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With freedom of the press comes great responsibility

October 2011

It was in the year 1986 that The Senior Times was born. This is the same year that Elie Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, The Phantom of the Opera had its world premier in London, General Motors overtook Exxon as the largest company in the U.S.A. and most importantly, the Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup. The anniversary of The Senior Times reminds us that freedom of the press is one of the fundamental freedoms, together with freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, granted us by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Journalists report the news, comment on issues of the day and influence the public.

Former British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli said: “The press is not only free, it is powerful. That power is ours. It is the proudest that man can enjoy. It was not granted by monarchs; it was not gained for us by aristocracies; but it sprang from the people and, with an immortal instinct, it has always worked for the people.”

Napoleon said: “Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.”

With this freedom and power comes responsibility. Our courts have held that freedom of the press includes the right of journalists to gather and diffuse information. This is of fundamental importance when the information relates to our public institutions. But there is a balance to be maintained between the right of the public to be informed, freedom of the press, the right of individuals to privacy and the necessity to respect privileged communication. The courts are often called upon to weigh these issues when making decisions. In so doing they take into account the Quebec Charter of Rights, which states:

“Every person has a right to the safeguard of his dignity, honour and reputation”; and “Every person has a right to respect for his private life.” We learn much of what is happening in our own society and in the world through the press. Court hearings are public but in certain situations the law will give preference to the rights of the individual over the right of the public to know.

The Quebec Civil Code states: “The sittings of the courts are public wherever they may be held, but the court may order that they be held in camera in the interests of good morals or public order.” And again: “The judge may, in a special case, prohibit or restrict, for such time and on such conditions as he may deem fair and reasonable, the publication or broadcast of information pertaining to a sitting of the court.”

The American dramatist Arthur Miller wrote: “A good newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself.” We talk to ourselves and we talk to our readers.

Barbara Moser lit the spark and she and the entire staff at The Senior Times have kept the flame alive.

I take this opportunity to wish The Senior Times many more years of exercising its fundamental freedom to print the news, provide information, and stimulate thought and I thank it for giving me the opportunity to communicate with you, the reader.



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