With the National Post and it's affiliates in receivership, and other publications struggling for subscribers, what is the future of newspapers?
As citizen journalism is becoming more popular, we've seen the mainstream media evolving, by providing instant stories online, allowing immediate responses from followers, and many journalists have even begun blogging.
However, in Canada I think the move to citizen journalism is an important step in trying to provide stories and commentary, as a defense against mainstream media; not to compliment it. This is especially true with political coverage. As journalist Lawrence Martin once claimed "... the press versus the people - that runs right to the heart of the debate over the future of our country and to the heart of politics." The media is trying to pull us to the right, when we are quite comfortable stuck in the middle.
The Press Versus the People
"Lawrence Martin has written several articles about the Canadian media's rightward migration. In a January 2003 column headlined It's not Canadians who've gone to the right, just their media, he quoted an unnamed European diplomat saying "You have a bit of a problem here. Your media are not representative of your people, your values." Too many political commentators are right of centre while the public is in the middle, the diplomat continued. There is a disconnect."
"Martin believes the disconnect began when Conrad Black converted the Financial Post into the National Post, hired a stable of conservative commentators like Mark Steyn, David Frum and George Jonas, bought the centrist Southam chain and turned the entire package into a vehicle to unite Canada's right and retool the country's values to U.S.-style Conservatism." (Winnipeg Free Press, December 12, 2007, Right-wing media covering up political scandal By: Frances Russell)
From Wikipedia: The term citizen media refers to forms of content produced by private citizens who are otherwise not professional journalists. Citizen journalism, participatory media and democratic media are related principles.
Citizen media has bloomed with the advent of technological tools and systems that facilitate production and distribution of media. Of these technologies, none has advanced citizen media more than the Internet. With the birth of the Internet and into the 1990s, citizen media has responded to traditional mass media's neglect of public interest and partisan portrayal of news and world events. Media produced by private citizens may be as factual, satirical, neutral or biased as any other form of media but has no political, social or corporate affiliation.
Canada's media now neglects our public interest and instead is merely concerned with how they spin a story, rather than just giving us the story and allowing us to decide for ourselves. What they might deem to be balanced reporting; bringing up similar scandals to justify current scandals, is only turning people off politics. In the recent byelection in Hochelaga Quebec, there was a 17% voter turn out. That is not democracy and does not reflect voter intent. And yet the media are falling all over themselves suggesting that it was a Liberal failure.
Author and publisher Mel Hurtig, in his lecture series 'Who Killed Canada' states that we now have the greatest concentration of media in the western world, and that that this would simply not be allowed in any other western democracy. Essentially there are three media conglomerates and all three are strong Conservative. In fact, Mr. Hurtig describes them all as being so right-wing they would simply fall off the map.
I've noticed this with our own local newspaper, which is now part of the Sun chain. We are seeing columns from the likes of Gerry Nicholls (Harper's vice-president when he was president of the National Citizens Coalition), Peter Worthington (co-founder of Harper's Northern Foundation and close personal friend of Conrad Black) , Monte Solberg (former Reform Party MP), David Frum (Instrumental in uniting the right, friend of Conrad Black and former speechwriter for George W. Bush. He coined the phrase 'Axis of Evil').
It's absolutely chilling. We don't even need to read the columns to know what they are going to say. 'Harper good, Liberals bad ... ugh ... scratch, scratch, scratch'.
And since these same media outlets control newspaper, television and radio news; we are essentially only being given one voice. There are few or no alternative views. Yet a healthy democracy should foster a healthy and independent news media.
Donald Gutstein, author of a new book called; Not a Conspiracy Theory: How Business Propaganda Hijacks Democracy, also wrote an article in 2005 on the subject, discussing talk shows: Fox News Format Infiltrates Canada
"CanWest's 'Global Sunday' bills itself as "Canada's number one current affairs talk show." But a lot of Canadians won't find their views reflected in the talk.
"Take the show that aired on February 20, featuring a panel discussion on equalization.
"The purpose of equalization is to ensure provincial governments have sufficient revenues to provide "reasonably comparable levels of public services at reasonably comparable levels of taxation. The left-wing perspective on equalization is that it helps fund programs that define who we are as Canadians, such as education, health care and social services. Canadians in every province should have roughly equal access to these programs, the left says.
"This perspective was not raised by the panel. Instead, all three panellists offered right-wing perspectives."
When was the last time you heard an honest debate on health care? Or on Harper's plans to privatize it? Several years, right? And yet polls consistently show that that ranks number one in the concerns of Canadians.
An American journalist, Richard Fricker, wrote a piece about the change in Canadian political discourse since Harper took office.
As an American journalist visiting my wife's relatives in Canada, I've always been struck by how ardently the country's political discourse focused on substance — the budget, health care, schools, roads — with little of the cheap theatrics and angry divisiveness of U.S. politics and punditry. Reading and listening to the Canadian news media during those family trips could be a tad boring, but it also was touching, like remembering your earnest grade-school civics teacher lecturing about the wonders of the American democratic process.
But in my visit this past summer, I noticed that the tone of Canada suddenly had changed. There was a nastier edge to the commentary. There were not-so-subtle appeals to racism and xenophobia, references to Muslim neighbourhoods in Quebec as “Quebecistan” and to Lebanese-Canadians as “Hezbocrats,” a play on the Muslim group Hezbollah.
To someone who has covered U.S. politics for three decades, there was a shock of recognition. Standing out starkly against the bland traditions of Canadian governance was the pugnacious 'tude of American political combat, wedge issues pounded in with a zeal that put the goal of winning and holding power over everything else.
It was as if a virus that had long infected the people south of the border had overnight jumped containment and spread northward establishing itself in a new host population. But — as I began to study this new phenomenon — it became clear that this infection did not just accidentally break quarantine. Rather, it was willfully injected into the Canadian body politic by conservative strategists and right-wing media moguls who had studied the modern American model and were seeking to replicate it.
Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper even brought in Republican advisers, such as political consultant Frank Luntz, to give pointers on how the ruling Conservative Party could become as dominant in Canada as the GOP is in the United States.
What is Our Media Not Telling Us
Toronto Star Columnist Linda McQuaig, wrote recently "If, as polls suggest, Stephen Harper is poised to win a majority, it's largely due to the media notion that his past reputation for extremism no longer holds."
This was a very bold move to remind us and her colleagues why we were always so frightened of Stephen Harper. He has not changed. He is not a middle of the road politician, he just plays one on TV.
The fact that the PMO is not only writing copy now but also provided their own airbrushed photography, means that we have no legitimate access to our own government. Admitting media complicity in this is a good first step, but is that step part of a journey or will it end there?
I'm guessing that nothing will really change.
And what has the media not been telling us? Among other things:
1. The fact that Stephen Harper once helped to create, what Dr. Debra Chin describes as a white brotherhood organization called the Northern Foundation. This is common knowledge and needs further exploration. Don't expect anyone other than citizen journalists to do that though.
2. The SPP. Mel Hurtig had transcripts of meetings on this new Security partnership, that is pretty much the selling of Canada to the U.S. He offered it to all the mainstream media outlets, but everyone turned it down. Why is that? Don't Canadians have a right to know that we no longer control our natural resources? That the Americans get first dibs on our uranium, oil and water, even BEFORE CANADIANS? Or that we can no longer make our own decision about whether or not we go to war, but must go where the Americans tell us to? That's not news?
3. Jim Flaherty was involved in a questionable land deal in Whitby. The only coverage I could find was on the blog of BCer in Toronto. No one else picked up the story despite the fact that the evidence was overwhelming.
4. The Council for National Policy has been described as the most dangerous organization in the United States. This was where Stephen Harper delivered his infamous 'I hate Canadians' speech. An American documentary filmmaker has a membership list from 1999 that includes one Stephen Harper. His story was not about our PM and his name was just read off matter of factly. Has anyone investigated this and what it could mean to our security? Nope.
5. Stephen Harper told another extreme right-wing group, the Civitas club that he has tapped into the theo-cons for votes, and as such put muscle into our foreign policy to accommodate them. This group wants to accelerate Armageddon by pushing for total destruction in the middle east. Only Marcie McDonald of the Walrus covered the story and has actually written a book about it. But don't expect anyone in the media to give the book any reviews. It will be met with silence.
Just as every other DANGEROUS thing that Ref-Cons are up to, have been met with silence.
This is simply not good enough. These are not little things. This is our future. And they wonder why they are struggling. Their job is to keep Canadians informed, by presenting us with the facts. They are not doing doing their job. It's that simple.