Ethics versus life

Carol Off reading at Blue Heron Books & Brunch event, Nov. 12, 2017.

Last Sunday morning, I watched a seasoned journalist get uncharacteristically emotional. Previously a foreign correspondent, a reporter who’d covered hostilities in the Middle East and a long-time current affairs radio host, Carol Off’s eyes welled up. She recalled, in 2002, convincing Asad Aryubwal, an Afghan father of five, to go on-camera to expose the warlords the U.S. military was courting to overthrow the Taliban.

“Asad’s courage in speaking out was rewarded only with the calamity when, in response to (my) documentary,” Off told Zoomer magazine, “Afghanistan’s most powerful warlord sent a death squad to kill him.”

Power in association

The occasion was a municipal debate at Toronto City Hall, that I witnessed some months ago. The issue arose over the purchase of a small, insignificant piece of land by the municipality for the expansion of a city service. And before the debate even began, the city clerk called for city councillors to declare. Then, several stood up and did.

“In accordance with the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act,” one councillor said, “I excuse myself from the debate.”

The Christmas shepherds

The Shepherd, painting by Lauren Grace O'Malley, courtesy Vintage Wings of Canada
The Shepherd, painting by Lauren Grace O’Malley, courtesy Vintage Wings of Canada

They are the most soothing and at the same time perhaps the most mysterious symbols of Christmas. They appear in carols, in the Bible, in Christmas cards and just about every nativity scene one could imagine. They are seldom quoted, but always acknowledged as trusted and worthy guides to a safe and protected place.

“And there were in the same country,” it says in the Book of Luke, “shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night…”

The price of these words

Cover image from "International Free Expression Review 2010," published by the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression.
Cover image from "International Free Expression Review 2010," published by the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression.

I hear it among my colleagues often – industry complaints. Some of my friends in newspaper journalism worry about the uncertainty of their jobs. Others in the magazine business object to their copy being squeezed by over-sized ads. Meanwhile, those of my associates in the electronic media whine about insufficient pensions to cover their expenses when they retire.

I wonder if any of them would ever complain again, if they knew the plight of Cameroon Express editor Bibi Ngota. Earlier this year, while imprisoned at Kondengui prison in Cameroon, he died of “abandonment (and) improper care,” according to official records.

Why was he in jail? According to a press release from the organization Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), “(He) was charged with ‘imitating the signature of a member of government,’” short for criticizing the Cameroonian government.