Licensed journalism has happened before. It was called the Editor’s Law

From the Top of the Pile

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On Feb. 2, I saw, in horror, how Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault said the federal government should licence the news media.

The next day, I saw the enormous snap back from the media and opposition parties. PostMedia columnist Brian Lilley called it, “one of the fastest reversals of government policy that I’ve ever seen.”

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There was plenty of talk about how a licensed press could never be free, and how dare they consider this?

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer had one of the best lines, saying George Orwell’s 1984 was supposed to be a cautionary tale, not an instruction manual.

My thoughts on all this were a little different, and I didn’t see a reference to it in any of the other commentary.

You see, this has been tried before.

It was called the “Editors Law.”

And it was enacted very soon after the National Socialist German Workers Party (Nazi) came to power in the 1930s in Germany. Indeed, they didn’t waste any time enacting it, putting it in place Oct. 4, 1933. This was nine months, four days after Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor. But don’t worry, the Nazis set up the Dachau concentration camp, outlawing other parties and started burning books before they got around to regulating the media. 

This is how the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website described it: “The Editors Law (Schriftleitergesetz) forbids non-“Aryans” to work in journalism.

“The German Propaganda Ministry (through its Reich Press Chamber) assumed control over the Reich Association of the German Press, the guild which regulated entry into the profession. Under the new Editors Law, the association kept registries of “racially pure” editors and journalists, and excluded Jews and those married to Jews from the profession. Propaganda Ministry officials expected editors and journalists, who had to register with the Reich Press Chamber to work in the field, to follow mandates and specific instructions handed down by the ministry. In paragraph 14 of the law, the regime required editors to omit from publication anything “calculated to weaken the strength of the Reich abroad or at home.”

What words in those last two sentences ring like a clarion call, when considered against what the Canadian federal Liberal government was considering?

Replace “Propaganda Ministry” with CRTC or Heritage Ministry, for instance. Doesn’t “had to register” equate getting a federal licence?

The morning of Feb. 3, I was covering court, and one of the lawyers made joking comments that they didn’t want me covering their clients. I countered that what this barrister truly didn’t want is the alternative, where there isn’t a free press monitoring what happens in the court to those very clients.

All of this is very eerie, as I’ve just finished a book called How America Lost its Secrets: Edward Snowden, the Man and the Theft, telling the tale of Edward Snowden in a very critical manner. I also just went through Snowden’s own book, Permanent Record, talking about his motivations and criticisms of the persistent surveillance state.

What happens when we combine all this together? Courts that aren’t monitored, but people who are, and a suggestion by a federal minister, no less, that the news media under the heel of some sort of federal licensure and regulation? That’s a lot to digest in 24 hours.

During a break time in the courtroom I pointed out that every phone in that room was likely monitoring everything that was being said. A few people seemed incredulous, at least until I told the tale of how, a while back, I had a Facebook ad show up on my phone, in the passenger seat of my wife’s truck, advertising transmission fluid. This was not three minutes after I had told my wife that I needed to change the tranny fluid on my SUV.

We are being monitored in every way, shape and form, from the security video cameras present not just in businesses, but traffic signals and photo radar. People are purposely putting “smart speakers” throughout their homes, which is, in fact, continual surveillance.

What happens when this level of persistent surveillance is combined with a government that wants to limit free expression? When a government wants to, oh, I don’t know, regulate the free press?

How free are we then?

What if the people who, in 1933, started licensing editors, had the surveillance tools available to corporations and governments now? 

This is precisely the type of stuff Snowden wrote about. And I’m not entirely a big fan of a guy who sold out his country (and ours, and every other allied nation of the United States who shares intelligence with them) to the Russians and likely the Communist Chinese, too.

This Heritage Minister should be sacked, with cause. I’m not one who believes in cancel culture. But you’re damned right I would cancel a future Joseph Goebbels.

I’m still wondering when they’re going to come for me.

Brian Zinchuk is editor of Pipeline News. He can be reached at brian.zinchuk@sasktel.net.

 

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