Memo to the media narcissists: It’s not all about you

Journalism is a noble craft, but too often in Canada it falls into the sin of self-absorption: The national media forget that what interests them is not necessarily in tune with all sectors of society. Their issues are not always the issues out there.

This is why Canadian society could only benefit from more media sources and voices- including this proposed Sun TV channel, derisively dubbed “Fox News North.”

If anything, the “outrage” out there shows latent anti-Americanism, anti-conservative bias, and smug Canadian elitism. Canadian observers vastly exaggerate bias at Fox News and project stereotypical images of Fox onto this Canadian station. Kory Tenyecke, Quebecor’s point man for the project, has not stated that he intends to emulate Fox News.

There is no vast left-wing (or right-wing) media conspiracy as the media is not monolithic, but pluralist. Media is neither “left wing” nor “right wing.” But, it would be naïve to assume journalists produce a product that is not without perspective or opinion. Most serious media observers have abandoned the concept of journalistic objectivity. Determining new values requires subjective evaluation of what is news and what is not. The most media can hope for is even-handedness.

I discovered this in journalism school. From 2002 until 2004, I was enrolled in the master of journalism program at Carleton University. I have a rural background and was different than my other colleagues, most of whom came from Toronto, Montreal, or Vancouver. I had not grown up listening to CBC. I grew up on a farm, had conservative tendencies and attended church.

The problem wasn’t that any of my classmates were malicious or on an ideological crusade (although some may have been). It was just they assumed all sane Canadians thought the same way they did. After all, how could any rational Canadian oppose gun control or same-sex marriage? They did not see themselves as ideological at all even though to a visitor from Mars, or rural Canada, their ideologies were obvious.

But, it is not clearly-labeled “opinion shows” like those on Fox that we need worry about. What is more insidious is bias in “hard news.”

Researchers Barry Cooper and Lydia Miljan in Hidden Agendas: How Journalists Influence the News argue the empirical evidence shows that journalist’s worldviews do impact news coverage. While other factors come into play, such as deadlines, an emphasis on controversy, as well as the influence of managers, it cannot be dismissed that reporters play a role. In Sins of Omission, Barry Cooper documented through content analyses how CBC’s TV news coverage tilted left. If there was anything Cooper and Miljan discovered in their research it was CBC reporters are more overwhelmingly left wing and vote NDP than any other media. Attacking this Sun TV channel by associating it with Fox News conveniently avoids these bias problems.

Retired CBC journalist Don Newman, in a column, insisted Canada does not need a “Fox News North.” Newman called Fox “polarizing” in that it engages in “drive-by attacks” and misrepresentations. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

Can anyone remind CBC that when it delves into opinion, it is overwhelmingly biased? One easily recalls the one-sided forum after 9/11 in Toronto that engaged in vicious anti-Americanism, or the tilt in anti-conservative documentaries, or perhaps shows by pundits like Avi Lewis who attacked Muslim critic Ayaan Hirsi Ali by mocking her beliefs?

I have sent complaints to the CBC ombudsperson complaining about bias in their documentaries, particularly the abundance of documentaries critical of then President George W. Bush and his policies. I questioned why they broadcast Bowling for Columbine so many times. One producer responded by mentioning one documentary favourable to Bush. She could not resist adding “award winning” to Michael Moore’s piece, as if that were an antidote for bias.

The addition of a “conservative” news channel would only allow for a diversity of voices. Currently, CBC and CTV have a lock on the 24-hour news channel format in Canada. This means they influence the news cycle and agenda. What is wrong with another private media source mixing up the competition? Funny how media observers defended the introduction of Al-Jazeera in Canada – a station known for Muslim bias – but now attack this station.

So far we have national affairs reporter David Akin confirming that he will work at Sun TV. Akin is no Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity. Let’s see where this goes without hasty judgments. This is Canada and viewers will decide in the end what is “over the top,” not media narcissists.

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