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‘It’s not news’: Doug Ford’s Ontario News Now attempts to muzzle media, experts say

The Progressive Conservative government’s production of a TV-news-style video under the banner of “Ontario News Now” is a “pure example of fake news” that aims to undercut the pillars of democracy and muzzle media, political policy experts say.

“Having a separate news channel kind of corrodes the function of the democratic media, because it assumes that the media isn’t able to fulfil the function that is assigned to them,” said Jonathan Rose, a political science professor at Queen’s University.

The partisan channel launched on Monday via social media with a minute-long video that served as a highlight reel of Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s photo ops during his first month in power and chronicled his alleged campaign successes.

Ontario News Now bills itself as “news” and “timely exclusive content on the PC government’s priorities for the people of Ontario,” according to its descriptions on Facebook and Twitter.

“The use of the word news is what this all boils down to,” said Lisa Taylor, a former lawyer and broadcaster who now teaches journalism at Ryerson University.

“It’s not news.… The content being created is to further the interest of the political viability of the current premier. It’s for a very specific interest.”

Taylor says the PCs are looking to eradicate the need for a middleman, or reporters, by covering their own political moves, further creating a climate of secrecy.

“Once those who are a legitimate subject for journalism decides to cut out the journalists and communicate directly, there is very little reason for them to disseminate information to journalists, who, in turn, disseminate it to the public,” she said.

“There’s every incentive in the world to hold this information and just disseminate it through their own propaganda machine.”

The Ontario News Now video is fronted by PC staffer Lyndsey Vanstone, who says that “Premier Ford attended dozens of events in 30 days, and he managed to keep a few campaign promises, too.”

The frame then transitions to an interview-style clip, where Ford lists a litany of provincial issues he says he fixed, including slashing gas prices by 10 cents a litre.

Despite his claim, Ford has yet to deliver on that campaign promise.

“The concern is the sound bites that are given through this partisan channel might be picked up and used as a substitute to real media because of the inaccessibility of the premier,” said Rose.

“The effect is to marginalize the role of the traditional media in liberal democracies, which is to hold the government to account. And if you allow selected exposure to staffers who are going to highlight your successes and ignore your failures, then it does an end run around the traditional media.”

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