November 23, 2018
In the wake of the federal government throwing a lifeline to civic journalism last week, let’s take a quiz about perception of media bias.
Here we go. Rank in order of importance the following contributions, or alleged contributions, to perceptions of media bias:
1. Jerry Dias, the President of the 315,000 members of Unifor —which includes the majority of the nation’s approximately 5,000 unionized journalists— speaks out daily on the major policy issues of the day affecting workers’ well-being, generally on the left of the political spectrum and therefore opposed to most Conservative politicians.
2. The wealthy and nearly unanimously conservative owners of all Canadian newspapers — who enjoy the power to fire or side-line their journalists at any time— run daily editorial columns and at election time endorse a political party.
3. Some journalists use social media to tweet out strongly-worded personal opinions about the issues of the day, politicians, and other newsmakers on topics about which they write.
Let’s hope that exercise was enlightening.
The debate about the federal government’s rescue package for civic journalism will continue regardless.
Partly that’s because mainstream media have long enjoyed what some perceive as a monopoly on public voice: the only megaphone in town. Even in the age of social media that resentment hasn’t abated, only intensified. That should be the clue: the hullabaloo about media bias is not about monopolizing megaphones (there are lots of them), it’s more about the spreading tribalization of public discourse. Thank you, Facebook.
Most journalists wish the attention would just go away. They want to get on with their jobs. And the job, as each journalist believes to their core, is to hold powerful people and institutions to account. To be your watchdog.
If only some of the media owners would take that to heart.
The 2015 federal election comes to mind. Recall that Postmedia CEO Paul Godfrey ordered all of his Editors in Chief across the country to endorse Stephen Harper’s re-election. The nation’s biggest news chain even ran front page Election Day ads from the Harper campaign using graphic elements that suspiciously resembled Elections Canada.
More recently in May of this year, an accidentally leaked memo written by the Toronto Sun Editor-in-Chief named a list of his journalists as part of an Election-year news team poised to attack Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne. The rank-and-file journalists were mortified by the stain on their reputations. The Sun refused Unifor’s demand for a retraction in defense of journalists’ independence.
Want to re-take the quiz?
There is no question the controversy about media bias gets under the skin of all journalists. No group in society thinks of themselves less of a group, than journalists do. They are the lone wolves. They do not belong to any tribe (except maybe the free food tribe). Any suggestion that someone else’s opinion is rubbing off on their reputation drives them around the bend.
Here’s where we can share common ground. Let’s keep talking about media bias. Only, let’s make sure it’s an open dialogue with open minds.