It is unlikely the Winnipeg Free Press ever thought that some of its activities might be revealed in a Freedom of Information request.
However, when the editor of the Free Press contacted the president of the Red River College to lodge a complaint through unofficial channels, the emails and notes were traceable and available through a freedom of information request.
The National Post on November 16 had this to say about the cancellation of The Great Canadian Talk Show:
Graham Thomson, the college’s dean of business and applied arts and a non-voting executive member of the board that canned the show, acknowledged that the Winnipeg Free Press contacted president Stephanie Forsyth, but denied any outside influence. Ms. Forsyth declined to comment.
“As I understand it, the president did get a communication from the Free Press,” he said, later adding that he believed the communication came from editor Margo Goodhand. “There were some concerns about Marty having taken shots at the Free Press ... I believe that the concern about the show was voiced by the president to one of our vice-presidents who is on the board.”
Mr. Thomson said the vice-president was present at the Nov. 2 executive board meeting of Cre-Comm Radio Inc. — the non-profit corporation that manages the station — where four voting board members unanimously decided to cancel Mr. Gold’s show.
He said the cancellation was part of a far-reaching “reorganization” aimed at ensuring students get air-time, and said the decision “was not about censorship.” Mr. Thomson said the decision was made without student board-member consultation and without faculty input — something the station’s bylaws “allow for.”
In an email to the National Post, Ms. Goodhand said: “I’ve never met Mr. Gold, I’ve never actually heard his college radio show, and I don’t know why it was cancelled.”
There seems to be a great chasm between what the editor said to the National Post and what she said to the president of the college on October 22, 2010:
The college is granting Mr. Gold/Goldstein/Boroditsky a daily podium for his rants, which have escalated to defamation on more than several accounts.
This letter would seem to indicate that someone at the Free Press knew and had heard The Great Canadian Talk Show and the editor said that she had researched the blog posts as well. The editor also seems to know a lot about the background of the host of the radio show.
The last note of the letter that was made available through Freedom of Information indicates the newspaper had enlisted their lawyer and the threat was there that the paper could be proceeding to a course of action.
A few other claims were made about the radio show as well and the editor asked for confidentiality over the matter. However, the gist of the letter was "do something."
It would seem that that the claim of not knowing why the radio show was cancelled was disingenuous. The Free Press was the one that had made a complaint.
The Freedom of Information Act is likely to make available all of the decisions that went into the cancelling the radio program. If everyone followed protocol outlined within the rules set up for the radio licence and by the CRTC in regards to complaints then everything should be okay. However, if rules were broken in order to kill the radio program, it could set off a very different process which the college and newspaper may come to regret.
The lesson learned about all this is that information that is passed back and forth within a provincially run institution such as the college falls under the Freedom of Information Act. As such, those who work at the college can expect requests to see the mechanics of how they operate. Also, those who have business with the college such as a newspaper might find that their communications become available under the same act as well.
I called the college myself in regards to the cancellation to learn more about what happened and asked about what sort of appeal process existed for cancelled programs. I was contacted by phone in regards to my question and was told such an appeal was possible. I wrote about that call here. I have not heard anything since.
I expect we will see more in regards to the radio decision in the days ahead.