Freedom of the press is not a pretty thing

Posted on August 1, 2007
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In the immortal words of the Wizard of Id cartoon king, “Freedom of the press is not a pretty thing.”

Miramichi Mayor, John McKay, and the “Miramichi Leader” got into a squabble last week over comments made by a Leader columnist, Dan Benoit, about council not sponsoring fireworks for Canada Day.

McKay, speaking at a council meeting, blasted the paper for its negativity and lack of support for council and extended the accusation to the paper and its Irving family owners.

The paper responded with a spirited defense that took more space that the charges levied by the mayor. It used considerably more space to survey councilors on their position on the matter.

I thought the mayor was ill-advised to use his pulpit to cry about a freelance columnist taking a potshot at council. I thought extending the claim of negativity all the way up to the mega-business owners was a bit of a farce.

For one thing, none of them will have heard of Dan Benoit and probably not Mayor McKay.

For another the Irvings undoubtedly have as big a stake in the welfare of the Miramichi as anyone else in the world. True, it isn’t as big a percentage of their total holdings as it is for most Miramichiers. Still, there is no reason to believe they wish us ill.
Apparently they are about to build a huge new Kent Building Supplies store in the power centre. It wouldn’t appear they are backing away.

On the flip side, I thought the paper engaged in overkill with its acre of reaction and putting councilors on the spot to pick a side.
Councilors could have spoken up in council to express their support or opposition to the mayor’s position. Readers might question the depth of their sincerity when the paper put them on the spot.

Mayor McKay must be reminding himself of the Mark Twain (?) adage, “Never pick a fight with anyone who buys ink by the barrel.”
Rather than attacking the paper and the owners over the fireworks and negativity issue he might have been better advised simply to suggest that Benoit ask the Irvings to sponsor next year’s fireworks.

Weird welcome

Mayor McKay was the star performer in a somewhat weird welcome to the tall ships crews at a reception, Tuesday evening, held at, and sponsored by, the Rodd Miramichi River.

He appeared as a growling pirate and proceeded to try to be funny. He reminded the captain and crew of the “Pride of Baltimore II” that it was the second and claimed to have sunk the first one.

He said he didn’t like the name “Playfair” for a ship because he (the pirate) had no interest in playing fair.

He said the “Royalist” was far too small to be a pirate ship, no more than a mosquito of a vessel. He did add that a mosquito can bother a moose but he certainly left the impression that the “Royalist” wasn’t much of a ship.

To the consternation of some members of the tall ships festival committee, the Royalist captain appeared to take offence to McKay’s remarks and abruptly left the reception.

Perhaps the visitors weren’t familiar with or fans of the carve-up-your-friends-family-and-acquaintances style of humour practiced by some Miramichiers.

It isn’t a big feature of hospitality speeches and welcomes in most locales.

Free speech isn’t always so very pretty either, is it?


Incidentally, while trying to find the author of the “ink by the barrel” quote, I came across a modern amendment.

There are various references on the internet to the idea that now everyone buys ink by the barrel. Anyone can publish to the net.
The mass media, I think, still have a significantly larger audience. Bloggers might be said to buy their ink by the pint.
However, the internet certainly creates the power for a public demonstration (or mob, if you’re the target) to develop very quickly.
This, in turn, has led to discussions of what rights exist that are exclusive to the media and how far they extend into the blogosphere.

In Canada, at least, the media really have no special rights beyond those of the individual citizen.

They certainly have privileges commonly accorded working reporters. For example, employees of media companies are provided with special seating areas in court rooms and at sports events.

As more and people claim to be media because, like me, they have a blog or web site, how will courts and hockey teams be able to maintain these privileges?

I suspect that, over time, privileges, in the public sector, must disappear to be replaced by more open access for every member of the public. Courtrooms will be visible to all on video.

Media may qualify for preferred seating at private sector events like hockey games by being able to pay for it. That is a somewhat more problematic area because media and professional sports, theatre and concerts have a symbiotic relationship. Mass media audiences want sports news so media is motivated to cover it. At the same time, the sports business needs media attention so it is motivated to cater to reporters.

Things probably won’t change much there. Owning a few community newspapers never qualified me for media accreditation at Stanley Cup games. Private business will continue to calculate what constitutes its own best interest.

Fredericton Harvest Jazz & Blues

However, if you can get everyone you know to read this web site and subscribe to the feed, perhaps someday I could qualify for a media pass to the Fredericton Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival which is becoming one of the biggest success stories in Canadian entertainment.

It’s September 11 to 16 this year. The Crowne Plaza, the most convenient hotel, is already sold out at premium rates.
I remember when son Nathan and his friends were wowed that I had seen Dr. John in New Orleans. In September Dr. John will be in Fredericton. Wow!

Everyone is jumping on the sponsorship bandwagon now. Harvest Jazz & Blues, unlike the East Coast Music Awards, has not been taken over by TV and recording companies. The ECMA’s are now an industry-driven rather than a talent-driven and audience-driven event.

Harvest Jazz & Blues, copying more and more of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Fest features, continues to cater to music lovers rich and poor. There are exclusive concerts and lots of free entertainment.


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