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True North blocked from asking question at media freedom conference

True North’s Andrew Lawton, who’s covering the summit, didn’t make the cut. Here’s what happened.

Only pre-approved journalists could ask questions of the Canadian and British foreign ministers at the first ever Global Conference for Media Freedom.

I didn’t make the cut.

As Canada is co-hosting the conference, it was agreed that two of the questions at the media availability capping off the conference’s first day would go to Canadian journalists.

Six Canadian outlets are covering the event: CBC, CTV, the Globe and Mail, Global News, The Rebel, and True North.

In an email thread, Freeland’s office asked the journalists (not including those from the Rebel) to decide amongst themselves who would get to ask the questions. In a cordial exchange with my colleagues from the other outlets, it was agreed that CBC’s Derek Stoffel and I would each get a question in.

Freeland’s representative was not included in this discussion, though was sent an email with the two final names, of which she accepted receipt.
Ten minutes later, however, she emailed me privately to say there would only, in fact be time for one question from a Canadian, because the British Foreign Office’s press team had already filled the other spots.

As a conservative commentator, I was of course skeptical while understanding the plausibility of a genuine tightening of the schedule given the scale of this event.

However, Hunt’s office hand-picked a second Canadian journalist to ask a question of the ministers.

At the media availability, a CBC’s Stoffel was called on to ask a question. So was CTV’s Melanie Nagy.

Hunt had joked about the importance of taking unscripted questions from the media at a media freedom conference, though it was entirely pre-determined who would get to ask them.

He read the names and outlets from a list. The reporters on the list had been placed in front row seats by aides before the start of the event (so the second question wasn’t an impromptu addition).

Hunt’s office made the decision, one of his aides confirmed. Though she assured it was a misunderstanding and not a political decision.

I was told Stoffel wasn’t present when pre-selected journalists were being seated, but Nagy was. So out of a desire for a Canadian voice, she was given question privileges, but when Stoffel arrived shortly before the event began, he was accommodated to honour the original arrangement.

This doesn’t, however, address the initial claim of there simply being no time for an additional question. I had assured Freeland’s representative earlier in the day that I had no intention of an “ambush” of Freeland. I received no reply to this, despite otherwise pleasant exchanges throughout the day.

In actuality, the British government chose a mainstream media reporter to fill a spot when the Canadian media delegation had agreed to allow an independent correspondent – me – to ask a question.

I don’t fault the CTV reporter for this; she was specifically invited to ask a question and posed a great one to both Hunt and Freeland.

It’s only the first day of this two-day conference and I’ve made a request for an interview with Freeland which may be accommodated tomorrow.

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