming of the U.S. Capitol only serves as our most recent memory. As we have learned time and again, we are not immune to this infodemic in Canada. The 2019 Quebec mosque shooting, or the rise of far-right movements across the country – fuelled by hate, distrust, and a fragmented factual foundation – are all symptoms of the same disease.
We saw this all too clearly on Wednesday. While insurgents stormed Capitol Hill, inscribing ‘murder the media’ on walls or making nooses out of camera cords, CBC photographer Ben Nelms was sucker-punched while covering a small rally of Trump supporters in Vancouver.
Said Nelms to the Vancouver Sun: “(I) was just taking photos of the group and people – and one of the men charged me after seeing I was a journalist.”
It’s true that a journalist never wants to be the focus of their story. However, the work of journalists needs to be more widely celebrated and simultaneously scrutinized.
I hope you will join the CAJ in sending a huge ‘thank you’ to all the brave journalists who repeatedly demonstrate courage and professionalism in the line of duty. I hope you will also join us in reevaluating the mechanics of our profession and working with the CAJ to make journalism better, more equitable, accurate, fair and constructive.
Together, we can ensure that the truth will always win.