Thursday, June 5, 2014

Losing the news

Pulitzer Prize winner Alex Jones wrote the 2009 book Losing the News: The Future of the News That Feeds Democracy. In it, he examines "authentic journalistic objectivity" and finds "a crisis of diminishing quantity and quality, of morale and sense of mission, of values and leadership."

A few excerpts:

"Objectivity means not trying to create the illusion of fairness by letting advocates pretend in your journalism that there is a debate about the facts when the weight of truth is clear. He-said/she-said reporting, which just pits one voice against another, has become the discredited face of objectivity. But that is not authentic objectivity.

"…objectivity does not require that journalists be blank slates free of bias. In fact, objectivity is necessary precisely because they are biased.

"It was because journalists inevitably arrived with bias that they needed objectivity as a discipline to test that bias against the evidence so as to produce journalism that would be closer to truth.

"[If news] is viewed as just another collection of facts assembled by someone with a political agenda, then one of the most important supports for our democracy will weaken, and the conversation may well become more of a cacophonous Tower of Babel."

In Canada, some reporters and commentators gain more benefits by entertaining special interest groups than they can earn from authentic journalism. For the busiest of BC's pundit entertainers, appearance fees offer greater rewards than writing or broadcasting. He's not appearing in front of the Kiwanis Club of Langley or Frog Hollow Neighbourhood House; those organization cannot afford the cost.

Were the situation confined to one media star, I would not be alarmed. However, it does not. Even the newlywed and nearly dead of journalism are in the hunt for appearance fees. Many are successful and rewards keep them from thinking about what they offer in return. As I wrote in an earlier article, apparently the sellers do not know what they are selling. On the other hand, maybe that is just something they do not want to know: a spoonful of ignorance helps the money go down.

Pandering to personal commercial interests results in media persons losing their cloaks of objectivity. And, they must pander because the moneyed crowd does not pay fat fees to entertainers who offend them. Journalistic codes of ethics seem clear but have limited value. The RTDNA created "ethical guidelines for journalists to reference." One states, "journalists will not accept financial compensation from those who seek to influence news coverage." However, journalists are not required to follow the guidelines; they can simply reference them.

In following media coverage of the government-teacher dispute, I noticed a number of pro-media types seem more interested in promoting the talking points of one side and providing surrender advice to the other. A review of Thursday's Twitter messages by Baldrey, Mason and Palmer showed them focused on the education dispute. Of 32 Tweets, 28 were on the subject, nearly all repeating claimed weaknesses or difficulties faced by teachers. Their social media contributions paint them as employer partisans in the labour dispute, not reporters.

This behaviour is typical of journalism in BC. We see repetition of government claims about natural gas. However, only in this modest blog will you find evidence than little new money found its way into the public treasury from the last three years of gas industry activity. Nor will you find pro-media reporting that the proposed Howe Sound LNG plant expects to buy power for $80 million a year less than BC Hydro pays to acquire the same quantity from private power projects.

The corporate media does not report what was shown here yesterday: that BC is exporting 12 times the timber that it shipped abroad 20 years ago for half the revenue per cubic metre of wood. There is no exploration by pro-media journalists about how and why this came to be.

Is it accidental that BC's special interest groups gain special treatment or avoid scrutiny? Well, if you pay me $5,000 to attend your next dinner meeting, I'll give you the answer, or, at least, an answer. I'll even throw in an amusing anecdote or two.

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  1. But, the mainstream media is an arm of the government. Report what your masters tells you to report and all will be fine; report what elite groups want you to report and you keep safe your lucrative speaking engagements.

    BC's mainstream journalism is almost 'yellow' journalism stacked with pro government reporters who for a long time have turned their backs on real news and real investigative reporting. It is like Sargent Shultz, I see nothing; I hear nothing.

    Pure Joesph Goebbels school of broadcasting stuff!

    "All the papers that matter live off their advertisements, and the advertisers exercise an indirect censorship over news.”
    George Orwell

    “A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.”
    Edward R. Murrow
    ― George Orwell

  2. Hi, Norm. Breaking up the corporate media cartel is not just a good idea but a fundamental requirement in restoring democracy in Canada. Democracy cannot function without a well-informed electorate and that requires a great many voices presenting the widest possible range of information and opinion from the far right all the way to the far left. Corporate media, through concentration of ownership and cross-ownership, dissolves that essential spectrum and eliminates the variety of voices and opinions.

    As media ownership becomes excessively concentrated it advances a corporate viewpoint expressed through the displacement of fact with commodified news - messaging. This powerful veneer of spin laid atop fact can readily manipulate public opinion even to the point of manufacturing consent. It also invites a lucrative quid pro quo from the commercial and political classes.

    What is most disappointing is that neither Trudeau nor Mulcair wants to engage on this issue. As far as I can tell, the federal Greens alone have a clearly stated policy of media divestiture.

  3. I recently wrote to an afternoon talk show host at CKNW about the decline in investigative journalism. His response was, “I think the biggest threat to investigative journo is the corporate demand for higher profit margins which have gutted staff & resources. Corporate greed is a bigger issue than pissing off sponsors at least in radio.”

    He and his co-workers are complacently sitting through the decline of a once-proud radio station and seem content to blame others for the shoddy programming. They give us puff pieces, infomercials disguised as news, inane coverage of meaningless topics, or three-day old clips from the internet instead of well-researched investigations of government or business conduct seriously affecting our lives.

    For example, the Auditor General recently issued a report on special indemnities that focused on the Basi/Virk payoff. Although it amounted to a long, luxurious kiss of the government’s nether regions, rife with contradictions and unanswered questions, it confirmed an important fact. The government offered, in a formal letter of agreement, to remove any liability connected in any manner to the conduct of Basi and Virk related to the BC Rail matters if they would plead guilty as charged in accordance with terms specified by the special prosecutor. Former Attorney General Geoff Plant is on record as stating that as a matter of law, that couldn’t happen. Well, it did.

    What did our members of the traditional media do to resolve the contradictions, unanswered questions, and the implications inherent in the government offer? They cheered the Auditor General’s finding that the government had authority to amend the indemnity agreements. That’s akin to celebrating him finding that the government had authority to issue a cheque. They focused on the method of payment rather than the W5s of the whole scenario. The government conducted plea negotiations with the defendants in a criminal trial under the conduct of a special prosecutor without telling him, offered to release the defendants from liability for $6 million if they would plead guilty, and remained silent when the defendants withheld that information from the special prosecutor and the trial judge, knowing that the judge would have had to rule on the admissibility of the guilty pleas under the Criminal Code had she known about the plea agreement.

    It’s probably not surprising that our vaunted media asked no questions. After all, one of the guys that handed over part of the bribe money for which Basi and Virk were convicted was welcomed back as a member of the legislative press gallery after the trial. How can we trust any of them after that?

    1. First sentence in fourth paragraph should read "audit report", not "government offer".

  4. as long as the "amusing" stuff is at the beginning of the speech. I've read all your columns, so I just want the humorous stuff.

    Your point is well taken. If these "reporters" are being paid these large sums of money for speeches, how can they report with any impartiality. At least it would be nice to know which "journalists" make speeches for money, to what organizations so we, the public, will know who sold their soul, for a fast ugly buck.

    There isn't anything wrong with Journalists making speeches and talking about what they do but when the "shrill" for special interests, and then expect us to believe what they tell us on the "news", not so much.

  5. Don't expect Vaughn Palmer to report on resource taxation issues. You're on your own there. Vaughn's on assignment. 16 of his last 16 tweets are about the BCTF dispute with government. His last two Sun columns were also about Liberal troubles with teachers and that was proceeded with a hagiography for the Liberal insider who now reigns over BC Hydro. Man, I bet the private power producers (who've been one of VP's speaking clients) loved that one.


    1. Clickable link to Bruce Cockburn - Call it Democracy


      Padded with power here they come
      International loan sharks backed by the guns
      Of market hungry military profiteers
      Whose word is a swamp and whose brow is smeared
      With the blood of the poor

      Who rob life of its quality
      Who render rage a necessity
      By turning countries into labour camps
      Modern slavers in drag as champions of freedom

      Sinister cynical instrument
      Who makes the gun into a sacrament -
      The only response to the deification
      Of tyranny by so-called "developed" nations'
      Idolatry of ideology

      North South East West
      Kill the best and buy the rest
      It's just spend a buck to make a buck
      You don't really give a flying fuck
      About the people in misery

      IMF dirty MF
      Takes away everything it can get
      Always making certain that there's one thing left
      Keep them on the hook with insupportable debt

      See the paid-off local bottom feeders
      Passing themselves off as leaders
      Kiss the ladies shake hands with the fellows
      Open for business like a cheap bordello

      And they call it democracy
      And they call it democracy
      And they call it democracy
      And they call it democracy

      See the loaded eyes of the children too
      Trying to make the best of it the way kids do
      One day you're going to rise from your habitual feast
      To find yourself staring down the throat of the beast
      They call the revolution

      IMF dirty MF
      Takes away everything it can get
      Always making certain that there's one thing left
      Keep them on the hook with insupportable debt

    2. If I had a rocket launcher.....

  7. Norm : Don't forget the bombardment of all those costly pipeline ads on youtube, during CBC hockey games (and other networks) (highly watched) - it will mean jobs, jobs, jobs etc. and that we are the best on record for clean up spills, safety blah blah etc. - fact number 148 or some kind of BS!!!
    They are not trying to reach you or I who may be politically diverse, open-minded blog reader or able to obtain other sources of news, non- mainstream; they are after the addicted hockey/sports followers, seniors (mostly voters); the 6 pm MSM news watchers - various ages - (only source of news they may care to watch), youtube addicts etc. -- basically anyone who hopefully is a non-critical thinker, a follower/ will buy once something is repeated often enough.
    Corporations / governments / paid advertisers know exactly how brainwashing/mind-control works; start slowly, build on it, sound genuine/legit; it will be good for everyone; as for government, they never really step away from election campaign mode (meaning even during off -campaigns, still flood the media with your (I mean corporate) agenda) (Feds, BC Libs), bombard, even if the so called facts are bold-faced lies.
    It's still working well, like it or not, BC Libs were re-elected a majority, Harper majority. As said above, how do we break up the bought and paid for corporate media (the arm of the government) - they will do whatever those who pay them want.

    1. One answer would be to stop purchasing/listening to the MSM print and radio propaganda. MSM is on life support and to a significant degree is dependent on government and related advertising. We need to break the cycle of government paying the MSM to promote their agenda in return for advertising dollars and the best way to do that is to starve the beast.



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