Canadian media reveals true colours this election

I (Heart) Canadian Dimension. Thank you for not only writing a great piece, but referring to the model in Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent”. You rock.

Canadian media reveals true colours this election
Canadian Dimension, October 16th, 2008

It came as no surprise to many that the National Post and the Montreal Gazette both wrote endorsements for the Conservatives prior to this Tuesday’s federal election. Some of the Gazette reporters currently fighting for their jobs must not have taken to the endorsement too kindly. What will come as a shock to some in the Left and centre-left is the open support of the Conservatives in a major Globe and Mail editorial. Endorsements across the Canadian media spectrum may not have a significant effect on voters, but they do say something significant about the media outlets themselves.

Montreal blogger Steve Faguy compiled a great list of newspapers that endorsed various parties, and the endorsement issue is a something we should be thinking about as consumers from these media outlets. An endorsement clearly doesn’t represent the views of an entire newsroom, but how is an endorsement decision made, and who makes it?

A helpful piece was published in the Toronto Star, also quoted in Faguy’s blog:

The editorial board met Thursday to reach its decision for 2008. Under the direction of editorial page editor Ian Urquhart (who wrote the endorsement editorial), five board members weighed in with their views on this election’s hard choices. All had closely examined the parties’ policies and had the opportunity to question Dion, NDP Leader Jack Layton and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May in recent days. Both Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and his finance minister, Jim Flaherty, declined invitations to meet with the editorial board.

The rest of the piece details the thought process and ramifications of the final decision of the Star to endorse Dion, but it’s even more interesting to think about what guides this decision.

The Star’s guiding statement is “the Atkinson Principles,” a set of core beliefs that Star founder and publisher Joseph E. Atkinson espoused. Social justice, liberty, civic engagement and the rights of the working people – they’re all there.

But take the Atkinson Principles and stand them against the propaganda model established by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, and some interesting questions present themselves (the following questions are in the same order as the levels of “filters” in Manufacturing Consent, a study that established the propaganda model):

1) To what extent does the size, ownership and profit orientation of the Star affect the endorsement decision?

2) To what extent does advertising revenue affect the endorsement?

3) To what extent does the newspapers sources affect the endorsement? “All [editorial board members] had closely examined the parties’ policies and had the opportunity to question Dion, NDP Leader Jack Layton and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May in recent days. Both Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and his finance minister, Jim Flaherty, declined invitations to meet with the editorial board.” Ouch!

4) To what extent does potential flak limit their endorsement and it’s tone? (Flak refers to negative responses to a media statement from interested parties.)

5) And well, Manufacturing Consent was first published in 1988, but the anti-communist filter can still be applied, although it’s so far off the map now that it’s rarely discussed. It would be interesting to see if any endorsements mentioned national security.

“The five filters narrow the range of news that passes through the gates, and even more sharply limit what can become ‘big news,’ subject to sustained news campaigns,” Chomsky and Herman write. To this end, I think it’s fair to say that the five filters also narrow the range of endorsements that pass through the gates. The parameters are set, and editorial boards across the country continue to stay well within them.

It’s important to stress that many great reporters work for these newspapers. Their ideological struggles are just far more subtle, and for that reason, far more effective than any endorsement. To them, I salute!

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