I continue the reproduction of Chapter 2, Volume 3, of the Brossard report titled THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION.
In this chapter, justice Roger Brossard brings out, once more, the errors and inaccuracies in Jacques Hébert’s books. He identifies those responsible for the Coffin affair. You will learn about the disgraceful role the media played in the Coffin affair that could have just as well been called the MEDIA AFFAIR.
Here are the subjects I will post on this blog in the coming weeks:
a) AN EXEMPLE OF ABUSE (Justice Brossard explains how certain newspapermen tried to sabotage his enquiry.)
b) THE BROSSARD REPORT MAY NOT AND MUST NOT CONSTITUTE A JUDGMENT (Justice Brossard recalls that his mandate comprised the study of certain persons’ doings but not the remaking of Coffin’s trial.)
c) GENERAL CONCLUSIONS (The Brossard Commission reviews all the elements of proof and explains how the questions raised by THE CRITIQUES have been answered)
IN THE MEANTIME, FOR A DIFFERENT POINT OF VIEW, I SUGGEST THAT YOU HAVE A PEEP AT MR. LEW STODDARD’S BLOG.
REPORT OF THE BROSSARD ENQUIRY COMMISSION IN THE COFFIN AFFAIR (27TH OF NOVEMBER 1964) VOL. 3 CHAPTER 2 (PART VI)
THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION
A great number of inaccuracies and falsenesses contained in Mr. Hébert’s book and that we have brought to your attention in the course of this report were, independently of their individual causes, the demonstration of his lack of objectivity and a false notion of the freedom of information that he seems to have shared with a certain number of newspapermen
One may only be stricken by the following constant : Mr. Belliveau was a newspaperman, Mr. Hébert was too, Mr. MacLean was, Mr. Edwards was, Mr. Feeney was. They were also other news publishers in Altoona newspapers, and in, inter alia, other Canadian newspapers, the Toronto Daily Star and the Toronto Telegram; it was, in part, from the reports of those newspapermen that Mr. Hébert claimed having found his inspiration to write his own books. Were also newspapermen those who deemed timely to publish, as news, extensive excerpts from Mr. Hébert’s book; they also claimed to be so the producers of « spoken newspapers » that could have been the televised enquiries; he also was, the free lance Jean-Luc Lacroix whose shadow passed behind Mr. Hébert and Mr. Doyon, on a few occasions in the course of our enquiry.
Our enquiry has revealed the immeasurable and hardly repairable harm that abuse may cause in the exercise of freedom of information. More and more, under our regime of quasi absolute right of free speech, of the press and information, too many people assume the knowledge, the competence and the capacity of the judgment, the intellectual and the social importance that in fact they have no right to and become, as to the interpretation and application of the law, and at the same time accusers and judges of their fellow citizens, substituting themselves “on the one hand, to those whose social function is to oversee the application of the law, and on the other, to judges whose responsibility it is to interpret the law and have it respected. Too rare are those who through objective criticism, constructive, learned and just, may pretend to help enlightening those who were entrusted by the state and the people the heavy task of administering justice.
The abuse in the exercise of freedom of information that the present enquiry has revealed should put on guard and call for cautiousness those who, due to lack of required knowledge or needed reflection, those whom, for lack of the required knowledge and needed reflection may become victims or be fooled by lies conscientious or unconscientious or uncautious
If ever, in this country, individual liberties could be stifled by a rightist or leftist dictatorship, it will be caused in great part, by the abuse that a tiny, but influential minority of newspapermen who do not have enough sense of objectivity, of responsibility and of truth or are unable to foresee the consequences of their errors or are not interested in so doing. The right to inform is not that to deform, or to falsify facts or to invent facts that we know did not happen or that we have not valuable reason to believe and say that they happened, in affirming that they are true. The freedom of opinion does not permit to voice opinions on such facts.
Certainly, peace should never be chosen at the expense of truth, but peace must not be preserved or destroyed by untruthfulness.
Abuses in the exercise of freedom lead sometimes to the suppression of freedom itself.
The power of the press has so become that certain newspapermen, belonging to the small number of those who do not understand their duties and responsibilities towards society, are tempted to believe that they are above the law and form a kind of intellectual mafia. Our law is almost powerless to prevent or to mend, at the right moment, irreparable harm that may be caused to individuals, to a group of individuals or to a whole people by the abuses committed by some rare newspapermen, in exploiting, now the ignorance, now the passions, now the morbidity of a too great number of readers.
Pitifully, the abuse committed in the name of the freedom of the press and information, is attributable to :
1) The absence of control by honest newspapermen, conscientious, qualified and responsible or mediocre, incompetent, frustrated and irresponsible who form the minority of their profession
2) The abdication of a too great number of the politicians because of the interested fear that they have in the newspapers and newspapermen in general and of the small number of destructive newspapermen.
3) The apathy of the reading people in the face of excess and abuse committed by some in the name of the freedom of the press and information.
Freedom of the press and information has its origin, like all liberties, only in the first right of man, that is, to live : it is not anymore essential to man than the freedom to work; the practice of freedom of each one is limited by the right of the others in the exercise of their own freedom. It is why the exercise of all liberties must be regulated so that the liberty of each one may be exercised in a right balance with that of the others with their own liberty. It is for that reason that this necessary balance in the public order must be assured and maintained and that a greater part of human activities is regulated, that is regulated the freedom to work, itself; he is not fit to fulfil the august functions of priesthood whoever wants to; one cannot practice medicine, civil engineering, dentistry whoever wants to; one cannot be a technician; cannot be a carpenter, electrician, plumber, painter, mechanics whoever wants to; all these trades are submitted to admission conditions and practice whose fundamental purpose is to protect the public against abuse that might commit some of those who practice them; commercial industrial practices are also regulated, for the same purposes, by strict rules; the right to teach, in all spheres of human knowledge and at all levels of teaching, is also regulated as to the right of practice and as to the teaching itself in order that those who receive that teaching may, in the public interest, receive a true teaching; among human activities, the function so important and perilous to teach the public about the events of daily life, in all domains and spheres, it is the only one, that is open without condition, just as well to those able and worthy to practice it than to those who are not; in as much as the operation of a news enterprise may be seen exclusively from a business angle, this business is, of all businesses, one that is least regulated or that is regulated in the most inefficient way; at the end, it is the public that suffers of abuse that this lack of regulation, professional as well as commercial, make easy and bring about; the criminal code provisions on slandering are inefficacious; in particular, section 259 of the Code renders almost illusory the recourse of an individual injured in his honour and reputation; moreover, the spasmodic and rare application of the law carries a punishment, but does not constitute a remedy; our provincial law of the press protects mainly the newspapers and newspapermen irresponsible, it does not protect the latter’s victims or the responsible newspapermen.
One way of refraining completely or at least diminish the abuse would be to oblige all those who wish to practice the trade of informing the public to form a professional corporation that would be charged to protect not only the interests of the profession but also those of the public, in the same manner that are physicians, lawyers, notaries, engineers and like those other trades are, on a different basis, but for the same purposes, the majority of men of trades.
At the beginning of this report, I expressed the regret that I felt for being obliged to use harsh words towards a certain category of newspapermen, because of the objectivity that almost all newspapermen accredited by their newspapers with this Commission manifested and who attended most of the sittings; if I make these unpleasant remarks at this time in my report it is because I am deeply convinced, following the facts that were revealed in the course of the inquiry and because of more recent events, of the necessity for our government, whatever it is, to have the courage to revise the laws related to liberties, at the press and at the information so that can be avoided subversive movements born of an artificial discontent caused by deceptive, malicious or dangerously tendentious news.
The organization of newspapermen and of all those who inform the public with their pen or their speech, on all levels and domains, as to the events that happen, might be a remedy, but not the only one, against the abuse that I have underlined. The Criminal Code is not directed against those who respect the law, but against those who break it; professional ethical regulations do not only concern those, in the practice of their profession, act in the interest of the public; the grouping of newspapermen and other public informants in a professional corporation organized, directed and supervised by the members of the profession themselves would not be an obstacle to the exercise of the freedom of the press and information, but it could maybe develop with all newspapermen a climate of professional solidarity, and a sense of responsibility towards the public.
Mr. Hébert’s book will have at least allowed me to examine, for too short a moment, one of most serious problems that threatens, at present, democratic countries, that of abuses of the freedom of the press and information that are committed more and more and they may, one day, endanger law and order. (TO BE FOLLOWED)