TCS Daily


Inside Scoop -- Not Any Longer

By Jay Currie - April 8, 2005 12:00 AM

Canada is in the midst of a corruption scandal.

The bullet is that the Liberal government in power during the 1990's used public money to buy advertising in Quebec. Around 100 million of that money has left no audit trail. Some of that money seems to have ended up in the pocket of, well, the Liberal Party.

A Canadian judge, Mr. Justice Gomery, has been appointed to head a public inquiry into what is being termed Adscam. Criminal charges are pending. The current Liberal Prime Minister, Paul Martin -- who was Minister of Finance during the period in question -- and the former Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, have both testified before Gomery. Both claim to have been wholly unaware of any corrupt practice.

Things recently heated up when the former CEO of one of the ad companies alleged to have paid kickbacks was called to testify. Jean Brault has been charged with criminal fraud in the matter and his lawyers have asked for and been granted a publication ban on his testimony. The ban is supposed to protect his right to a fair trial which had been scheduled to begin in less than a month.

Implicit in the publication ban is the assumption that potential jurors could not be trusted to hear only the evidence which was actually presented at Brault's trial. An assumption for which there is next to no evidence and which reflects a striking paternalism implicit in the entire idea of publication bans.

Enter Captain Ed Morrissey, from the Minnesota based bog, Captain's Quarters. To the great delight of Canadian political junkies -- 133,000 in the first few hours -- Ed published a summary of the first day of Brault's damning testimony. The Captain got his information from an as yet unidentified individual who had access to the still open testimony at the public hearing.

Many pixels were spilled in the Canadian blogosphere hinting at where to find Captain's Quarters on the net and speculating whether a link to this blog violated the publication ban.

Gormery's people and lawyers for the federal government threatened prosecution for contempt. However, at least one Canadian television network broadcast the Captains location. His server was overwhelmed.

Ordinary Canadians flooded in to find out who had done what to whom. Information which was already freely available to Canada's political and media elite. An elite which has spent the past few days speculating that the Brault revelations would be enough to bring down the current Liberal government.

For many years political and media elites have lived for inside information. From bimbo eruptions to Dan Rather's inability to recognize a Word generated document, the inside scoop is one of the
perks of power.

The public, the great unwashed, never saw the "raw" product, the documents, the testimony, the unspun facts: these remained behind the curtain. If a judge demanded media silence, that silence dropped like a wet blanket on the public's right to know -- of course the elites had their sources. Discrete leaks might be reported obliquely; but very few media outlets were willing to ignore a Court Order.

No more.

Captain Ed is beyond Mr. Justice Gomery's jurisdiction. He can provide Canadians with the news they need outside the loop.

What was once inside information closely held by political, legal and media elites is now available to anyone who can manage a simple search on Google.

Captain Ed may very well have ensured the collapse of a remarkably corrupt Canadian political party in a nation not his own. For which many of us are very grateful.

But Captains Quarter's broadside has holed the edifice of inside information beneath the waterline. The Internet has transformed the theory of a peoples' right to know into a realistic practice.

For better or worse, the paternalism and condescension towards the public which is embodied in the very idea of a publication ban has been fatally short-circuited.

Thanks Ed.

 

Jay Currie is a Canadian writer whose work can be found at www.reviewing.blogspot.com

 

 

Writers note: The publication ban was partially lifted as I wrote this piece. A full report of just what Brault told Gomery is available here.

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