Every year, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression holds a gala, usually in Toronto.
Invariably, the keynote speaker is a brave foreign journalist being feted for courageously opposing intimidation and censorship by a thuggish regime or politicians. Standing ovations are the order of the evening. For one night, at least, Toronto's media intelligentsia congratulate themselves on taking a stand against press censorship and draconian, anti-democratic acts of intimidation.
This brings me to Rob Ford's press availability at City Hall Monday, June 30, where the mayor-in-name-tag-only was recorded by the media after his perfunctory stint in rehab.
Their servile response to the Ford-imposed conditions for getting into Monday's unveiling of the same old Robbie is instructive.
The Fords not only effectively barred several news organizations, including NOW Magazine, from atttending an event held on publicly owned property. They also banned questions. The mayor would only be reading from a prepared statement.
In other words, the Fords engineered a question-free, (mostly) invite-only infomercial.
And what was the reaction of many of the same Toronto media titans who applaud their colleagues in distant lands who've paid dearly - sometimes with their lives - for having taken a principled stand against censorship? They capitulated, just as the Fords knew they would.
Oh, they may have wrung their hands briefly and had reporters pen stories about how the dastardly Ford brothers had once again shown their contempt. Meanwhile, they were ordering their charges to secure a good spot to photograph, broadcast or tweet Ford's infomercial.
The predictable retort from the aforementioned editors to my admittedly uncharitable construct is no doubt something like: "We have to go because he's the mayor and because we're your eyes and ears."
Let me deconstruct this self-serving nonsense.
First, the media didn't have to go to Ford's presser. Indeed, news organizations should boycott events where politicians impose unacceptable conditions, especially the banning of questions. This effectively renders journalists stenographers who dutifully note and repeat what the politician says, giving their ventriloquism the imprimatur of "news."
Second, most readers have no interest in watching or listening to Rob Ford lie again. The decision of news organizations to acquiesce to his humiliating, soul-draining conditions isn't motivated by any impulse to inform the public, but by the prospect that this unpredictable stain on Toronto's reputation might say or do something wonderfully/terribly bad.
This is what I call the NASCAR approach to covering Ford: watch him do the same thing over and over again, hoping he obliges your thirst for a crash. No one seriously expects him to resign or get arrested during his infomercial, do they?
Why didn't news media do the honourable thing and say loud and clear, "If you ban our colleagues and take no questions, we're not interested in attending your infomercial, Mayor Ford." Why is that so difficult?
The principles that prompt news organizations to celebrate the courage of their colleagues in the face of censorship abroad are, in fact, rather malleable here at home. In the Ford context, banned colleagues are just the price media organizations are prepared to pay to listen to the Fords.
It's time for this city's media to take a meaningful stand against two thuggish politicians. It's time to say no to blatant acts of censorship orchestrated by the Ford brothers. Regrettably, I'm well aware that my call will go unheeded.