Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Borderless blogs vs. Canada press ban - Adscam Scandel



We have been covering the Adscam Scandel here, here, and here over the past few weeks.

Rondi Adamson at the Christian Science Monitor has an excellent piece on the role of American and Canadian Blogs on last week's cout-ordered publication ban:

TORONTO – A Canadian publication ban and an American blogger clashed last week. The court-ordered ban did not survive the impact. The blogger was overwhelmed with visitors.

And what had been Canada's own private scandal - so private Canadians had been prevented from hearing about it in full - fast traveled the borderless blogosphere.

Publication bans prevent anyone from publishing or broadcasting evidence given or motions made during the course of a trial. Publication bans are not common in Canada, but when imposed they are meant to ensure that a jury pool, or a sitting jury, is not tainted. (One can be forgiven for wondering what the point of jury selection is, if a judge can't feel confident those selected are unable to look solely at evidence presented.) In this instance, however, the ban was imposed on a public inquiry into possible government fraud and conspiracy, involving taxpayer dollars. The word "counterintuitive" comes to mind.

"Adscam" has been making headlines in Canada for nearly two years. It involves an attempt by the federal government - under former Prime Minister Jean Chr├ętien and the Liberal Party - to "sell Canada" in Quebec, a province that has twice held (unsuccessful) referendums on the question of independence. Advertising agencies in Quebec were hired - at a cost of more than $200 million (US) - to promote federalism. But allegations surfaced that $81 million of those funds had been funneled back to Liberal Party loyalists. Paul Martin, shortly after becoming prime minister in late 2003, set up an inquiry headed by Justice John Gomery.

On March 29, Justice Gomery issued a publication ban on the testimony of three witnesses. This was done, he said, in order to assure the witnesses receive fair treatment when they face a criminal trial - relating to Adscam - later this year. In his ruling, Gomery stated that the ban included the Internet. With testimony under lock, everyone wondered about its relative explosiveness. A suggestion that the Liberal Party would be forced to call an election due to the hidden information made the rounds - causing Canadians to envision the absurd scenario that we would go to the polls based in part on something we weren't allowed to hear, or talk about.

Enter American blogger Ed Morrissey, or Captain Ed, to his readers. On April 2, in his Captain's Quarters blog, he posted some of the testimony. In the following days, Mr. Morrissey posted more, telling readers that some of the revelations came from a single source, some were corroborated by a second.

It didn't take long for a Canadian site, NealeNews, to link to the captain, though without printing any of the testimony. Still, officials at the Gomery Inquiry said they were considering citing the owner of NealeNews with contempt. American bloggers - including Michelle Malkin and Instapundit - picked up the story. Any Canadian with access to a computer could get the dirt. Morrissey wrote that his blog had been "swarmed with tens of thousands" of hits. He kindly warned Canadian visitors that they may "receive a summons" from their government.

Where a publication ban used to be fairly simple to understand, if not necessarily approve, new questions were being asked. Questions like: If I link to a site with a link to Captain's Quarters, will the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) show up at my house? Or, if I already had a link to Captain's Quarters before it carried the testimony, do I now have to remove it? Are the RCMP going to hire an army of new staff to hunt for untoward links?

A friend sent me an e-mail with the subject line, "The man on the ship," deferring jokingly (I assumed) to the publication ban, by referring to Captain Ed in code.

Canadian networks and newspapers found themselves tiptoeing through this new minefield, trying to report about the blog without mentioning blog names or web addresses. One television network removed a story that contained the blog's name from their website. The Globe and Mail mentioned Morrissey, but not his blog, by name. While some Canadian bloggers defied the ban, mainstream media appeared to lack similar moxie. Coming days after details of the rape, torture, and murder of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi were revealed (she was arrested and murdered in Iran in 2003, for taking photographs of a demonstration), such gyrations seemed feeble.

One Canadian blogger who linked to Captain's Quarters, Angry in the Great White North, says he did so because he does not want his children growing up in a country "where public testimony can be known by government officials and by the media, but by no one else." And Gomery reacted as well, lifting most of the ban last Thursday. Some testimony is still muzzled ... but not for American bloggers or Canadians who can Google, if sources keep talking.

Gomery said he lifted the ban because "it is in the public interest that this evidence with few exceptions be made available to the public." But it is hard to believe the blogosphere didn't play a powerful role in bringing about his epiphany.

The Internet has perhaps rendered publication bans futile. Whether that is a good thing can be debated. Freedom should not be mistaken for license. But given the level of alleged corruption exposed by the secret testimony, first at Captain's Quarters, and now all over mainstream Canadian media, it is difficult to argue that Canadians shouldn't be grateful for this clash of the blog and the ban.

• Rondi Adamson is a Canadian writer.

Captain Ed over at Captain's Quarter's has this take on the story:

".....The Canadian blogger Angry in the Great White North tipped me off to this article, and he gets a prominent (and well-deserved) mention by Adamson. After noting that many Canadian bloggers avoided linking to CQ -- for completely understandable reasons, I should add -- she points to Angry as one of the few who baldly promoted the posts I wrote on the Brault testimony:
Canadian networks and newspapers found themselves tiptoeing through this new minefield, trying to report about the blog without mentioning blog names or web addresses. One television network removed a story that contained the blog's name from their website. The Globe and Mail mentioned Morrissey, but not his blog, by name. While some Canadian bloggers defied the ban, mainstream media appeared to lack similar moxie. Coming days after details of the rape, torture, and murder of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi were revealed (she was arrested and murdered in Iran in 2003, for taking photographs of a demonstration), such gyrations seemed feeble.

One Canadian blogger who linked to Captain's Quarters, Angry in the Great White North, says he did so because he does not want his children growing up in a country "where public testimony can be known by government officials and by the media, but by no one else."

The truth is that while Angry and some other Canadians did link me, they and a number of other Canadian bloggers wrote me constantly, giving me background and links to further explain Adscam to American audiences as well as the Canadians. Rondi Adamson's article tells the most public part of the story, and does it well, but not the whole story. Still, Adamson gives the correct analysis: blogs have formed a front line of defense for free speech and citizen activism, holding public servants accountable where earlier silence or apathy may have won instead. The ability of the blogosphere to swarm to a story or an event not only promotes the information, but hones it, gives it greater resources, and allows for quick dissemination."

Well said Captain Ed! Indeed, the blosophere has formed a front line of defense for free speech and citizen activism - even when assaulted by governments and other media.

You can run but you cannot hide!

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