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Foreign actors actively targeting Canadian media: security chair

All forms of media, including mainstream media, subjected to interference: report
Liberal MP David McGuinty, Chair of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, responds to questions from reporters before heading into a meeting of the Liberal Caucus in Ottawa, on Wednesday, June 5, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Foreign actors are trying to interfere with the Canadian media, and journalists and their bosses need to be aware of it, the chairman of Parliament’s nonpartisan national security committee warned on Wednesday.

All forms of media, including mainstream media, are being subjected to interference by bad actors, Liberal MP David McGuinty said.

He said he can’t divulge specifics because the information is classified.

The media was singled out in a recent report by the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, which McGuinty chairs.

The document highlights how China and India are interfering with Canadian media content through direct engagement with journalists and media executives.

“Foreign interference is definitely in the media, and it is singled out in the review, not only in our most immediate review but in our past review,” McGuinty told reporters Wednesday.

“You should read it and take it to your owners and editors.”

The latest report said there are examples of China paying to publish media articles without attribution, sponsoring media travel to China, pressuring journalists to withdraw articles and creating false accounts on social media to spread disinformation.

Different Chinese-language media outlets in Canada were found to have adopted the language of a People’s Republic of China state media article, without attributing it, the report alleges.

“Most of these media outlets were linked to the PRC via partnership agreements with the China News Service, the Chinese Communist Party’s primary media entity servicing Chinese ethnocultural communities, which reports directly to the United Front Work Department, the Chinese Communist Party’s central co-ordinating body for foreign interference activities,” the report reads.

And it found India demonstrated the intent and capability to engage in foreign interference by manipulating the media, saying an example of this was India’s effort to discredit a political party leader “using materials drafted by Indian intelligence organizations.”

The intelligence community also observed states manipulating traditional media to spread propaganda in what otherwise appeared to be independent news publications, the report says, without specifying which countries were involved.

The redacted report is based on secret intelligence, which often doesn’t paint a full picture and does not equate to evidence.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May read the unredacted report, and relayed some of her findings to media on Tuesday.

She is not bound by the same Security of Information Act that McGuinty and other members of the committee are subject to, which requires them to keep quiet about their work.

The report does not specify what media organizations, at any level, are being targeted, May said.

But she said it shows journalists are part of a group alongside community organizations and politicians that are being infiltrated and co-opted by foreign interference.

“We need to protect our democracy by better understanding what hostile foreign governments see as their targets,” May said.

“And it’s basically a lot more aspects of our society than I would have imagined, including journalists.”

The medium- and long-term goal of foreign states is to reduce the public’s trust in democratic institutions, increase polarization and lower trust in the media while promoting their strategic foreign interests, security officials have cautioned parliamentarians.

That includes by manipulating the media, which a 2019 spy watchdog report said poses a significant risk to the rights and freedoms of Canadians and the country’s sovereignty.

A 2023 study by Statistics Canada shows only 58 per cent of Canadians who say they have a high level of confidence in four or more institutions trusted news and information from the media.

That level of trust dropped to 15 per cent among those who reported low confidence in institutions, the report said.

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