Tuesday, September 25, 2007

It's Not My Imagination

I frequently write about my dissatisfaction with our media in Canada. Sometimes I focus on what I perceive as bias, but I'm fully cognizant that I view such things through my own lens.

More often though, I'm frustrated by the lack depth, the seemingly poor quality of written, television and some radio reporting of the news. I've often referred to the fact, that reporters simply parrot the words of whomever they are speaking or listening to. That tough questions never seem to be asked and most often, reporters/journalists, simply repeat the mundane "talking points", that are inevitable rhetoric.

Well, it would seem that some testimony at the CRTC Hearings, bears out my complaint. A Hill Times article, by Simon Doyle entitled,

'Journalism is under siege across Canada,' journalists tell CRTC

reports on some testimony offered, that supports my contention. That of course doesn't make me right, but I feel a heck of lot less lonely.

The Hill Times article, may be behind a wall tomorrow, so I'll pull some quotes to give you a flavour.

One of the things that really gets under my skin, is the fact that they never seem to put stories in context. They seem to use the mood of the day, rather than historical context and worse, they take whatever rhetoric is contemporary as a back drop.

Media consolidation has reduced the quality of journalism in Canada, creating a "crisis in local news" and an environment in which journalists are overworked and fewer are "digging beyond the press release or the sound bite," journalists told a CRTC hearing last week. "In the space of a daily news cycle, it is virtually impossible for one reporter to do an adequate job on a television news item, a newspaper story, a web story, even covering a routine press conference," Mary Agnes Welch, president of the Canadian Association of Journalists, which has about 1,400 members nationally, said at a CRTC hearing in Gatineau, Que., last week. "There is far less time to consult a variety of views, to verify information, to treat sources critically, to understand background and context, to track down documents and to explain the information in the clearest and most useful way to readers and viewers. There is certainly no time left to do some old-fashioned digging, following up on tips or courting sources, the kind of gumshoe reporting that often yields the groundbreaking stories," she said.

Well, that couldn't be more clear. They might as well simply plug their recording device, into an electronic translator and print/report that. If they have simply become scribes, (how regressive is that thought?) and it appears they have, how does that serve us? In two words, it doesn't. They are allowing groups to simply get their message out without scrutiny. Given that a government will receive far more attention than an opposition party, guess what is getting out? There is no question that this government is all about propaganda, as evidenced by Flanagan's words, therefore the logical leap is that is what we are getting.

To all you Liberal haters out there, I think it would be exactly the same if the Lib's were in power. All parties "message", but the con's, con and that's the problem at the moment.

Another document submitted to the CRTC prior to the hearings, signed by 30 journalists and freelance writers in the Vancouver area, including Deborah Campbell, J.B. MacKinnon, and Chris Tenove, said that "we believe that journalism is under siege across Canada." The submission goes on to say that talented journalists are choosing to leave the profession as a result of lower-quality jobs. "In our experience, the growing concentration of the news media has reduced demand for in-depth investigative journalism, a crucial element of a healthy national media," the submission says. "In this increasingly concentrated ownership environment, we find that the media outlets are paying less for freelance work and demanding more extensive control over copyright in the past."

Extensive control. That of course plays to my bias protestations. It's hilarious to me that the political right in this country, including the PM, still maintain, that media leans left. Who owns most of it? Not left leaning corporations. They've never had it so good, but as usual, they do not see what is in front of their collective faces.

Some of the discussion last week surrounded the issue of "self-censorship" in reporting and whether the business interests of large media organizations influence journalists' stories. As Russell Mills, former publisher of the Ottawa Citizen, said before the Senate Standing Committee on Transport and Communications in 2003: "The principals of the company [CanWest] have been quite open about their desire to use their newspapers to promote their interests and views. Staffs of the newspapers have learned which issues are sensitive and when to censor themselves. For example, you are unlikely to find much that is favourable about the CBC or about Palestinians in CanWest newspapers."

Bingo...bias exposed. Of course this view was countered, poorly, but it's out there now.

I'm not sure what faith I have in the CRTC. I find that they step back too much, but there is good information being given. We shall see.

To any readers who also question media today, be heartened by the fact that noise, is now getting louder...sort of. The CRTC will temper their conclusions...but cross your fingers that more regulation will evolve.

Oh the con's will hate that!


The Mound of Sound said...

As you can tell, I'm working my way down your posts. Shamed as I may be to admit it, but I was an Ottawa journalist back in the - 60's and early 70's - before I got seduced into going to law school. I'm talking the days of - gasp - Underwood and Remington "manual" typewriters! I was in radio for the advent of the IBM selectric and in TV just before the switch from film to video. What an era.

Sad as it is to say, in the "good old days" reporters knew that their job was to be the watchdog of politicians, not their lapdogs. Back then reporters would have - and occasionally did -quit rather than be muzzled by the corporate types.

The public was better informed for it. Those enamoured of the latest and greatest saw their guy dissected, analyzed and critiqued. You were SUPPOSED to criticize. It was the essence of the job. The journalist wasn't supposed to rely on an often feckless opposition to expose the errors of the people in power.

How that has changed

knb said...

How that has changed

Indeed. I'd like to see some new upstart begin to change the channel. I suppose it gets down to what they are being taught. Surely there is a way to work in a style that fits the contemporary 24 hr. news cycle, while delivering quality.

For the record, I had a manual typewriter at one point in time.