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Editorial: Press restrictions a slippery slope

Chances are that by now you've seen the iconic photo showing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau embracing Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie.

The image is everywhere — newspapers, television, social media. It's the predominately circulated photo of the hug and it prominently features Trudeau as the singer's back is to the camera.

But here's the kicker: the photo wasn't taken by a journalist. It was taken by the PM's staff photographer — the man who is in Trudeau's inner circle, the man who has access to capturing some of the most intimate moments while he is in office. Adam Scotti also has the ability to stage photos and go where journalists aren't generally allowed.

The issue is not with the photo itself. The issue is that photojournalists were barred from taking photos at what was one of the biggest nights in recent Canadian history.

Photojournalists who snap photos of more than just the prime minister were unable to do their jobs that night — and so, the only images come from a man paid to produce flattering images of the prime minister, and the tour photographer — who is paid to take images of the performers.

People tuned in from across the country to watch Downie, who has been diagnosed with a rare and terminal form of brain cancer, give his all on that Kingston stage. It was a momentous occasion. It was a once-in-a-lifetime gig. It was a chance to document music history — and the press were not invited.

For some people, that may not seem like a big deal. For journalists, it's troublesome.

How many moments were missed? How many interactions between fans and Downie were overlooked? Who else was in attendance? What if something miraculous, or, God forbid, tragic, happened that night? Would the Liberal staffer take those photos or would he be hurrying off to be by the PM's side? Would the tour photographer have focused on the chaos unfolding? It's doubtful.

Recognized news organizations have a key role to play in keeping the public informed. Denying access to events, or severely restricting access, is detrimental to the public, even if they don't initially see the value of the media.

There were moments that could — and should — have been captured by professional journalists. While the Hip's music and message will live on, the world missed out on powerful images from the final show — powerful images only the press could provide.

While there is no doubt the photo that is circulating of Trudeau and Downie is touching, it's self-serving for the prime minister's office to ensure the public sees it.

They say a photo is worth 1,000 words — and for those who like to control the message, shutting out the press ensures exactly what that message will be. To allow this to happen sets a dangerous precedent.


To view a collection of stories and opinions on the Hip's last show, click here or visit:

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