The ball whizzes around the perimeter, inside, back out. The talls battle for position. On defence, they contest the pass and guard against back-door cuts. The centre pushes down towards the basket, shoulders bruising his opponent, and receives the ball. Help arrives. Back out. Sinewy, powerful arms stab into the passing lanes. Deny. Deny. On offence, the guards, the smalls, are hard at work, the ball handled as if on a string. Time runs down and the defence asserts itself, intimidates when necessary. This is it: Number one North Carolina versus number two Georgetown, and every advantage must be sought. When it was over, it was not.
To mark “Freedom to Read Week,” last night at the University of Toronto’s Innis Town Hall Theatre, The Walrus Foundation and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression co-sponsored a panel discussion called “Leaks, Lies & Liability.” The panelists were investigative journalists Marci McDonald and Andrew Mitrovica; journalist and Chair of the School of Journalism at Ryerson University Paul Knox; and media law expert Brian MacLeod Rogers. All four panelists brought a wealth of knowledge and passion to one of the most difficult issues facing journalism today: in light of the Maher Arar affair and the discovery that state officials passed misinformation to members of the press, should the journalists who received this information name their sources?
It would seem a fairly straightforward matter – innocent victims like Arar need to be protected from sources passing off misinformation, and journalists in search of the truth should only gather information from reliable, if still unnamed, sources. Unfortunately, it is not this simple. In the case of Arar, Andrew Mitrovica argued that journalists who wrote damning stories should not only apologize but should also disclose the names of state officials who gave them misinformation. Without such disclosure, asks Mitrovica, what is preventing the same sources from acting in a similar fashion again? While there is no question that the public relies on journalists, and especially investigative journalists, to speak truth to power, to dig up information not in the public domain, and to do their level best to verify all facts, often this work involves explicit contracts of confidentiality with sources providing information that cannot be verified beyond a shadow of a doubt. But if investigative journalism is essential to a functioning democracy, it is also essential that whistleblowers be protected.
The key questions are, should this contract be voided upon the discovery that the source is lying? Does it matter if the source is unaware that he or she is delivering misinformation? What would happen to the necessary evil of confidentiality if sources are outed retroactively? And finally, what should the terms of contract be between journalists and secret sources?
My former boss, Paul Jay, now chair of the Independent World Television network and senior editor of The Real News, used to say (and no doubt still does), “A single fact, clear and verifiable, will alter the story.” Of course, as David Byrne put it, sometimes facts just “twist the truth around,” but I did find a real eye-opener in today’s Globe And Mail: “In 2007,” writes Clive Doucet, “the City of Ottawa will build a record number of new roads – 200 kilometres.”
Jim Cracky, what the hell is going on?