The Australian Press is Coming Down With a Case of Democratic Flu: Johan Lidberg Speaks on Repression, Whistleblowing, Corruption, and Climate Change

by Ben Hollihan

At MacEwan University on Monday, Jan. 27, visiting scholar Johan Lidberg brought words of nigh doom for not only the Australian press, but the deteriorating climate as well, in his keynote speech entitled “In the Name of Security — Secrecy, Surveillance, and Journalism.”

Lidberg, who is the Deputy Head of Journalism at Monash University, and who co-wrote a book on press freedoms with the same title as his keynote, spoke on the dire situation facing the Australian press. In Australia, there is no charter of rights to protect press freedoms, whistleblowers are ‘hunted’, a populist Prime Minister is in office, and public servants cannot legally expose corruption. “The base protection for free speech and free press in Australia is quite weak,” said Lidberg, “probably the weakest that I’ve found in any liberal democracy.” Since Sept. 11, 2001, Australia has used the war on terror to pass over 80 national security laws, continuously repressing freedom of information in the country. Lidberg referred to these collective issues as the “democratic flu.”

“Australia is an absolute outlier in the world,” Lidberg said about Western press freedom.

Australia has a history of jailing journalists going back to the 1990’s. Lidberg spoke in depth on one of the most recent examples: the June 2019 raid of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s (ABC) offices by the Australian Federal Police. This raid was a result of the “Afghan Files” story ABC aired, in which a coverup of illegal killing by the Australian military in Afghanistan was examined. This government interference in the press, similar to the Australian press blackout on the trial of George Pell, has become commonplace. Lidberg argued that national security laws normalize these events: “there is no baseline, no rulebook for what the relationship should be between the states and citizens. Had we had that, we would’ve never gotten to where we are today,” Lidberg said.

The press is not innocent in this situation. Lidberg believes that editors and journalists have allowed themselves to be repressed. The press in Australia has historically withheld stories on issues facing their industry, and this arrogant attitude has kept the public from information that affects them as well. “We’ve got to do away with this gatekeeping stuff towards our audiences…we’re in a different situation now,” said Lidberg.

The treatment for this flu? A bill of rights that protect freedom of the press, said Lidberg. Unfortunately, Australian polls show little support for it. Most support the increase in national security laws, despite not fully understanding the repercussions. “This extends beyond national security…ultimately it comes to down to civil liberties,” said Lidberg.

Australia is not the only Western country that finds itself facing daunting issues with journalism. Becca Willson, a MacEwan journalism student who attended the talk, spoke about her education on the widespread mistrust of journalists in Canada. The conflicts surrounding the press faced by both Australia and Canada are critical because “the need for free media and trustworthy news reporting is always going to be one of the most important things for democracy,” said Willson.

Lidberg’s keynote took a sharp turn when he concluded with a call to action regarding climate change. Climate change policy, or the lack of, in Australia is a result of the war on terror. The resources dedicated to national security laws, Lidberg said, could’ve been channelled instead to battling climate change. Lidberg was one of the many displaced during the massive bush fires, in which a billion animals died. “Is climate change not a greater threat than terrorism?” asked Lidberg.



No Freedom of the Press Means No Freedom For All: Johan Lidberg’s Keynote Cries Foul of the Australian Government During Times of Crisis

by Ben Hollihan

Journalism may be facing hard times globally, but in no Western country is it more threatened than in Australia, as Johan Lidberg discussed in his keynote presentation “In the Name of Security — Secrecy, Surveillance, and Journalism” at MacEwan University on Monday, Jan. 27.

A key component of the Deputy Head of Journalism at Monash University in Melbourne’s presentation was the “democratic flu,” of which Australia suffers all the symptoms, the most pressing being lack of freedom of the press.

Lidberg referenced the June 10, 2019 raids by the Australian Federal Police on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, after the “Afghan Files” story exposed the coverup of illegal killing by the Australian military in Afghanistan.

Since September 11, 2001, a total of 80 national security laws have been passed, using valuable time and resources which Lidberg claims could have been used to battle the true threat to Australia: climate change.

Some potential remedies to this issue are for the Australian government to reduce national security laws in times of peace, and higher press engagement with the public to create awareness on invasive legislation.

Lidberg fears the worst about the future of press freedom is Australia, because there is no interest from the population to generate a bill of rights to protect civil and press liberties: “Australia is an absolute outlier in the world.”


Global Protests a Dangerous Spark in Oil Country

There were 150,000 in Montreal, 20,000 in Berlin, 10,000 in Lausanne, and 500 in Edmonton. A total of 1.4 million youth across 123 countries absent from the classroom. As a general rule of thumb, many parents do not condone truancy. Skipping school only hurts a student’s future. But what if the student believes that the only way to save their future is to sabotage their present?


On Friday, March 15, a larger number of desks than usual sat empty; a significantly larger amount, as students from across the world took to the streets as part of the global #FridaysforFuture movement, started by 16-year-old Nobel Peace Prize nominee Greta Thunberg. In an inspiring display of the youth taking the future into their hands, the world took notice (if only for moment), an incredible feat in the time of hyper news cycles.


Despite all the fervour, excitement, and empowerment many other youths across the world seemed to feel as they took the future into their own hand, Edmonton did not feel the global repercussions. We live in a city with a population of about 900,000. According to the 2016 City Census, 82,000 people are ages 15-24, the target demographic for these compendious demonstrations. The turnout in the legislature? A decidedly pale 500 when compared with the rest of the world. Was it mere apathy and differing beliefs that kept students from attending, or was an external factor what caused the event’s local anonymity?



Where were the MacEwan #FridaysforFuture protests? The issue may not lie with the student themselves, but rather their cultural environments and the school’s policies, said AJ Trussler, a MacEwan student who attended the protest. When initially hearing about the movement, AJ said they had assumed- because of Edmonton’s and Alberta’s culture around oil- that there would not even be an offshoot of the protest happening here. “I think that one of the major factors that kept our protest from achieving wider success was simply the fact that we live in a city where many young people probably share their parents’ conservative views,” said Trussler. Trussler’s pronounced opinion on Alberta’s hegemony may ring true for many students attending the oft-liberal MacEwan. “We know the kind of people and corporations that we are living under, and we know our neighbours.”

The spare coverage at MacEwan may also have also left a gap in awareness in the student body. “None. I didn’t see anything at all actually,” said Trussler, who discussed attendance policies and heavy workloads as potential major barriers for MacEwan students getting out of the classroom: “students are afraid to skip, because they don’t want to fail just because they were already sick twice this semester.” The Office of Sustainability at MacEwan may seem like the perfect avenue for which protests like this can be supported, but Kerstyn Lane, Engagement and Outreach Advisor for the Office of Sustainability, says that the Office is put into a sensitive position by being part of a publicly funded institution.


Being an environmental office of a liberal public institution in an oil-heavy province can lead to being squeezed politically and financially, said Lane. Students like Trussler seeing absolutely no coverage at MacEwan was deliberate and had several reasons behind it. “As a nonpartisan unit, part of a post-secondary institution, we have zero role to play in organizing protests against government, businesses, or other organizations,” said Lane. “Oil production is diametrically opposed to climate action, and with public climate institutions, we rely on funding from major donors, and those donors may or may not have investments in oil.” There is a clear conflict of values and finances occurring at the Office. And, according to Lane, the protest wasn’t a total failure. “The turnout for that strike is probably 25 times the size of what they used to be. When I looked at the Instagram stories and posts, all I could think was ‘look how many people are there.’”


To a student who helped organize it, the protest was a total success. Caylie Ganam, a Victoria School student, helped organize the protest with Student Strike YEG. “Every single person there was so passionate about being there, and they all cared so much.” What was the difference between MacEwan students and Victoria High School students? Support. “They made it understood that although they could not publicly endorse it, that no one was going to be in trouble. They gave us the freedom to support something that we believed in.”



Change happens from within, but this change may not be something Alberta is ready for yet. As long as institutions within Alberta are funded by oil money, the protests will always be a partisan issue. To Ganam, there is only so long that Alberta can ignore the momentum of a global change, even if it may seem small now. “We are making our mark, no matter how small, and that is what I think is important.”



Asia Revisited

Revisiting the photos from my three-month excursion to Asia has reminded me of how our beliefs, attitudes, worldviews, and (most importantly) our North American pessimism is nothing more than that: North American. Our mental architecture is- and I am in no way an expert in this manner- dictated by our Canadian environment, in which we have a tendency to both intentionally and unintentionally bombard ourselves with negative concepts, ideas, and attitudes towards everything. We believe in pessimism because we are taught to be cynical of everything. We can be unhealthily cynical, and, while visiting different places, the stories of those I got to know were devastating accounts of corrupt governments or neglected children who had to push their own way in the world; the people whose lives I was a part of for merely an hour were, to me, devastating. And yet, these people were happier than I am despite the struggles they have gone through that I could never imagine.

Take a second to remember how lucky we are, and talk to someone else. Learn their outlook, hear their story! It might change your lookout on how you feel about your own. 52999973_573982759735905_2035091380430176256_n.jpg

Story: Paco

Paco and his art gallery, in Jiufen, Taiwan. Paco is an artist, originally a photographer, who decided late in life to move into painting. His wife passed away several years back, and none of his kids still live in Taiwan. He currently resides in the small mountain town of Jiufen. We stumbled upon his art gallery by accident, as there are no signs that directly point you to it; rather his gallery is simply an open door in a narrow alley, above which someone lives. The open door policy that they had in Jiufen was refreshing. We were told, even encouraged to simply walk into someone’s house if we wanted to see them. If they weren’t there, we left and came back later. The community and trust was stronger than anything I have ever seen here.

Protests, and Doing Anything You Can

The devastating invasion of Wet’suwet’en by CoastalGasLink and the expansion of their pipeline to the coast has largely been forgotten by the media, it seems. That doesn’t come as much of a surprise, based on the speed of the news cycle. Now we have our friend and fantastic councillor Jon Dziadyk to worry about, among other things. Despite these massive infractions on a sovereign and autonomous part of Canada, and the fact that Alberta churns out both thinly-veiled racist and anti-environment protests in the form of our own bastardized Yellow Vest Movement, Alberta hasn’t really done their (our) part. Our part being taking action alongside the rest of the world, akin to what is happening in Europe with the prodigious Greta Thunberg; she is the de facto leader of the revolution to save the planet happening across the continent currently.

So what do we do about it? What do we, as students, as young people, as people who have to live on this planet for the rest of our new lives, and who, frankly, have to shoulder the responsibility that the Boomer Throwaway generation decided was too much work for them, do? Good question. Anything. I know that most of us are overworked, overtired, underpaid and underfed, but something has to be done. After all, we only have 12 years.

So a friend and I have decided to organize a protest. A protest that seeks to call out the new pipeline, the violation of consent, the rise of anti-immigration and persistence of ignorant anti-environmentalism in Alberta, among other things. The tentative date is Wednesday, February 13th, at around 4:00 pm. The location will be the Legislature. And everyone is welcome and invited! More details to come soon.

That mountain in the photo ain’t gonna be covered in snow for too much longer if things keep heating up (also summer is coming soon.)


Overcoming Artistic Barriers Through Self-Action: ᐋᒋᒧᐃᐧᐣ – Acimowin

Indigenous art show to run in Edmonton this weekend

Two Edmonton artists are hoping to create equal representation for Indigenous artists through the best way they know how: doing it themselves. Marcus Thunder and Allysa Pierre are the curators of an Indigenous art show happening in Edmonton entitled ᐋᒋᒧᐃᐧᐣ – Âcimowin. Âcimowin (pronounced “a-chi-mO-win”), which according to the two means ‘story’ in Cree, is an attempt to encapsulate the intentionally theme-less show.

Pierre went in-depth to describe the process of naming the event. “We were trying to find something that would tie a bunch of works of art together, and what we figured when we were first starting off with the show was not to have a theme, because having a theme creates barriers, which is the opposite of what we wanted to do with this. Story just kind of grouped everything together an umbrella term for it, because we are creating a story for the art through what we’re doing.”

At the last show Pierre curated, the two noticed a severe lack of Indigenous representation, and felt a responsibility to further the destruction of barriers in the art world by calling upon Indigenous artists to create a representative show with them.

Thunder discussed the underrepresentation within Edmonton’s arts community. “I think it’s important because being an Indigenous person, I’ve never really seen an art show that is exclusive to Indigenous artists.”

Pierre elaborated on the significance of Thunder’s idea. “It kind of came to our attention that there isn’t a lot of Indigenous representation at shows that we have been to or been a part of, that’s kind of what brought us to this. There are so many Indigenous artists in Edmonton itself, all over Canada, all over the world, but for some reason people aren’t doing the work to have them equally represented. The show could’ve happened a really long time ago by somebody else, but it hasn’t. Working to make more events inclusive like this because inclusivity isn’t a one time deal, it’s something that should work towards constantly, until it becomes the norm. Because if it’s not, then what are we doing?”

What are Thunder and Pierre aiming for in the long run? Thunder said they hope to “inspire more local artists to put their work out there,” to take the risk regardless of the exclusive atmosphere living in a  “pretty conservative city” can put on an artistic scene. Thunder went on: “[Indigenous peoples] already face a lot of barriers in this society, so I would just hope to inspire more Indigenous artists to get out there and work hard.”

The event, which includes music, film, photography, painting, starts at 6:30 p.m. on this Saturday, Jan. 26. It is being held at Coral Plaza, 6768 99 Street, $15 admission. Tickets can be purchased from their Eventbrite page, or at the door (cash only).