September 1 2004
Canadian journalism - not perfect indeed
Journalism in West isn't perfect - mmm-hmmm. tell me about it. I wrote the man a letter.
Paul Berton firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Paul Berton,
Re your recent column, Journalism isn't perfect, 2004-09-11.
I've noticed a couple of other columns like yours in the last few days - one by Richard Gwyn in the Star comes to mind - proposing the idea that much of the recent murder of children at the Beslan school and the situation around that crime might not have happened if Russia had of had a free press - and by golly we sure are lucky here that WE have a free press, where stuff like that just couldn't happen - our press may not be perfect, but they sure are better than them guys!
Well maybe yes and maybe no - but "better" does not mean "good", and the current version of the Canadian media would not get a high grade from any impartial observer, I fear.
I can't quite figure if you aren't really aware that you are missing a lot of information here and thus only sort of "innocently" misleading your readers through various errors of interpretation or omissions (this is a polite letter - I could use much stronger words), or if you are being deliberately dissembling - but as a good Canadian, the way I was raised, I am always inclined to give someone the benefit of the doubt, so I will go with the assumption that you actually believe what you are writing, and provide you with some information that puts your assertions in some doubt, at least, and may open your eyes a bit.
You say that "... editors have an obligation to themselves and their readers to reflect the truth..." - and I couldn't agree more. That has to be one of the first principles of a good newspaper.
But is that what happens in Canada? Let's look at a couple of things you appear to be overlooking and reexamine your statement.
You refer to the Beslan incident, and your discussions about whether or not you should run pictures - a fair enough discussion. But what about the tens of thousands of Iraqi children horribly killed - any impartial accounting would say murdered by terrorists, as murder and terrorizing of innocent children and civilians by bombs from 30,000 feet in modern warplanes is just as much a terrorist act as murder of innocents by car bomb on the ground or masked men with guns up close and personal - during the last 12 or so years by American bombs and bullets? Have you had discussions about running pictures of these children - there have been a least a few particularly brutal ones? But pictures from Beslan or no, the Canadian media was full of stories of world leaders decrying the brutality of their murders, and how "beyond the pale" it was to use children for terrorist ends - all true enough, but where have the eulogies been for the thousands of children of Iraq over the last 18 months (or tens of thousands over the last 12 years), the comments that "intentionally targeting children and murdering them is just not acceptable, at any time for any reason"? - as were offered by many leaders all around the world concerning the atrocity in Russia? I must confess I do not read your paper regularly and may have missed these stories - but if you did carry such things, you would be one of the very few in Canada - I read a lot of media every day, admittedly only what is available on the web as that is all I have access to - and NEVER have I seen ONE story concerned about the needless deaths - the terroristic murders - of these tens of thousands of Iraqi children. Or similar children and civilians in Yugoslavia a few years ago, Afghanistan more recently, or other countries all over the world - there are brief stories about some of the incidents, but never any suggestion that what is happening is a cruel and evil thing, with horrifying pictures and condemnatory commentary. A clear enough message is implied, if no-one is bold enough to put it in words - killing children is only really horrible and to be loudly condemned if people we don't like are doing it - if "our side" does it - why, no comment necessary - "fortunes of war" or whatever.
But there are many, many people out there who think the murder of these Iraqi children is equally reprehensible to the murder of the children in Beslan, and have been saying so - is it not a failure on the part of the Canadian media that they do not carry such stories concerning the American invasion of Iraq, so that the readers of these papers can get some other ideas and opinions of that war, besides the war-mongering stemming from America?
Going back another step or two concerning the Iraq situation, to the leadup to that invasion, the Canadian media failed pretty miserably again, in terms of failing to present both sides of the picture so Canadians could decide for themselves what was happening..
There were endless stories reflecting the American position that Hussein was "evil", and making "WMD"s, and conspiring with bin Laden and al Quaeda to do terrible things, and this made it acceptable to invade and bomb the daylights out of his country and kill all these people and children - after ten years of sanctions had already killed hundreds of thousands - but rarely, if ever, were there stories in the Canadian media - again widely available through "alternative" sources on the Internet - that the Bush stories were arrant nonsense and lies - as has, of course, been subsequently proven. Powell's speech at the UN was given wide coverage, and used by editorial writers all over the country to declare that "Wow! That darn evil Saddam! We really gotta go and get him now!" - and shortly thereafter, of course, that is just what America did. That 90% of what Powell said that day has proven false - a great deal of demonstrably so even as he spoke, indicating that he lied and knew he lied at the time - has gotten next to no coverage, that I have seen, in the mainstream Canadian press.
Do you really believe that this one-sided perspective was or is really "reflecting the truth" - or giving the readers of your newspaper all the information they need to make informed decisions about what is happening in the world, and what an appropriate reaction to these events for Canada, if any, might be? If Canadians were faced with pictures every day of dead and mutilated Iraqi children, as horrible as the ones from Beslan - do you think they would be so unconcerned about what is happening there? As a great thinker once said - all that is necessary for evil to prevail in the world is for good people to do nothing - and when your newspapers regularly do NOT carry stories about some things, but DO carry stories about others - YOU are telling the people what they should think, what they should be involved with or concerned about. And thus YOU must bear a lot of responsibility for what is happening, and what we are or are not doing about it. (yes the people do have some responsibility to get out and get info themselves from other sources - but you all know that few of them go past the daily newspapers or tv shows - and you in the newspaper business are quick enough also to try to marginalise those of us who DO spend time on the internet, sifting through the wide variety of stuff available, from nonsense to truth, and trying to make sense of what is happening in the world through information we do NOT get in your newspapers)
The people need the truth, you say. "To be sure, we often don't know the truth, but we quote the participants and critics and bystanders on all sides and let readers decide. It's the best we can do..." I would suggest that you do NOT quote critics and bystanders from all sides in any sort of reasonable proportion at all, and your stories and commentary are very much designed to push your readers into a certain way of seeing things (American killing of hundreds of thousands of children through sanctions and bombing over a long period of time is perhaps regrettable but nothing we want to be too concerned with or spend much time thinking about - Chechnyan "terrorists" killing a few hundred children is instantly one of the worst crimes in the history of Modern Civilization and will dominate things for days - I would wager there has been more coverage and grief and condemnation of the happening in Beslan in hardly a week than there has been about hundreds of thousands of Iraqis women and children in over 10 years, etc), a certain range of opinion acceptable to the owners of your papers (who do not, of course, normally send down edicts of what you are supposed to say or not say - it is sufficient altogether to hire editors and publishers who see the world from the same perspective and let them do what comes naturally - your newspapers, for instance, would have a rather different perspective if, shall we say, Noam Chomsky or, closer to home, Naomi Klein was the in-the-newsroom Editor, would you agree?). There are horrible and brutal things going on all over the world, and has been for a long time - why is it that you pick out the odd one here and there to push and get Canadians all concerned and upset - but ignore most of them? Even today, how many Canadians know about the 200,000 dead in East Timor, or the ongoing repression in Burma, to name but two of dozens of instances of FAR worse atrocities than happened in Beslan - but get nary a word of coverage in your papers?
Many, many other events in the world the last few years - and currently - follow the same pattern. What about the major occurrence of the century so far, then - the destruction of three buildings of the World Trade Center in New York on that infamous day of 911? Have you been diligent in presenting "all sides of the story" here, and letting your readers decide the truth? Or have you, hand in hand with the American media and government, been front and center in presenting a very one-sided, very implausible story about what happened that day and who did it, and burying all attempts to really get at the truth of the matter? I don't pretend to know what happened that day - I would LOVE to see some sort of real investigation, some real presentation of evidence as to what happened that day, and who did what - but it is quite apparent to anyone who can think independently that the "official story" is itself a huge conspiracy theory, with crazy arabs living in caves who cannot drive Cessnas let alone huge airliners getting though airport security with boxcutters and hijacking planes and driving them around like they knew what they were doing and flying them into important buildings while the entire US Air Force - supposedly honed to a high degree of "instant response" preparedness through 50 years of intense, highly paranoid "cold war" preparation (remember how long it took them to get to Payne Stewart's jet?) - sitting helplessly on the ground while all this happens, no fighters from Andrews Air Force base 10 miles from the Pentagon while a hijacked planes flies around for two hours heading for Washington, with known hostile intent - it really defies belief! - but NO-ONE in the corporate mainstream media is saying boo about all of this. I assure you, Mr. Berton, your readers are NOT getting the info they need about this, unless they are using the net again as a source for alternative information - much of it raising questions and issues that surely deserve airing in the mainstream media were it really doing its job, but do not get it. You can toss this message in your delete bin and call me a crazy conspiracy theorist - but the truth of this horrible crime is going to come out someday - and then what little reputation you people have left is going to be even lower. Which saddens me - I have always been a believer in the media, and hate to see this happening to it.
Well - in case you get this far, and just in case you are a conscientious sort, how about one more, briefly, something that should be a major issue here in Canada - but again, not a WORD from the corporate press?
We've heard nothing for years concerning the Canadian fiscal situation except how we terrible Canadians have greedily spent ourselves into a HUGE national debt and now must be frugal with our spending while we deal with that debt, etc (odd how "we Canadians" are the culprits here and not the politicians, but that's an item for another time). Check out the national accounts - even this year, we are paying something like $40 Billion in "service" charges on the Canadian national debt - over twenty cents of every tax dollar collected, a huge amount. And we've been doing this for awhile - we have spent close to a Trillion dollars in "service" charges on that debt in the last 25 years. Just imagine what the government might have done with that trillion dollars for Canadians during that time - just imagine what they could do with an extra forty billion this year!!!! (not to mention the provinces in the same boat - McGuinty's famed $6 Billion shortfall would have evaporated if the Ontario gov was not paying out something like $8 Billion in "service" charges on that debt)
And the whole debt need never have happened.
Again, I do not know exactly what decisions were made by whom during the time this thing was accumulating, but I am very, very sure that this whole thing has been nothing but a big scam perpetrated on the taxpayers of this country by a few very unscrupulous people, who have benefitted from it greatly (a trillion bucks is pretty big money for anyone, even these days).
Think about this, if you are really a journalist looking for the truth.
The bankers and economists will tell you in horrified tones that "governments printing money" will lead to horrible inflation and really bad stuff.
It would have had to have been REALLY bad to be worse than the current 500 billion dollar debt, on which we have already paid a trillion bucks in interest. But it is hard to figure how it would have been.
Had the government in the late 70s and early 80s, when it faced some budgetary shortfalls (brought on by reduced corporate taxes) used the Bank of Canada - as it had historically - to either issue new money or issue debt to the tune of around 100 billion dollars over 6-8 years (the gov borrowing from the Bank of Canada is basically interest free, I'm sure you know, as the gov is the only shareholder so any interest just goes in a circle and comes back to it/us) - there would have been no huge national debt today, and we would not have paid that trillion dollars in interest. And think - instead of issuing that hundred billion - we borrowed FIVE hundred billion or more - most of which was just to pay accumulating interest on the hundred billion or so that actually went for programs that we borrowed previously! How can it be HORRIBLE to issue a hundred billion, but ok to BORROW a trillion??? No way!!
How would our current financial situation look under those circumstances? How different would things have been the last 20 years if the government had not been screaming NATIONAL DEBT NATIONAL DEBT REDUCE SPENDING!!!!! ???? I ask you.
Inflationary? I hardly think so, assuming that intelligent people are issuing the new money with an eye to what is needed in the economy, and not starting an inflationary spiral, any more than they did with their borrowed money. The money supply has to increase each year along with the expanding economy, yes or no? Why do we allow the banks to print this money, then borrow it from them, thus giving them what could be called nothing more than windfall profits at the expense of us all? It's great for them, certainly - but it is not so great for We the People of Canada. The economy grows each year - the government should issue new money to keep up with the expansion - not borrow it into existence from private banks - that is just insane.
And just how much of THIS debate has crossed the pages of your newspaper the last 20 years? How much have you talked about the Great Bank Bailouts of the early 80s and again early 90s, which led to much of our debt problem? Or have you been part of the "horrible greedy Canadians overspending and now must pay the price!!!" cabal, led by the Frasers and CCCE and Banks? Has anyone ever even thought about it? Are you providing Canadians with the information they need - or are you providing banks and "investors" with the cover they need to continue this amazing scam?
Truth and information.
How many stories has your paper carried in the last year wherein some group demanded lower taxes - and how many stories have you carried concerning the plight of the 20% or so of people living in poverty in Canada - a national disgrace? How many stories have you carried relating these two issues - which are surely related? Can you honestly say you have fostered a fair debate on these issues - or would an impartial analysis of your coverage conclude that judging by the stories you carried, and the perspective of the central figures in those stories, and the opinion you featured, you were biased in one direction or another? Did you have stories decrying poverty several times a week all year, indicating this was a serious concern of your editorial staff, and only one or two during the year on Fraser or CCCE "reports" demanding lower taxes indicating you thought their demands not so important - or was it the other way around?
Well, Mr; Berton, I shan't take more of your time, if you've got this far - except for a final comment. You close your piece by saying "Well, journalism in the western world isn't perfect, but it's the best we've got." Again, I think you better have another look around. It may have been the best we had 10 years ago - but nowadays, there is a GREAT deal more truth to be found on the internet - which is why newspaper circulation is falling and net use is increasing.
People are starting to understand as they never could or did before that you folks are NOT giving them the whole story - the few I have outlined above are only three of four of dozens of important stories of the last few years that have been woefully undercovered or spun in very misleading ways or not covered at all in the mainstream corporate media in Canada - and not liking the implications. This phenomena has been fueled in both directions - as the net gets better, the Canadian media gets more concentrated, and thus offers even LESS perspective than previously, as owners focused on one thing and one thing only - the bottom line - cut corners and cut costs as much as possible. Either the media serves the Canadian people - or it serves corporate investors. It cannot serve two masters - and I think the evidence is pretty clear as to which master it is serving.
I wish you well, Mr. Berton, you certainly seem like a sincere sort, and not one of the many trolls writing in the Canadian media who write shamelessly for the wealthy, promoting their vision of a return to a modern feudalistic society with a few lords and a lot of peasants (names like Corcoran and Styne come to mind, and many others - check out the Sun columnists page for a lot of them) - but if you really want to be a We the People journalist and newspaper, you really better get rid of the complacence you show in this piece, and make an effort to start REALLY looking for the facts of what is going on in our country and the world, and giving them to the people. As you say, you cannot know what the truth is, but you have a duty to give the various main viewpoints and let people make up their own minds, and you have been sadly derelict in that duty at least the last few years. People are more and more exposed to the meat and veggies of the internet, and they do not want your pabulum anymore. (and yes we are well aware there is a lot of nonsense and spin and untruth to be found on the net as well as good stuff - but this is not new - let's not forget the main "newspapers" to be found at every grocery checkout, with names like the National Enquirer and Star - would you have us dismiss all newspapers because of them? The net is the same - the intelligent user sifts the junk out from the good stuff on the net, the same as with print media. For the same reasons I do not believe Elvis is alive and think it most unlikely that Mrs. Abercrombie from Montana was snatched by gruesome aliens and sexually molested for days, I do not think it likely that the fact that the entire US Air Force sat helplessly on the ground for two hours while their country was being attacked can be written off as "confusion".)
Ever more it seems that the attitude of the Canadian corporate media is that, as suggested in the stories I mention above, far from bringing a wide range of opinion and fact to people for their information, YOU are the gatekeeper - YOU will decide what your readers should or should not talk about, what they should or should not assign credibility to, what the framework of the debate will be - a VERY different proposition, Paul, than, as you SAY you do, presenting people with information and letting them make their own minds up about things where "the truth" is difficult to ascertain.
And THAT is NOT what a media of, by and for the people would be doing - that is, I fear, what a media of by and for those who wish to shape people's thought for their own ends would do - otherwise known, to use truthful words, as propaganda and brainwashing.
It's a bit of a stretch to say "you try" to do your best with these things, and it's hard to be perfect, so let's go easy on the criticism - the information I refer to is readily available on the internet. It is no excuse to say "you have no time" - that is your job, to sift through information and present your readers with relevant stuff. It is no excuse to say "but there is so much garbage out there" - there is garbage everywhere, and again it is your job to be aware of what is out there that Canadian people should know about, and present it to them - it is not difficult to do for people aware of what is going on in the world, and see it in the somewhat harsher light of reality than the dark light of deception the commercial corporate media likes to shine around. That George Bush and many others lied egregiously about the "threat" presented by Iraq and Hussein for several months before he invaded that country was widely broadcast on the internet - by credible people who could find no space in American or Canadian mainstream media - and those people have now been proven correct, and all of the media who broadcast the White House lies unquestioningly have been proven wrong, with next to no acknowledgment of this failure on your/their part. You have no excuse - for whatever reason, you failed in your job. It is easy enough to find information and do a bit of calculation and critical thinking about the things I say about the National Debt Scam and hear with a very skeptical ear the words of those conmen who benefit from this scam and are therefore likely to be telling you things they NEED you to believe in order to perpetrate the scam - but you make editorial decisions to push the stories of the Frasers and d'Aquinos and politicians who favor borrowing money from banks, and refuse to examine this critical issue critically.
Ted Koppel complained a couple of weeks ago that more people were watching the John Stewart show for "news" than his mainstream show - instead of whining about this, he ought to have opened eyes and taken a message from that fact - people just do not trust you folks as much as they used to - and there's a reason for that lack of trust - it's because you are not doing the job you are supposed to be doing for We the People anymore, and now that we have a widely available alternative on the net, we are starting to know and see how you have been shaping the news and hiding a lot of things - the closer you have gotten to being propagandists for the corporate governments, the more you have lost our trust. If you want that trust back - then stop spinning everything through the CCCE or corporate HQ or the White House. People DO want both sides of the story to make their minds up - and if they only get one side from you, then they are going to start going somewhere else for the other sides - and if those other places prove more reliable - you are going to lose those readers.
Prince of Songkla University
Hat Yai, Songkhla, Thailand