In a surprise move yesterday, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs called for a national boycott of Sun News Media and its subsidiaries, calling the “pro-Conservative anti-First Nation slant” of the organization little more than political propaganda.
“Sun News Media has demonstrated no integrity when it comes to reporting on the hardships and issues of our people across the country,” Grand Chief Derek Nepinak said in a press release. “This is despite the fact that we have given them ample opportunity to learn the other side of the story on matters before presenting issues to the public.”
In lock step with the right-leaning lobbyist group, the Canadian Taxpayer Federation, the Sun media chain — including Sun TV and the corporation’s newspapers — has been championing the Conservative government’s First Nations Financial Transparency Act, which requires that Canada’s First Nations publish their audited consolidated financial statements and chief and council salaries on a band website.
Note that the Brandon Sun is not part of the Sun media chain. This paper is owned by FP Newspapers and is a sister paper to the Winnipeg Free Press.
As we reported last week, First Nations have until the end of November to comply with the act or they could risk losing their government funding.
The deadline for all 633 of Canada’s First Nations to comply was July 29, and “if there is no resolution” the federal government can withhold funding, according to Erica Meekes, press secretary in the office of Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt.
As of Aug. 7, only eight of Manitoba’s 63 First Nations had filed documents to comply with the First Nations Financial Transparency Act.
There has been significant push back from First Nations chiefs across the country regarding the act. Last week, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief David Harper said if Valcourt makes good on his threat to cut funding, First Nations will set up blockades on economic projects such as pipelines and mining exploration.
Editorially, the Sun media chain has blasted First Nations leadership across the country for making it difficult for band members to access information on how federal payments to reserves are spent.
We can only assume that the Sun media’s persistence in pushing for First Nations salary disclosures is the source of the AMC’s decision to call for a boycott. The Sun chain has an obvious pro-Conservative stance when it comes to editorials and columnists, often distractedly so. That kind of partisanship can be blinding at times to other voices and arguments, and can come at the expense of context for readers. In that sense, we can agree with the AMC’s criticism.
As a news organization, the Brandon Sun covers First Nations within western Manitoba, and we are well aware that the issues facing people living on reserves can be daunting for any aboriginal government. But in making salaries of chiefs and councils public, we are expecting nothing less of our First Nations than we do of federal, provincial and municipal politicians.
Contrary to popular belief, First Nations people pay taxes as well, and band members have a right to know how those tax dollars are spent when it comes to band leadership. Boycotting media — any media — serves little purpose, and in fact can make matters worse as reporters and commentators are left to work within a media vacuum. It’s a bad public relations tactic that could backfire on the AMC.