Monday, March 21, 2011

"Are we missing something?"

I've discussed stenographic journalists who publish statements without appraisal, fact checking or balance, even when controversial or questionable allegations are repeated. The usual justification is that somebody said something and reporters merely repeated the words. Of course, the choice of those words is not random or accidental, the words are selected for a purpose. In good journalism, that purpose is to inform about all sides of an issue. In bad journalism, the purpose is to influence for an undisclosed beneficiary.

Bad journalism led Global TV News talking head Ted Chernecki to begin his News Hour report Tuesday March 1 stating that the Canadian medical system was,
"ranked one of the worst in the world when it comes to bang for your buck."
There was no context, no attribution and no balance to the statement. When challenged about his source, Chernecki said,
"Here's the whole report. Cheers."
The report was circulated and promoted by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, a Winnipeg based neoliberal "think tank" funded by private foundations and corporations. It is typical of "research" operations funded by business through astroturf organizations. Spartikus has noted,
". . . as the Fraser Institute's credibility crumbles with the public, look for "replacements" to step in. The FCPP is one of those."
I quoted a requirement of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters to Global's Chernecki,
"It shall be the responsibility of broadcasters to ensure that news shall be represented with accuracy and without bias. Broadcasters shall satisfy themselves that the arrangements made for obtaining news ensure this result. They shall also ensure that news broadcasts are not editorial.

"News shall not be selected for the purpose of furthering or hindering either side of any controversial public issue, nor shall it be formulated on the basis of the beliefs, opinions or desires of management, the editor or others engaged in its preparation or delivery. The fundamental purpose of news dissemination in a democracy is to enable people to know what is happening, and to understand events so that they may form their own conclusions."
After delay and some prodding, Chernecki returned,
"There is no way any journalist can scrutinize all sources. We do however seek out others who are more informed on detailed specifics such as those presented in this report. What you appear to be suggesting is that we commission our own study to assess veracity. Not going to happen.

"In this case, the findings of this study were raised with Colin Hansen. He gave me no indication that his Ministry found the conclusion of this study to be suspect.

"In past experiences, when we report findings of a particular study (and there are THOUSANDS we deal with) - generally if someone more intimate with subject than us has an issue - they raise those concerns and we take them into consideration.

"In this case if the Health Minister expressed no concern about the report. You may not like/agree with the results and that is your prerogative.
Not satisfied, I addressed additional comments to Chernecki and then heard from Global News Director Ian Haysom,
"We're obviously confused by your requests. I'm away this week but happy to chat upon my return to see exactly what you're seeking. Ted has sent you the basis for his statement. Does that explain things? Or are we missing something?"
My response to Haysom,
"Journalists have an obligation to report issues accurately and free of bias. This statement is surprising: "There is no way any journalist can scrutinize all sources."

"That suggests you take no responsibility for accuracy and bias for a report you use as a primary source, without even identifying the party that provided the material and the fact they hold highly controversial positions about public healthcare.

"I believe it is inappropriate for media to treat think-tanks as independent, scientifically qualified and scholarly when they are primarily agents for their sponsors. You are obliged to scrutinize these sources even more closely because their financial sponsorships are not transparent.

"The issue that I intend to continue raising relates to the statement that you cannot scrutinize all sources to ensure your report remains accurate and free of bias."
Apparently my words remain misunderstood or confused. Ian Haysom and Ted Chernecki have broken off communications.
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9 comments:

  1. Good work Norm. March 20, 2011

    I heard the most amazing comments on the radio on March 20, 2011. I believe it was M. Smyth (I missed the first part) who said that BC journalists were not covering any of the issues that the NDP leadership candidates were discussing. And they most likely would not in the future. And he wasn't too concerned. They will just write some dribble in the future as that is their job. He was not concerned that they are incompetent.
    This is what we have to deal with and I thank you for helping us and dealing with the issues.

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  2. Probably not Michael Smyth who seems willing to address all side. You may have been listening to CKNW's Sean Leslie on the day he interviewed Gary Mason from the Globe and mail. I listened to it last night and thought Mason's statements were more thoughtful than the column he wrote last week, which I've referred to elsewhere on Northern Insights.

    I don't know how much attention the G&M pays to comments but Mason's work and that by Hunter and Bailey were overwhelmingly slammed on the website.

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  3. The leading source of funds for the Frontier Centre at the moment appears to be Peter Munk's Aurea Foundation (although the Hecht Foundation's numbers are unknown and it gives too). Aurea seems to be doing today what the Donner Foundation was in the late 1990s insofar as being a major bankroller of the think tank sector.

    I agree with Spartikus (and by extension with you). The proliferation of think tanks over the last decade -- MEI, AIMS, Frontier Centre, Macdonald-Laurier Institute -- implies a diversity of views, but in reality they're all dependent on virtually an identical small base of donors and are expressing more or less the same views.

    And suggesting that a piece of information is somehow less in need of critical review because it came from a government politician is even WORSE, at least in my opinion.

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  4. An excellent comment from The Sixth Estate. Link on the name and add this site to your regular reading list. Worthwhile information.

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  5. Thanks Norm for all your good work on this blog and pointing out the glaring inadequacies of mainstream media "reporting".

    Also appreciate your comments on other blogs and news sites.

    It's inspiring and reminds me how regular citizens can really make a difference by speaking up and stepping up.

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  6. And has this reporting had complaints made about it to the CRTC? Not sure how it all works, but there must be a way to stop the biased reporting.
    Bought and paid for by the very institutes you speak of?

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  7. I remember emailing a Vancouver Sun reporter who had quoted a Fraser Institute press release on her byline.She wrote back apologetically stating she knew someone would pick up on this and then stated they were so understaffed she posted this due to job and time pressures. I was stunned by her honesty and let her know I felt for her journalistic integrity.

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  8. Hey Norman checked out the 6th estate,excellent,is he a Roy Orbison fan?

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  9. I suspect a large number of newspaper writers with lower profiles than editorial page editors or "multi-media stars" cringe at the difference between what is published at what could be published if they had more resources. That financial pressure comes from ownership more than the marketplace. Vancouver dailies have been profitable throughout the period of severe downsizing.

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