While I always enjoy VIP status at a nightclub, as a reporter the playing field must be level for everyone. That wasn’t the case going into Toronto Pride this year.
About a week before the festival, reporters were notified of a new restriction slipped into the media accreditation approval from Pride Toronto (PT). Highlighted in red, we got this: “As per Toronto Police Service, all accredited media personnel covering the Parade MUST [caps in text] be positioned on Yonge St between College and Wellesley streets.”
The new rule went further still. Members of the media caught sneaking outside the designated area would get the equivalent of a Pride spanking: their media passes would be revoked and they would be removed from the parade route, badly limiting their ability to cover the festival. Ouch.
As it turned out, Xtra wasn’t the only media outlet to notice the change and kick up a fuss. Complaints poured in to PT from freelance journalists and other city publications.
Former Xtra managing editor Paul Gallant wrote in a letter to the (PT) board of directors that if it weren’t for Xtra’s coverage of the 2002 parade, photographs of nudists being hauled away in handcuffs would not exist. Those photos, by Xtra contributor Joshua Meles, were at least partly to credit when Crown agreed to drop the charges against them.
At the height of the PT/QuAIA censorship controversy last year – just a week after the G20 – Xtra reporters, videographers and photographers were positioned all along the parade route. Only by doing so could we document and report on what was really going on.
Xtra leapt on the media accreditation story. The first call was to interim PT executive director Glen Brown. At first Brown told me he thought restricting media wasn’t a new rule. But a quick check of last year’s accreditation form proved otherwise. So, Brown asked that Xtra hold off on the story for 24 hours so he could get to the bottom of the matter. The Xtra editorial crew was suspicious of what was really behind the sudden change, but agreed to hold off because we felt that it was important to give PT the benefit of the doubt and the chance to make things right.
Then PT media coordinator Crystal Moore emailed that the Toronto police were to blame for the change, writing that for safety reasons cops originally wanted all media off the parade route, and that PT organizers compromised to allow media on the route between Wellesley and College streets. But Allan Gray, of the Toronto Police Service special events unit, told me he didn’t know anything about it, saying that a media corral was neither enforceable nor necessary.
Then Brown came back with a proposal: a special exception for Xtra journalists. This was even worse. I really wasn’t comfortable thumbing my nose at other corralled reporters while I and the other Xtra types skipped freely along the parade route.
In the end, the 2011 Pride media blip fizzled out in the face of the outcry. PT’s policy was scrapped and Brown was ultimately upfront and speedy in his response. How the clause came to be in the accreditation documents at all, who decided it ought to be there and why remains largely unclear, but Brown seemed in the end to genuinely want to keep the media happy.
On the big day, media kept their distance, didn’t slow down floats and snapped away from the sidelines. And, in solidarity with other reporters, we didn’t let a silly rule rain on our parade.