Blame it on neoliberalism
In the first of a two-part series, Nick Fillmore argues that freedom of expression is threatened because of the way corporate media cater to powerful neoliberals and that small-l liberal ideas that champion the public interest are missing.
"Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one."
-- A.J. Liebling, American press critic 1904-1963
The economy of the Western world is in a shambles. However, it seems that mainstream Canadian journalists are forbidden from writing about the root of the problem – our current version of capitalism – or suggesting that the capitalist system needs a major overhaul.
How is it possible that the real nitty-gritty behind the most important issue facing millions of people is pretty much taboo in the popular media? What has happened to our right to have access to fair and balanced journalism?
Denying the public access to vital information has a strong negative impact on the democratic process in Canada, just as it does in any country in the world.
Unfortunately, nearly all of Canada’s mainstream political and economic journalists are forbidden from focusing on the fundamental flaws in our system.
Instead, corporate media owners make sure that these journalists adhere to the screwball-but-powerful ideology that is responsible for many of our problems: neoliberalism.Under neoliberalism, capitalism has nearly unrestricted control over our society.
Big mass-media corporations, such as CTVglobemedia, Postmedia Network, and Woodbridge Company, which owns The Globe and Mail, have aligned themselves with the right wing of the business community and Stephen Harper’s government. While the CBC still has many excellent, independently-minded programs, its bosses, concerned with trying to protect Mother Corp’s funding, try their hardest to avoid controversy, let alone think about whether capitalism is good for us.
Anyone who follows the media can spot the biases: an emphasis on red-baiting the NDP; continued denials of human-caused environmental change; attacks on unionized workers; and ever-positive profiles of the “Captains of Industry.”
In today’s media, progressive and small-l liberal ideas that champion the public interest are missing. In our liberal-oriented country, many newspapers do not have even one moderately progressive columnist writing on economic and political issues.
When the federal budget is brought down, the corporate-owned media outlets focus on what they perceive as the need to cut the deficit at a time when the country has a real unemployment rate of perhaps as high as 13 to 15 per cent.
The corporate media cater to powerful neoliberal types who want to end universal health care, destroy organized labour as a force for working people, and end fair election funding for federal political parties by eliminating party subsidies.
Thise right-wing media slant gives the Harper Conservatives a huge advantage over the parties with liberal-minded views because the Conservatives and Big Business share the same neoliberal ideology. The Conservatives know that they will receive the odd slap on the wrist from the corporate media, but otherwise they will be free to make government smaller and cut funding – unless, of course, big corporations need a handout if there’s crisis in the business world.
In recent years senior news executives have weeded out journalists and columnists who do not follow the unspoken rules concerning what is “fit to print.”
Newspapers such as The National Post and The Globe and Mail have only journalists now who, when they go to cover something like the federal budget, report that the deficit is the most important thing, not unemployment. Any journalist who doesn't "see it this way" will never get an opportunity to cover anything as important as the budget. When an organization's stock of journalists has been shaped this way, there's not much policing to do.
Most business journalism is heavily pro-business and pro neoliberalism. There’s no pretence that it is balanced in the same way as general news, which is expected to be fair. In fact, because business journalists are “in bed” with the business elite, they often do not see a huge story developing right before their eyes. For instance, many economists and analysts blame the business media for failing to warn the public about the likelihood of the 2008 financial collapse.
Many general assignment reporters and desk editors at corporate media outlets are well aware that the news, looked at in total, is slanted. Too many take little personal responsibility for what they produce. They feel that their personal life is more important then getting into a hassle with the desk over the news. Most of them work long, hard hours.
Journalists who see the need for greater balance in journalism in their newsroom, need to work as a group and support each other in trying to bring about improvements. On the other hand, if working in a corporate-dominated world becomes too difficult, if you let your work slip and you become discouraged, get your finances in shape and quit!
Needless to say, we need to be clear about where the real fault lies when it comes to corporate media news manipulation.
Perhaps it is time that these men were publicly ridiculed for the damage they do.
Picking two names at random, among them is David Thomson, the richest man in Canada with wealth in the area of $23 billion and a key owner of The Globe and Mail. Thomson spends millions on art without giving it a second thought. The second individual is Pierre Karl Péladeau, the president and CEO of Quebecor Inc., which owns the second largest newspaper chain in the country. He is anti-union. Using strong-arm tactics to humble employees at two of his Quebec papers, Péladeau forced them to accept lower wages.
Instead of hoisting these types of men up on a pedestal because of their power and wealth, as has been the common practice, perhaps it is time we became more courageous and started to point a finger at them for the damage they are doing.
Editor’s note: In Part 2, which will appear on J-Source next week, Fillmore will discuss what he believes journalists and community groups need to do to develop independent media in the country.
Nick Fillmore, an editor and producer with the CBC for more than 20 years, is now a freelance journalist and social activist living in Toronto. He is one of the founders of both the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE). He dislikes how right-wing ideology dominates The Globe and Mail, but still reads it every morning so he will know what the other half is thinking. Email him here or visit his blog.