Liberal MP, Lisa Hepfner Launches Smear Campaign, Says Online Outlets are “Not News”

Liberal MP, Lisa Hepfner, has been caught in a major political scandal after she smeared online Canadian news organizations as “not news”.

The credibility of traditional outlets have been at an all time low in recent years.

In the past, a lot of the bad reporting from these outlets have been chalked up to ignorance of how technology works. This was especially true in the file-sharing and copyright debates of the 2000’s where news outlets simply published Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) or Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) press releases and called it a day. In fact, it was precisely that kind of activity that allowed myself to start a considerably long career of tech journalism. Unlike legacy publishers who thought the internet was just a fad and would go away on its own, journalists such as myself at the time actually gathered the news, scored interviews, and got to the heart of the real story behind file-sharing.

In fact, it’s the work of journalists such as myself that really brought about change in the debate. Instead of just blindly accepting mass file-sharing lawsuits – as was the case back then – people began echoing the questions journalists like myself were raising. Those questions include whether or not it was appropriate to fine someone millions of dollars for the so-called “crime” of sharing a couple of songs on the Fast Track Network. Another question was whether or not it was legally appropriate to sue an individual in, say, Florida, when they were in Washington State (something that the US justice system ultimately agreed with). Third, is whether an IP address really sufficient evidence to convict someone.

Throughout the 2010’s, journalists such as myself began looking beyond the American borders and examining laws as they progress. It was about understanding the world as a whole and understanding that when a law passes in one jurisdiction, that can set the blueprint for passing a similarly flaws piece of legislation in another jurisdiction. Further, journalists such as myself also raised awareness of what is within these seemingly secretive international trade agreements and learning that such agreements have increasingly little to do with actual trade and more to do with international lawmaking (i.e. the controversy surrounding Inter-State Dispute Settlement or ISDS). All this while traditional outlets simply glossed over details and just assumed that it’s just about increasing trade and assuming it’s automatically a good thing.

While ignorance of the issues might have been a good cover excuse in the past, the same can’t really be said about some of the recent developments. A year ago, several outlets began pushing a coordinated propaganda campaign that has almost nothing to do with journalism and more to do with pushing the outlets business interests above all else. That propaganda campaign kept going throughout the year as outlets basically took their credibility as impartial outlets and flushed it down the toilet. More and more began suspecting that outlets have devolved to partisan communication departments, but the latest campaign proved that outlets can stoop to any credibility low if it means furthering their own interests.

As a result, the importance of online journalism in recent years became more important than ever before. When traditional outlets are failing so spectacular at their jobs, where do Canadians turn to to get the real story of what is happening? Online outlets like Freezenet who are actually non-partisan, not afraid to fact check politicians of any political stripe and appropriately reporting the news. After all, has any Canadian seen a traditional broadcast news network cover the Bill C-11 senate hearings as thoroughly as Freezenet? No.

So, it’s what makes it so infuriating for actual journalists when they saw Liberal MP, Lisa Hepfner, smear Canadian journalists by accusing them of being “not real” journalism:

The defamatory play was made during the Bill C-18 Clause-By-Clause review which, of course, is Canada’s Link Tax law. Before you ask, yes, we provided the real story behind that bill as well. Hepfner said that online outlets don’t gather the news, but rather, are “opinion only”.

The play is very similar to the play made by Liberals during the Bill C-11 debate where they said how digital only creators are “not art” and “cat videos”. Basically, dismissing the very real contributions Canadian independent creators as not valuable or not contributing to culture. So, the Liberals are basically copying that playbook over to the Bill C-18 by dismissing hardworking online outlets as “not news”.

The comments didn’t go unnoticed by University Law Professor, Michael Geist, who offered this in response:

Leaving aside the rather bizarre and inaccurate comments about going to the CRTC if they don’t follow proper journalism standards (the CRTC does not regulate newspapers), the key comment is the government’s view that online news organizations are “not news.They’re not gathering news. They’re publishing opinion only.” Hepfner’s reference to news outlet opening and closures comes from the Local News Research Project. In the past, she’s referred to the closure data, but seemingly thinks the openings don’t count. Yet within a short drive of her constituency office, she could find multiple online news outlets that clearly qualify as gathering news. Indeed, you don’t have to be an experienced reporter to find these sites, since the Local News Research Project has them all handily listed in an excel spreadsheet. 

  • In her own riding, there is the Public Record, which seems to cover nothing but Hamilton City Hall. In fact, it even covered her election campaign just last year and is the source of the photo accompanying this post.
  • Covering Hamilton and the entire region is, which generates millions of page views each month and serves 18 cities across Southern Ontario, including Hamilton. Hepfner has been featured in multiple stories in the past.
  • In nearby Ohsweken, there is Two Row Times, an online indigenous news outlet. Hepfner voted earlier for specific support for indigenous news outlets, but thereafter effectively described the one closest to her home as not news. Hepfner is surely familiar with the news outlet since it ran a story and a picture of her this past summer.
  • Oakville News, which provides extensive local Oakville news coverage, is another online news outlet located a short drive away from her office.
  • Even closer is Burlington Today, one of several nearby online news outlets run by Village Media.
  • A little further away is The Lake Report, which provides local news to Niagara-on-the Lake. 

These are all examples of just some of the digital news outlets that have opened since 2008. Even cursory review reveals that they are not focused opinion, but rather local news, ironically many featuring stories on Hepfner. They deserve better than an unwarranted smear from a government MP, much less a bill that caters to the media lobby which will ultimately make it more difficult for smaller, digital news outlets to compete in the news market and serve their local communities.

As insulting as the Liberal MPs comments were, it likely only provides a preview of things to come with this debate. It’s almost a sure thing given the precedence set by how asinine the Bill C-11 debate got with supporters accusing digital first creators of being not culturally significant. One thing is for sure, we are going to be in for yet another bumpy road ahead.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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