The Mainstream Media Model

tar sands
Photo: Alberta tar sands, Melina Mara, Washington Post

A recent survey suggests Canadians now think the environment is the most pressing issue facing us ñ ahead, for the first time, of health, education, the economy and unemployment. This finding follows a series of embarrassing news stories about the Canadian Conservativesí Bush-style disregard for the subject, and minority PM Harper’s personal and long-standing loathing of environmentalism as a “socialist scheme“, plus news coverage of the election of environmentalist StÈphane Dion as leader of the Liberal Party and shoo-in for next PM.

Canadians have always been environmentalists. But until Harper there were no anti-environment political leaders. Even Albertans, the most conservative Canadians, are distraught about their tar sands eco-holocaust, an immense and catastrophically destructive project with absolutely no regulatory oversight. And the media are starting to report this (way too late, of course). Today, a Canadian conservation group made headlines by issuing a report suggesting zero development in Canadaís Northwest Territories would produce ten times the economic value of the proposed (and approved) mega-pipeline, drilling and highway project for the pristine and fragile Mackenzie River valley.

Whatís going on here? In normal times, the environment is not even on the mainstream media radar. The Green Party, with 5-10% of popular vote in recent elections, has always been consciously shut out of the pre-election leadersí debates sponsored by the mainstream media oligopoly. “Theyíre a one-issue fringe party”, one media executive said. But now, suddenly, we’re deluged with environmental stories. “Itís going to be the deciding issue in the next election and probably others to come”, one radio media pundit said the other day.

Meanwhile, Canadians haven’t really changed their views on the subject at all. We always and overwhelmingly supported Kyoto, no matter what Harper would have you believe. We believe mega-polluters should be jailed, no matter who they are or how many jobs they have allegedly created. And environmentalists like David Suzuki consistently prevail in lists of Canada’s most admired people.

What has happened is that the mainstream media, instead of doing their job — making what’s important interesting — have been simply lazy, attending press conferences at which they’re spoon-fed sound bites. And when they started to notice that a lot of these sound bites prepared by politicians were suddenly about Green issues, they switched from completely ignoring the environment to over-reporting it. Extensively but superficially. And then Canadians, inundated with environmental stories and offended by Harper’s anti-Green extremism, and then pursued by pollsters, did the expected and elevated the issue to number one on the oversimplified media hit parade.

But the disaster of the Alberta tar sands continues unabated, with more mainstream reporting on it but no investigative journalism (too expensive and too much work). The Mackenzie River megaproject is proceeding full speed. The so-called ëliberalí government of (ex-Conservative) Jean Charest in QuÈbec has just announced another god-awful massive flooding of Northern QuÈbec wilderness for yet another devastating hydro dam and diversion project. Our politicians, for all their rhetoric, are aiding and betting these and other mega-polluters, and the media (most of whom rely on advertising from these same corporatists) will not call them to account.

The CBC is the best of a sorry lot, but theyíre financially starved and bureaucratic (the latter a result of being too big and too centralized, not a consequence of being publicly funded). There is no money to be made by private broadcasters in the mainstream media oligopoly from investigative journalism, and lots to be made  by turning a blind eye to corporatist misdeeds, and just blandly regurgitating self-promoting government and corporate press releases.

It’s the same the world over. The mainstream legacy media are too lazy, complacent and profit-focused to learn what’s really going on and then tell us. They are doing the public a great disservice. And judging from the assessment of the media by citizens in recent polls, the public knows it. But the public will only care enough to do something about it when it affects them personally, and by then it will be too late.

As I’ve said before, the political arena is no place for environmentalists who actually want to accomplish something. We need instead to do the journalists’ job and investigate, research, learn and spread the word through our own personal networks and personal journalism. Neither the corporatist mega-polluters nor the politicians can hide from the truth. Once the citizens realize the degree to which corporate-political complicity is despoiling our land, ruining our air, poisoning us, exhausting and fouling our water, stealing and depleting our resources, and depriving us of any sustainable legacy to leave our children andgrand-children, we will starve them out and bring them down.

Just donít expect the mainstream media to lend a hand.

Categories: Canadian Politics, and The Media
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4 Responses to The Mainstream Media Model

  1. Linda says:

    “We always and overwhelmingly supported Kyoto, no matter what Harper would have you believe.” I think you are wrong about this. Kyoto is highly controversial. Many people perceive that the IPCC is so politicized that it has lost credibility, and that Kyoto is unworkable and will do nothing to alleviate global warming. In my view, Harper’s letter is right on target, but this is an issue about which one dare not speak the truth. It reminds me of H.G. Wells’ wonderful short story. “The Country of the Blind” . I cannot think of a better way to explain the current hysteria over CO2 and the unquestioning belief that Kyoto will save the planet. Do not make the mistake of assuming that questioning the global warming thesis and rejecting Kyoto are to be equated with a lack of concern for the environment. It’s a bit silly to suggest that in view of his comments re Kyoto,Harper has a “long standing loathing for the environment.” Harper is a politician and he will do what the public presses him to do. Dion is the same. They are BOTH driven by political expediency (they would have no hope of being elected if they were not). Beyond that, I think it is presumptuous to make judgments about their personal motivations. I also think that you are somewhat premature in designating Dion as a “shoo-in for next PM.” Let’s wait and see.

  2. patrick says:

    the ‘mainstream media’ can be more usefully called the capitalist media and they are doing exactly what they are supposed to…lie and subvert the truth in order to make money and keep the status quo of power. relying on them to report the truth is wishful thinking and misinterprets what they are their to do. also, i’m interested in this ‘survey’ of canadians found. if we ARE environmentalists, then why don’t we do something about it? being an environmentalist doesn’t mean saying environment is a priority and then acting otherwise or only making environmental choices ‘all else being equal’. if we were all environmentalists, we would be in the streets en masse tearing this system down.

  3. Linda says:

    Good heavens, Patrick — if the media “lie and subvert the truth,” how do you account for their recent(and unrelenting) preaching on Kyoto? I think this is all distortion, but I am guessing that you are not. Also — I don’t quite follow your logic. How is “tearing the system down” accomplishing something for the environment? I should have thought that the state of the environment would mean very little in the context of a real revolution . . . guns and all that. I think the solution is to get people to care about the environment, rather than to destroy their livlihood.

  4. Ginger says:

    Well said, Dave! Other than the statement about Dion being a shoo-in for next PM I wholeheartedly concur with your analysis of the mainstream media. I really enjoy your environmental posts, even though they are often quite heavy. Thanks for speaking out so articulately.

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