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Following news site's critical reports, Kenney hints at retaliation as PressProgress fires back

Alberta premier designate Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga)

Apparently the stenographic efforts of Postmedia's Alberta newspapers as a virtual wing of the United Conservative Party campaign team were not enough for the victorious Jason Kenney, Alberta's premier designate.

Journalists and publications that provided less obsequious coverage of the campaign leading up to the April 16 election will be attacked and, by the sound of it, silenced if possible.

Buried deep in a rambling paean to Kenney in Monday's edition of the National Post, the flagship of the Postmedia newspaper chain, is a revealing attack on PressProgress.

It turns out Kenney is shocked and appalled the progressive news site broke a series of important hard news stories that detailed corruption, bigotry and extremism within UCP ranks. He is threatening to do something about it.

Meanwhile, PressProgress quickly shot back, comparing Kenney's threats to those of Donald Trump and standing by "our fact-based, independent, reporting in Alberta."

Have no doubt about it, the damning series of PressProgress reports were news stories, properly researched and edited, just like mainstream media used to publish.

Luckily for the premier designate and his successful UCP campaigners, mainstream media largely ignored the PressProgress stories, or seriously underplayed them.

Nevertheless, the possibility that someone out there is disinclined to act like the tame stenographers touting the UCP line is cause for serious concern among the party's leadership and its media cheerleaders.

Something must be done!

"It's hard to overstate the role PressProgress played in the election campaign that just concluded, and the magnitude of the challenges it presented for the UCP," the author of the Post report observed.

"Many of the stories about UCP candidates that resulted in embarrassment, apologies or resignations originated on the PressProgress website and then trickled into mainstream outlets through social media," the story continues.

Well, trickled is the right word. And never mind that the stories were accurate, else the lawsuits would be raining down. The Post's scribe wants you to know PressProgress is published by the federal-NDP-leaning Broadbent Institute.

"Kenney said his civil libertarian instincts make him uneasy about the idea of media regulation," the Post story continued, "but added, 'having said that, it's not a legit media outlet.'" (Emphasis added.)

And Postmedia is? Oh, give us a break!

Accusing PressProgress of functioning as a "de facto political third-party advertiser," Kenney used his readily available Postmedia pulpit to attack this unsympathetic media operation.

"The NDP, if they can't get mainstream media to pick up on their research, they just email it over to PressProgress to breathlessly write it up," the Post quotes Kenney saying. (In reality, about 80 per cent of the stories PressProgress broke are said to have been leaked by Conservative insiders troubled by the ethical lapses of the crowd around Kenney. But this perception is an interesting commentary on the UCP's cozy relationship with mainstream media in Alberta.)

Thereafter followed a predictable defence by the UCP leader of his 2017 leadership campaign's role in the sleazy and possibly illegal "kamikaze mission" by another candidate, the sole purpose of which was to sink his principal rival, former Wildrose Leader Brian Jean. Turns out the Kenney campaign strategists were just "sharing a few memes with another leadership candidate," he explained.

But if that kind of sharing "constitutes a contribution, then running a full-time attack website, dumping NDP research into the campaign cycle definitely constitutes a campaign contribution," Kenney opined. "So this is something that we will be looking at," he warned.

In its statement yesterday, PressProgress described itself as "an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces original reporting and analysis on important matters of public interest.

"The work of PressProgress -- across a range of critical issues -- has been cited as a reliable source by every major news outlet in Canada," the statement continued. "Politicians often feel, as Mr. Kenney clearly does, that media have been unfair to them. Nobody in public office is immune from scrutiny, especially from the independent media.

"What's not OK, as Donald Trump does on a daily basis, is threatening the media with retaliation. This is corrosive to public debate and to democracy itself."

"We stand by our fact-based, independent, reporting in Alberta leading up to and during the 2019 Provincial Election," PressProgress said. "Our investigative news stories about Jason Kenney's leadership scandal helped bring to light allegations that are now under RCMP investigation. Our diligent research into candidates led to some being held accountable for deeply troubling comments and actions. Our well-researched fact checks of the UCP's platform uncovered significant discrepancies.

"The ability for independent media to freely report on elections, as well as other areas of public interest and concern, must be upheld," the PressProgress statement concluded.

One can never tell, but it's unlikely Kenney's bluster will amount to much in this case. The last time an Alberta government tried to control the media, the lieutenant governor refused to sign the bill. That was in 1937, well before the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Well, perhaps Kenney will tear a leaf from the book of premier William Aberhart and try to install an official censor in the PressProgress office in Ottawa.

Still, it's worth noting, if it wasn't already obvious, that what the Post called Kenney's "civil libertarian instincts" don't seem to extend to free expression and a free media when it's not convenient to him.

As predicted in this space yesterday, Kenney is likely to prove to be a fundraising bonanza for progressive and environmental organizations, charitable or otherwise.

By last night, PressProgress had sent a fundraising email to its supporters noting Kenney's attack and vowing not to take his "Trump-style move" lying down. "We will defend our journalistic freedom, because we are publishing stories Canadian need to know," the email said, exhorting contributions to the PressProgress Journalism Defence Fund it set up yesterday morning.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Photo: David J. Climenhaga

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