Conservative website says it was denied credentials for UN climate conference

By Rob Drinkwater, The Canadian Press

Ezra Levant is hoping Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will go to bat for his conservative online publication The Rebel, after he says it was barred from a United Nations climate conference.

Levant says The Rebel applied for credentials for three journalists to attend the UN climate conference known as COP22 in Marrakech, Morocco, in November.

The application was made a month ago and he didn’t expect a problem, he says, because thousands of credentials are typically issued.

But when the response came about two weeks ago, it stated that the application was denied because credentials aren’t issued for advocacy media outlets, he says.

“We felt for sure we’d be accredited because almost anyone is. They had 3,000 journalists accredited last time, including bloggers, including activists, community organizers,” Levant said in an interview Monday.

“What we have here is the United Nations, whose own Universal Declaration of (Human) Rights includes freedom of the press, banning the one journalistic group they find offensive.”

The Rebel got its lawyer to write a letter explaining that the organization has 21 full-time journalists, and also obtained letters of support from the Canadian Association of Journalists and PEN Canada, Levant said.

But as of Monday — the deadline for accreditation — they said they received no other response.

Levant said he hadn’t asked for help from the Canadian government before because he was hoping the issue could be worked out quietly before the deadline. But he said he’s now seeking assistance from Trudeau and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna.

“I know Justin Trudeau doesn’t agree with The Rebel. I know that. But he should stand up for Canadian values like freedom of the press at the UN.”

Nicholas Nuttall, a spokesman for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Conference, said the organization tries hard to make sure those who get accreditation are genuine media rather than advocacy groups or non-governmental organizations pretending they’re media.

“We had never heard of Rebel Media before but we looked at their website and, to be honest, they seemed to be in the bracket of being something of a one person band espousing an individual’s view of the world rather than being a serious media operation,” Nuttall said in an email.

“Some of the headlines seemed to verge on extremism as well.”

Levant called Nuttall’s response outrageous and said it amounts to political censorship.

“He’s acting like he works for Saudi Arabia, Russia, China, places like that, where politicians censor journalists whose “viewpoints” they don’t like,” Levant told The Canadian Press.

Levant said The Rebel’s three reporters still intend to travel to Morocco to report on the climate conference, and will shout questions at delegates as they enter the meeting if they have to.

They’ll also ask Canadian delegates how they can participate in a conference that violates Canadian values such as free speech, he said.

Finally, they’ll ask Canadian journalists what they think.

“How do you feel about the fact that you are UN-approved and that’s why you’re let in? Do you feel independent?” Levant said.

It’s not the first time The Rebel has been denied accreditation. Attempts by Alberta’s NDP government to deny a Rebel reporter the ability to ask questions at the legislature earlier this year prompted the province to request a review of who is a journalist and who isn’t.

That review, compiled by Heather Boyd, a former Western Canadian bureau chief for The Canadian Press who now works for the government’s public affairs bureau, determined reporters should be the ones who make the call. In Alberta’s case, the review stated it should be the legislature’s press gallery.

Nuttall said decisions on accreditation aren’t easy to make with the explosion of new, online media. He said there’s only so much space at the conference.

“In the end, it’s a judgment,” Nuttall said.

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