Literally millions of Canadians have read the newspapers or seen coverage of the cases of Muhammed Mahjoub, a suspected terrorist being held indefinitely on a secret service security certificate, and Maher Arar, also suspected of having terrorist connections.
While Canadian media such as the CBC and the Canadian Press have provided ample opportunities for Maher Arar and Muhammed Mahjoub and supporters to air their grievances with Canadian government, in particular the RCMP and CSIS, major Canadian media have provided much less time and space for government representatives to offer their rebuttals and explanations as to the background for their actions. Mr Gunnar K. A. Njalsson, a Quebec government policy analyst and publishing executive, used to sifting through myriads of documents and comparing sources, is one citizen who has reacted to what he sees as the inferior handling of these cases by the CBC and the Canadian Press ( CP ). After having noticed that supporters of hunger striking terrorist suspect Mahjoub were allowed ample coverage while government officials were allowed little or no opportunity to respond to the allegations, Mr Njalsson reacted by pointing these and other irregularities out to editors at the CP and the CBC.
"There was no response from any of these editors or journalists and then came the publication of the Toope Fact Finding Report in the Arar case. In the case of this Arar Commission report where Maher Arar and several other persons who claim having been tortured in Syria were interviewed, the CBC, CP and other Canadian media paid no attention to the nature of the report as only taking a stance on the probability of some truth to these claims. It also stated that one organization and a witness had clearly embellished and exaggerated their accounts. In addition, it stated that none of those interviewed had been under oath and that Arar and several others had communicated with each other prior to the interviews. These are important facts!" Njalsson explains.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission ( CRTC ), a federal watchdog body for broadcasting as well as the volunteer organization Canadian Journalists for Free Expression ( CJFE ) were contacted by Njalsson who described his experience with these bodies as very alarming. "The CRTC, which is a federal body, never confirmed or responded to our complaint which was sent twice. CJFE was contacted numerous times, but after having examined their website and reviewed the types of issues they have become involved with in the past, I quickly understood that my issue did not position very well within the political spectrum of this organization. But these complaints have absolutely nothing to do with left- or right-wing politics or with this or that ideology; the issues here are good journalism and balanced, honest reporting" says Gunnar K. A. Njalsson who has now requested a federal audit of the CRTC's handling of complaints. In addition, he has been in contact with several parliamentarian groups to request action to address growing concerns with poor journalism and widen the participation in watchdog bodies to include a significant group of auditors who are not journalists.
What began as a series of e-mails to editors at the CBC and the CP has now grown into an outright campaign to ensure journalists are aware that freedom of the press also implies responsibilities. "Perhaps the most important of these responsibilities are accountability to the public for what they report, willingness to correct errors, letting each party be heard and ultimately the courage on the part of certain journalists to back away from a story if they are too emotionally or politically involved in the subject matter. Alarmingly, each of these aspects appears to be missing in connection with my experiences with the CBC and the Canadian Press." Njalsson concludes.
The CRTC and CJFE were advised of issues in this article but declined to respond.