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Right-wing website lashes out at premier after contributors banned from legislature
Published Tuesday, February 16, 2016 5:15PM MST
Last Updated Tuesday, February 16, 2016 6:41PM MST
The Alberta government says it has appointed the former Western Canada bureau chief for the Canadian Press to come up with recommendations on media policy, after online reports said contributors to a right-wing website had been banned from attending media events.
The Rebel contributor and Alberta Bureau Chief Sheila Gunn Reid told CTV News she had attended media events at the Alberta Legislature a number of times, including the release of the budget last fall.
However, last month, she and another contributor to the website were told to leave a government media briefing – an official telling them they weren’t accredited media.
Then, when Gunn Reid said she tried to enter the legislature to cover the meeting between Premier Rachel Notley and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, she was stopped by security.
Later on, The Rebel organization – which was started by former Sun News commentator Ezra Levant – reached out to the province to find out why, they received a letter from lawyer Jason Fung, which said: “Our client’s position remains that your client and those who identify as being connected to your client are not journalists and are not entitled to access media lock-ups or other such events.”
“It’s kind of hard to cover the government of the day that houses our democracy, if I’m not allowed to be there,” Gunn Reid told CTV News. “But at the same time it’s sort of morphed into this fight for freedom of the press and free speech in Alberta.”
Gunn Reid said it sets a dangerous precedent when the province decides who gets to cover them, and how they do it.
Macewan journalism professor Brian Gorman spoke to CTV News about the turn of events.
“It’s one of those ‘What were they thinking?’ kind of moments,” Gorman said.
“By banning them you just give them free publicity and maybe enhance their credibility. I don’t understand why the Notley government thinks they’re going to accomplish doing this.”
Gorman said readers might not agree with The Rebel, but it is an established news site.
The province released a statement late Tuesday afternoon, and said it was reviewing media policies.
A spokesperson for the premier said Heather Boyd, the former Western Canada bureau chief and national training co-ordinator for the Canadian Press had been appointed to consult with media and press gallery members, and look at what other jurisdictions are doing.
Boyd is expected to come back with recommendations on media policy in two to three weeks.
With files from Susan Amerongen
A screen capture shows a letter sent to lawyers representing The Rebel Media, from lawyer Jason Fung. Supplied.