MediaScout Musings

These are some of the MediaScout postings that I’m most proud of. They tend to be the ones that got reaction – good or bad – from subscribers.

Of AIDS and inspiration

(August 10, 2006)

It is easy (and fun!) to be a media cynic. Each and every weekday, MediaScout climbs up on this electronic soapbox and lectures the Big Seven on everything they have done wrong. For the most part, frustration trumps the writer’s underlying passion for the press, and the daily digest is filled with antagonizing suggestions for how Canada’s journalists should be doing their jobs. But every now and again, an issue captures the Big Seven’s attention and even the most cynical of cynics has to doff his or her cap to the power of the media. This week, that issue is AIDS and the upcoming international conference in Toronto. Whether inspired by a sense of crass one-upmanship or the collective realization that the world is failing millions, the Big Seven this week have been rife with both heart-wrenching tales of suffering and damning condemnations of political inaction from around the globe. Today’s hard news du jour features Canadian Stephen Lewis, the UN’s special envoy on AIDS, blasting Canada for failing to deliver on its pledge to make cheap generic drugs available to African countries ravaged by the deadly disease. But Lewis’ scathing words are just the start. Bill and Melinda Gates’ donation of half a billion dollars to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria is front-page news in the Star. The Globe’s Stephanie Nolen takes an in-depth look at African families coping with the loss of a generation. Comment pages abound with suggestions on how Canada can better live up to its international obligations.

It is—in a word—inspiring. In a particularly moving documentary aired on The National last night (not available online), Joan Leishman visits communities in South Africa that have lost entire generations, leaving suffering grandparents to care for their suffering grandchildren. Not only does the documentary shed light on an important issue, it also serves as a reminder of the power of television news. Often dismissed for its superficiality and reliance on flashy images, TV has the potential for so much good when segments are allowed to last more than ninety seconds. MediaScout understands that resources are limited in the modern Big Seven newsrooms; not every issue can command the attention and passion that AIDS has this week. Still, if editors and reporters take nothing else away from this exercise, one should hope they remember this: The role of the news media is not only to give the people want they want to read, it is also to tell them what they need to know. This week’s AIDS features may make life harder for professional cynics, but if the trade-off is nuanced, detailed coverage of urgent life-and-death matters, MediaScout would be happy to learn to adjust.

Have our watchdogs lost their bite?

(October 27, 2006)

Call it the fourteen-week itch. As official Ottawa prepares to wrap up its latest week of Parliamentary business, talk of stalled legislation and pre-election posturing dominate the headlines for the second day in a row. It would seem that pundits and politicos alike are ready to throw in the towel on the thirty-ninth Parliament and hunker down for another campaign—even if it is a few months away. Both sides of the vaunted Green Chamber are accusing the other of derailing the business of government. Meanwhile, scribes of all stripes seem determined to flex their analytical muscles and dissect the minutia of government and opposition strategies. Harper has lost the ability to pass legislation, writes the Toronto Star’s Chantal Hébert; we’re just killing time until the next election, proclaims the Citizen’s Susan Riley. Everywhere, the Clean Air Act plays second fiddle to gratuitous dog puns and Canadians are left twisting in the wind.

But why has the Big Seven chattering class simply tossed up its hands? Dwelling in the sensory-depravation bubble that is the House of Commons, Members of Parliament are almost expected to get caught up in blustery partisanship. But aren’t the media supposed to speak up for Johnny and Jane Canuck? MediaScout doesn’t often turn to the letters sections of the daily press for inspiration but one need only read the musings of Larry Carroll of Kanata to get a sense of what most Canadians are really thinking these days. As interesting as it is to speculate on the fate of the government and wonder when an election may be called, Canadians need the media to take on a more active role right now. Our elected officials have abandoned the interests of Canadians in favour of their own partisan whims. It’s time for the fourth estate go beyond the role of passive observer and speak up for those of us with a much smaller soapbox.

Curing the health-care debate

(August 24, 2006)

Public health care is dead; long live public health care! Canadians who are used to bold proclamations from the various interest groups involved in the health-care debate can be forgiven if they are confused about the Canadian Medical Association’s take on the matter. It would seem that even the Big Seven can’t agree on what the group has to say. “Doctors split on health-care solution,” remarks the Globe across the top of today’s A7—a cautious observation when compared to the Post’s declaration: “Doctors ok with private health option.” At least the Citizen, which runs the same Norma Greenaway article as the Post, offers a qualifier: “MDs back private care if wait times too long.” Looking beyond the headlines, the story starts to get a little clearer, even if the CMA’s stance doesn’t. Delegates at the association’s national council in Charlottetown passed a series of resolutions described by the Globe as “confusing and sometimes contradictory.” Creating a parallel private system to ensure better access? Agreed! Opening the door to the private insurance that would allow such a system to exist? Nay! To further the confusion, delegates backed a motion to “acknowledge the strengths” of the public system while repeatedly lamenting its lack of funding, insufficient staffing and poor patient care. All in a day’s work for the association that earlier this week elected a private practitioner that supports medicare as its new president.

While it’s tempting to lambaste the CMA for its ambiguous stand, the reality is that the delegates are only reflecting the true nature of health care in Canada. Contrary to what many folks on either end of the political spectrum will tell you, the health-care debate is no longer simply a matter of black vs. white, private vs. public. As anyone who wears glasses or gets their teeth cleaned could attest, Canada already has a mixed system. Such “non-essential” services aren’t covered by government health plans in most provinces, and private sector insurance has moved in to fill the void. The CMA is merely laying the foundation for a debate that is long overdue in this country—a debate that has to transcend the overly simplistic notion that public health care is a zero-sum game. It won’t be an easy debate for the Big Seven to cover, but avoiding misleading one-sided headlines like the Post’s would be a good start.

Anti-Israeli, Anti-Catholic and other empty rhetoric

(October 13, 2006)

There’s something about Israel that strikes a chord with Canadians. Whether it be the result of a lingering sense of guilt dating back to the days of the Holocaust or the more pragmatic recognition of the powerful Israeli lobby in this country, few Canadian politicians want to be seen as being in any way opposed to the Jewish state or its people. So when Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the baffling assertion that “virtually all” of the Liberal leadership candidates have adopted an anti-Israeli position, one could have predicted the rapid and incredulous response. Bob Rae, whose wife and children are Jewish, scolded the PM for being divisive and said “it’s something for which he should be thoroughly embarrassed.” His comments were echoed by all of the front-runners and many of the second-tier candidates still in the race. Meanwhile, the Citizen’s Don Martin called Harper’s statement “a headscratcher in content and timing,” and noted the PM “was holding the high ground moments before his tumble into trouble.” Even the Post’s John Ivison, who largely blamed Michael Ignatieff (whose comments about Israel’s conduct in their recent war with Hezbollah prompted Harper’s barb) for the controversy, conceded that perhaps Harper “would have been better served to let the Liberal leadership candidates continue their war of attrition, before descending from the high ground to shoot the wounded.”

Beyond the political bluster and righteous indignation, however, lies a larger question about the quality of political discourse in this country. Have we reached a point where one can’t question the actions of a country without being considered an opponent of that country? Does being opposed to the war in Iraq necessarily mean that one is anti-American? Furthermore, while Harper’s comments are indeed troubling, MediaScout is just as amazed that Rae got away with suggesting Harper’s comments were akin to calling an opponent anti-Catholic. Israel is a state, albeit a predominantly Jewish one; Catholicism is a religion. There is an important and fundamental difference there. The Big Seven pundits understandably dissect the issue in terms of partisan politics, with all the speculation and observation that entails. But at some point MediaScout would love to see someone take a step back and examine this at a more fundamental level. It would be a dire situation indeed if we were to entirely forfeit quality discourse in the name of scoring cheap political points.

You, sir, are a racist!

(September 26, 2006)

A simple two-word subhead in today’s Post says it all: “Racism alleged.” In fact, the Big Seven is awash in allegations of racism today. From opening testimony at the Air India inquiry to the continuing fallout from Globe columnist Jan Wong’s piece on the Dawson College shooting to the ongoing Liberal leadership race; it seems that everyone has their own tale of racist torment. So what’s going on? Is the much-loved Canadian mosaic starting to shatter? Have we been so inundated with American cultural offerings that their so-called melting pot is oozing across the 49th parallel, snuffing out our virtues of tolerance? Is it time for another Royal Commission? Melodramatic rhetorical questions aside, MediaScout feels this issue is worth taking a look at, if only to dissuade readers from the belief that we are on the verge of an oh-so-Canadian identity crisis. Think of it as a pre-emptive strike against our national neuroses.

The fact is that all perceived racist slights are not created equal. Relatives of the victims of the Air India bombing have, at first glance, a fairly legitimate reason to believe racist undertones have compounded their suffering. As one despondent family member asked the inquiry yesterday, if the victims had been white, would the families have been treated differently? But on the flip side of the credibility coin, one would be forgiven for taking a more cynical stance on Liberal leadership hopeful Joe Volpe’s accusations of mistreatment. Neither fellow Italian-born candidate Maurizio Bevilacqua nor Trinidadian Hedy Fry made mention of racist exclusion when they dropped out of the race, and front-runner Michael Ignatieff is a first-generation Canadian who has spent much of his professional life in the US and Britain. Accusations of racism should not be made or taken lightly; MediaScout hopes to see some more Big Seven scrutiny of these and other similar claims, particularly when they serve as a nice diversion for someone caught in a political jam.