Does Radio Encryption Undermine Journalism?

Image credit: Hackwhiz

The argument that “Print is Dead” keeps growing. When I first entered the Bachelor of Communication Studies I had my heart set on Journalism. Yet after spending a day at the Edmonton Journal with the crime bureau chief and a photojournalist, I heard many disturbing stories: financial cutbacks, high stress situations (which, in one unfortunate case, ultimately led to the early death of our photographer’s friend at the age of 35), and the encryption of radio transmissions.

My focus of this post is the information I received about the introduction of encrypted radio transmissions used by police in Toronto, which are in preparation to hit Edmonton. Throughout my visit, we listened to the EMS, EPS, and EFD radio transmissions, which journalists use as leads to create their stories. Journalists are often the first on the scene. Police encounter many calls that they have to attend to as an order of priority, fire departments are fast and efficient when preparing for the scene, but neither are as fast as a journalist with a camera and an available car. These transmissions are what journalists rely on; they are what allow them to be (at most times) the first at the scene.

But how can journalism survive without the vital tips produced by radio transmissions from police, fire, and ambulance services within our city? How will this change journalists’ stories if they are the last on the scene, after the mess has been cleaned up, and all of the information is held until a formal public address? If the only information we receive is from officials, rather than from the general public during the scene of the crime or accident, is this true journalism? Are we getting the real story once encryption is introduced?

I ask: is encryption a good or bad thing in the world of journalism? The answer may be obvious, but I also offer the opposing argument: does it safeguard our police force? Can we strike a balance between civil service and journalistic integrity?

Sources:

Radiocommunication Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. R-2)

Police radio to go silent as Toronto cops move toward encrypted communications

Scanner silence: Nova Scotia RCMP switching to digital encryption

RADIO SILENCE: Kamloops RCMP switching to encrypted radios

Prince George RCMP switch to digitally encrypted police radio system

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