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Postmedia looks to join Jason Kenney’s oil sands ‘war room’—that’s a line crossed

By Ricardo Acuña

During the recent Alberta provincial election, now premier Jason Kenney and his social media supporters would often go off about “fake news” and the “media party.”

The premise of these rants was always the same: that the mainstream media has been taken over by the left and that Kenney and the United Conservative Party would never be able to get fair treatment from them.

At the same time, one of the main planks in Kenney’s platform was the creation of a $30 million “war room” to fight back against, and seek to shut down, “foreign-funded interests” that are trying to influence Alberta politics and the economy.

Of course, Kenney was referring mostly to environmental organizations receiving money to launch campaigns in the province, but on numerous occasions he and his followers asserted that his government would have no patience for any foreign-funded entity trying to interfere in Alberta and try to influence Albertans.

Enter Postmedia. Postmedia, owned by a U.S.-based hedge fund, is the print media giant that owns key newspapers across the country, and all four major newspapers in Alberta (the Calgary Herald, the Edmonton Journal, the Edmonton Sun, and the Calgary Sun). Given all the ranting from the right about the “liberal media,” it might come as a surprise to folks that Postmedia ordered their Edmonton papers to run endorsements of the UCP during the recent election.

All four Alberta papers openly endorsed the Progressive Conservatives in the 2015 provincial election and the federal conservatives in the federal election that same year.

At the same time, some of the most vocal defenders of the UCP and their platform, and some of the harshest critics of the NDP, were Postmedia columnists across the province. These include the likes of Licia Corbella, Rick Bell, and Lorne Gunter, with an occasional guest column from Danielle Smith thrown in once in a while for good measure.

Looking at the writings and social media posts of these columnists during the provincial election, one could be forgiven for believing that they were actually a propaganda wing of the UCP itself, rather than the truth-seeking news outlets Postmedia ostensibly pays them to be.

It is also worth noting here that none of the Postmedia papers in Alberta employ any columnists that provide the same level of consistent and unwavering support to the NDP or any other party.

If all of that wasn’t enough to qualify Postmedia as a foreign-controlled entity trying to influence Alberta politics, this past week the corporation doubled-down.

It was revealed that the corporation has engaged the services of former Kenney chief-of-staff and campaign director Nick Koolsbergen to talk to Kenney’s office and various provincial ministries about “ways Postmedia could be involved in the government’s energy war room.”

In other words, a corporation that is ostensibly meant to report on government and politics and hold the elected officials and politicians accountable is actively seeking ways to participate in a war room designed to propagate government talking points and shut down any public discourse with which the government disagrees.

Although it is still unclear exactly what kind of services Postmedia is offering the UCP war room, it’s a good bet that at the very least it will entail content creation and message dissemination.

This is the same kind of thing that a 2014 investigation by on-line media site The Narwahl revealed that Postmedia was doing on behalf of the oil sector—running paid editorial content on behalf of the industry without taking any steps to identify it as paid content.

It is no secret that the mainstream media in Canada and Alberta has been struggling for some time to remain relevant and viable. Despite that changing context, it is clear that Postmedia has gone several steps too far.

A free and functioning democracy depends on media engaged in the service of the truth and working to hold governments and politicians to account. Postmedia’s recent work has been in complete violation of those principles and crossed over into propaganda and collusion to promote one specific set of ideas and voices, and they are now seeking to participate actively in the government’s efforts to shut down dissenting civil society voices and ideas.

Orwell could not have written this script any better. Albertans deserve, and should demand, better from their media.

Ricardo Acuña is executive director of the Parkland Institute, a public policy research institute in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Alberta. The thoughts and ideas presented are his own and do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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