How Ed Broadbent and His Democratic Principles Made an Impact on PressProgress’ Journalism
Ed Broadbent was a champion of equality and democracy who believed ‘critical journalism is essential for democracy’
Ed Broadbent, a lifelong champion of social democracy and a genuinely decent person, is being honoured with a state funeral on Sunday, January 28 in Ottawa.
Broadbent has received warm tributes from across the political spectrum, from prime ministers to newspaper editorial boards to old friends and partisan foes alike, recognizing his role as a parliamentary leader and his lasting mark on Canadian history.
But this was only one part of Broadbent’s legacy, one dimension of a long life lived by a man who took democratic citizenship to heart and set out to improve conditions in his community, his country and his world.
First and foremost, Ed Broadbent was a true believer in social democracy.
According to Broadbent, social democracy is about extending democratic principles to all areas of political, social and economic life. He believed that unionizing workplaces, reducing economic inequalities and ending discrimination were just as essential to the meaning of democracy as the right to vote in free elections.
That’s why his lifelong crusade for democratic change went beyond elections and legislatures. Broadbent believed democratic change could be achieved through academia, through unions, through social movements, through civil society – and yes, even through journalism too.
The Broadbent Institute was founded in 2011 to counter the influence of the neoliberal right and build the ideological infrastructure for social democratic change. This was rooted in Broadbent’s belief that a vibrant civil society is the foundation of a healthy democracy.
In addition to policy research, training community activists and organizing events, the Institute also launched PressProgress ten years ago to restore balance to a media ecosystem dominated by the concentration of corporate media ownership and influence of right-wing lobby groups.
Broadbent was a product of what he called a “skeptical age,” a time when the revelations of Watergate and the Pentagon Papers showed how journalists could challenge power and shake the most powerful offices in the land. He respected fiercely independent progressive journalists like I.F. Stone and was also heavily influenced by George Orwell’s critical writings on “linguistic and rhetorical deception” in politics.
Beyond working as a paperboy for the Oshawa Times in the 1940s, it’s true Ed Broadbent was never himself a journalist, but his social democratic philosophy and ideas about the democratic role of civil society fundamentally align with the role of the press as the Fourth Estate.
“I had been influenced by Orwell’s belief that concentrated power, whether in the state or the capitalist economy, has to be challenged and made accountable,” Broadbent wrote in his recent book, Seeking Social Democracy.
“Social democracy,” Broadbent added, is really about “holding those with power accountable.”
PressProgress is rooted in a philosophy of journalism that stands at odds with those who imagine journalists should be amoral, neutral observers and simply present two sides to every issue, regardless of the issue. To be clear, those who deny basic scientific facts, promote hateful ideologies or oppose democracy and human rights have no legitimate point of view.
Instead, PressProgress anchors its editorial principles in egalitarian and democratic values – we believe journalists should challenge the rich and powerful, not simply repeat their words.
Just as the Toronto Star’s journalism is guided by the Atkinson Principles, PressProgress’ own journalism is guided by the “Broadbent Principles for Canadian Social Democracy,” a set of principles which serve as a kind of editorial vision statement.
Our journalists produce stories independently and follow high journalistic standards that prioritize accuracy and responsible journalistic practices, but PressProgress’ coverage focuses on underreported stories in five broad issue areas that flow from the Broadbent Principles:
• Social and economic inequality
• Big business and labour
• Fact-checking and misinformation
• Right-wing politics and extremism
• Civic institutions and democracy
While PressProgress promotes no dogmatic positions on these or any issues, our editorial principles are always firmly rooted in our call to hold the powerful accountable in the name of equality and democracy.
This is why PressProgress provides critical coverage of governments that push regressive social and economic policies to undermine workers and their communities.
This is why PressProgress fact-checks right-wing think tanks and big business lobby groups that publish misleading reports to influence public policy and entrench their interests.
This is why PressProgress exposes hateful and bigoted candidates seeking public office and monitors far-right extremist groups targeting our democratic institutions.
In 2020, during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, PressProgress dropped everything and devoted its full-time attention to investigative labour reporting on issues impacting workers in high-risk workplaces.
One of these stories, about Tim Hortons requiring minimum-wage workers to get doctors notes proving they had COVID-19 before granting permission to take unpaid sick leave sparked calls to boycott Tim Hortons and forced Doug Ford’s conservative government into tabling legislation banning employers from requesting doctor’s notes from workers to prove they’re sick.
Not only was this an illustration of the impact of PressProgress’ accountability journalism, PressProgress also went on to win top journalism awards for its investigative labour reporting.
At the time, Ed Broadbent personally thanked our journalists, privately noting that this kind of “critical journalism is essential for democracy.”
Ed Broadbent and his principles are the reason why PressProgress holds the powerful accountable, exposes unsafe workplaces and shines a light on hate.
That’s also the reason why PressProgress will honour his legacy by continuing to hold power accountable in the name of equality and democracy.
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