Censorship of a “journalist” — or routine border patrol?

Activists issued a press release about
how 20-year-old Martin Macias Jr., an American on his way to join a
protest planned against the 2010 Olympic Games this week, was refused
entry to Canada at the border between British Columbia and Washington.

Good story.

Where it gets a tad muddy for us is that the press release called him
an “Independent Media Reporter.” Does that description turn this into
more than one of the myriad of news stories about border policies,
activists, Olympic protests, etc. etc. — does that make it a press-rights
issue? Raising the specter of media censorship and press rights, I am
guessing, was the deliberate intent of the person who wrote the press release — the phrase “Independent Media Reporter” was used repeatedly, starting with the

Here’s how the press release more fully describes Macias: “… a
leading member of No Games Chicago – which successfully opposed
Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics. He is a youth organizer for
the Chicago Environmental Justice Coalition, and Comite 10 de marzo, an
immigrant rights organization. He is also a media reform activist with
community radio station Radio Arte where he serves as the host/producer
of First Voice, a radio news zine. He has covered the 2008 Democratic
National Convention in Denver, Power Shift 2009 in Washington D.C., and
local social justice issues in his community. He currently chairs the
Peace Committee at the National Museum of Mexican Art.”

More activist than reporter, I’d say.

CanWest’s Vancouver Province
newspaper first described Macias as a “freelance reporter” in the
headline and an “independent reporter” in the lede of a story on its
web site — but that story was soon replaced with another that called him an “American anti-Olympic activist.” The Vancouver Georgia Straight called him
an “independent media reporter” (quotation marks are the Straight’s)
and, later on, a “Chicago media activist” (my quotations). The CBC called him “An American freelance journalist and Olympic critic,” attributing that to the press release. Canadian Press called him a “freelance reporter.”

It’s worth noting the story about Macias is a little more heated than
it might otherwise have been because of a previous border incident
involving someone with a solid track record as a journalist. As J-Source previously posted, last fall Canadian border guards detained Amy Goodman, American public radio host of a show called Democracy Now,
reportedly because border agents feared she was coming to criticize the
2010 Olympic Winter Games. (She was really on a speaking tour about an
unrelated book.)

The Macias incident is an example of an old but increasingly-thorny
problem that bedevils journalism: let’s call it professionalism. Can an “activist”
also be a “journalist?” Is a
“citizen journalist” who is an activist entitled to the same access and
considerations traditionally granted under press rights? When does a
“polemicist” cross the line to become an “activist?” What, if
anything, is the difference between a “professional” journalist and
anybody at all who hangs up a shingle with the word “journalist?” How can our audience tell the difference?

One online commentator responding to the Macias story in the Georgia Straight
said, “…  when you align yourself with a group whose leaders adopt
the motto “RIOT 2010″, you’ve kind of made your own bed.” The writer,
signed in as “Left of Centre” added, among other things, that “for an
activist to falsely use the badge “journalist” is disingenuous and a
disservice to real journalists.”

“Left” has, in my opinion, a good argument. Too bad there’s no standard for “real journalists.” Too bad the comment itself is
rendered impotent by being signed with a pseudonym. For all a reader
knows, the writer could be anyone — from Canada’s immigration
minister, to the border guard who turned back Macias, to some crank
calling himself a “real journalist.”