Letters from Green Island

September 11 2006,
Canadian Association of Journalists, (re CNEWS/ Ottawa 'Sun')

Fair and unbiased, eh?

Dear Canadian Association of Journalists,
Re: (Layton: Canada will punish PM over Afganistan
- By ALEXANDER PANETTA, Sept 11, 2006
(original story also copied at the end of this letter)

Dear CAJ -
I write to point out a story from a Canadian paper that you might want to have a word with them about, insofar as the writer seems to have some significant breachings of your Code of Standards, as given in the Canadian Association of Journalists Statement of Principles, on your webpage.

(This is quite a noble document, actually, in theory - all I can say is that I wish I could see a bit more of it reflected in the current Canadian media, which seems to be more involved with gatekeeping and spin and concealment of various things and outright indoctrination-cum-propaganda than any actual neutral 'reporting' of things ....)

Your SofP says, for instance (I presume the 'we' refers to both individual reporters and the larger media outlets they write for, insofar as either are members of your organisation):

"...We will not allow our own biases to influence fair and accurate reporting..." and then "...We will clearly identify news and opinion so that readers, viewers and listeners know which is which..."

- and then I have the story, referred to in the opening, from the Ottawa Sun, via CNEWS, which begins: "...NDP Leader Jack Layton urged his troops to prepare Sunday for an election campaign he seems determined to fight against U.S. President George W. Bush. .."

(let us just overlook the spelling error, even in a headline, as this sort of thing, deplorable though it is, is becoming common in all levels of Canadian journalism, as all media owners pare staff to the bone in the name maxing the ROI of their owners - which also, actually, no doubt has a lot to do with the amateurish level of writing we see so often anymore, and the continual insertion of commentary into what should be news stories through the choice of words, presentation of 'facts', etc)

- now, this whole article is NOT identified as 'commentary or opinion', but rather is presented as a 'news' story, in the section where 'news' stories are usually found, and not in the section where opinion pieces are found, but that bit about "..determined to fight against Bush" sure sounds like commentary-opinion to me. That is to say, the writer is not quoting anybody here, most especially Layton whom he is maligning, but is quite obviously interjecting his own somewhat disdainful opinion into the lead sentence of a story about the activities of the NDP convention - perfectly fine in a commentary piece of some sort identified as such, very much less so in a 'news' story, as it gets in the way of 'fair and accurate reporting', when the 'reporter' tells the readers right up front what, in his opinion, they ought to think of the following story, rather than just report some facts and let them make up their own minds what to think of it all. If I might interject an opinion of my own, I strongly suspect that were you to poll NDP delegates, for instance, you would find most of them 'determined' to fight the next election against Harper, with probably a few who felt they were fighting the Libs, and maybe even a few who thought they had to fight the Greens or perhaps Bloc in Quebec - but I strongly suspect NONE would say "Oh, yes, obviously the election must be fought against G Bush, obviously, of course hmphh hmphh!" - I certainly haven't seem anyone commenting along these lines, anyway, in the various mainstream and alternative media I peruse each day, and certainly not Layton, 'determined' though he is, according to your reporter, to follow this path. Heck, if Harper (not to mention a lot of other people) is extremely lucky or something, G Bush might not even be around by the next election.

(Note, we might note the lead of the Toronto Star, on the same story with many of the same quotes (Layton sets sights on Tories), which starts off in a MUCH more balanced sort of way - "... QUEBEC CITYŚNDP Leader Jack Layton has made a strategic pitch to lead Canada's political left against Conservatives he says have emerged as "angry, mean-spirited and out of touch" in their few months in office... With the Liberals still to choose a leader and the Bloc Quebecois siding with the Conservatives, only the New Democrats can stop Prime Minister Stephen Harper in an election, Layton told his party's convention here yesterday... "Paul Martin and the Liberals are gone. My friends, the time is coming for Stephen Harper to go, too," Layton said, urging 1,500 delegates to dream that a party that has never won more than 43 seats could form government..." - pretty balanced overall, and, although the story later mentions some comments of Layton's concerning the current American government, there is no suggestion that he or anyone else has said they plan to fight an election against Bush or anyone else outside of the country - indeed, the headline and opening paragraphs seem to indicate they are quite firmly focusing on Harper et al for the upcoming election (and the reporter recognizes and reports such, rather than leading off with personal denigrating remarks).

The writer of this story, Mr Panetta, shows bias again at the end of the piece, as he includes a comment from a Muslim group disagreeing with certain positions the NDP took at the convention - but no comment from any group supporting the NDP positions, of which there surely are many. 'Fair and balanced'? Not according to any definitions I am familiar with.

So there you go, CAJ - do your guidelines actually have any meaning in reality, in the sense that you would take some action against this journalist and paper (if, of course, either are members of your organisation - I could not find this information on your website)? Nothing serious, it's hardly a hanging crime, but some small reprimand perhaps, some small notice that, you know, this sort of thing really won't do, old chap, if you wish to present yourself, and your paper, and your stories, as 'fair and balanced' - and perhaps a reminder to, well, quite a few Canadian journalists that this sort of thing really is going on altogether too much these days - I could draw examples on a daily basis if I wished. (Actually, you can find more commentary on the Canadian media at Green Island Veritas (don't look for too many kind words).

Dave Patterson
Hat Yai, Thailand


Layton: Canada will punish PM over Afganistan

Ottawa Sun, Sept 11, 2006

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QUEBEC (CP) - NDP Leader Jack Layton urged his troops to prepare Sunday for an election campaign he seems determined to fight against U.S. President George W. Bush.

He mentioned the U.S. president at least five times in a closing address to his party's convention and accused the Tory government of being his servant.

On climate change, on the softwood-lumber deal and on the Afghan conflict, Layton accused the Tories of selling out Canadian interests to satisfy Bush and Prime Minister Stephen Harper of being a lackey of the Republican White House.

"He's become a cheerleader for President George Bush and he's leading Canada down the wrong track on every issue that matters to ordinary people," Layton said.

Layton's anti-war, anti-Bush message appeared to delight the party masses, who showered him with a 92-per-cent approval rating in a leadership vote.

He ended his speech by telling 1,500 delegates that the weekend gathering was the start of a months-long election campaign.

Layton lauded the NDP's decision over the weekend to become Canada's first political party to officially call for the withdrawal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan.

"Canadians are not war-mongers," Layton said.

"Canada doesn't send its soldiers to the front lines just because our prime minister wants to remain in Washington's good graces."

On climate change, Layton derided Harper on the Kyoto accord.

"Stephen Harper wants to follow George Bush in reneging on Canada's international commitments," he said.

And on the recent softwood lumber deal with the U.S., Layton said Harper should be ashamed.

"For Stephen Harper it was more important to be George Bush's buddy," he told delegates. "It's more important to follow him than to fight for Canadian workers."

The last attempt by a Canadian political party to stake its electoral fortunes on the unpopular U.S. president met with spectacular failure.

The Paul Martin Liberals tried much the same strategy in the most recent campaign, which resulted in a minority Conservative government.

New Democrats are betting the message will play better for them because, unlike Martin, they were not in power when Canada failed to meet climate-change targets, stalled in softwood negotiations and sent troops to Afghanistan.

Layton took the helm of the party in January 2003 and has seen the NDP's seat count in the House of Commons rise significantly in two consecutive elections.

He unveiled the party's five priorities for the next federal election, mimicking the Tories keep-it-simple strategy from the last election.

Layton said the NDP will focus on affordable housing, quality education, helping seniors, protecting the environment, and withdrawing from Afghanistan.

The NDP leader said there is a time and place for Canadians to fight but Afghanistan is not that time or place.

"There is no plan for victory. There is no exit strategy. There is no sign that it is making the Taliban weaker or the world safer...," Layton said.

"So here is what we're going to commit to do. We are going to support our troops. We are going to support them in the best way we can. We're going to bring our troops home."

The Muslim Canadian Congress accused the NDP and Layton of playing politics with the lives of Afghan citizens and Canadian troops.

"By asking for an immediate withdrawal of Canadian troops, Mr. Layton demonstrates a naivete about the situation in Afghanistan," Farzana Hassan, congress president, said in a statement.

Withdrawing now would amount to handing the country back to the Taliban and al-Qaida, she said.

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