Prime Minister Stephen Harper reminded ethnic journalists, some of whom came from countries where press freedom is compromised, that they have chosen to practice their craft in Canada that embraces free speech and the written word.
“As journalists, you serve as evidence that Canada lives its values,” Harper said at the National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada’s (NEPMCC) gala awards last Saturday night at Seneca College in Markham.
Harper, who has had a rocky relationship with the national media, said liberty, democracy, human rights and the rule of law are not mere words in Canada.
“In action, by freedom of the press, these words have meaning and as editors and publishers of media with roots to the world over, many of you and your readers understand only too well what life is like where there is no freedom, where there is no accountability and when truth is only what the state says it is,” he said.
“In such places, newspapers and media are manipulated or co-opted as government mouthpieces. Journalists work under duress, sometimes even under threat to life and limb….
“Here, in our Canada, things could not be more different. Our government does not tell journalists what to say or attempt to intimidate those with whom it disagrees. Instead, we believe strongly that (the freedom of) Canadians is enhanced when journalists are free to pursue the truth, to shine light into dark corners and to assist the process of holding governments accountable or, as another journalistic truism would have it, to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
Harper said his government is fully aware of the significant role that the ethnic media plays in Canada. The federal government provided funding for last weekend’s NEPMCC three-day development training seminar through the Canada Magazine Fund’s Support for Industry program.
“It would be hard to exaggerate the importance of the work you do,” added Harper. “You reach more than three million Canadian readers, viewers and listeners, whose first language is neither English nor French. You are their trusted source of information about their home, Canada. You focus on domestic issues that matter to all Canadians while also providing a specialized emphasis on the foreign issues and local cultural events that matter to your audience.
“The need for this emphasis comes from the deep cultural roots of family and affection that many Canadians have for their, their parents or their grandparents’ old country. You are also uniquely able to help them adapt to life here, to encourage their participation in the democratic process and to open their access to vital public services such as health care and education. You explain their rights and, just as importantly, their responsibilities as citizens of our country.”
Harper presented awards to several ethno-cultural media executives, including Share’s publisher, Arnold Auguste, and was conferred with an honorary life membership in the NEPMCC.
“You could not have more greatly honoured me,” said an obviously pleased Harper.