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I'm Laila Yuile and This Is How I See It: Politics and the press

“Democracy has become a government of bullies, tempered by editors” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

A strong statement and I think most would agree, an exact one. Particularly at this point in Canadian history.

Here we are, a couple of days after yet another federal election, and there are many who still are jubilant in victory, many who are angry in defeat, and even more who are licking their wounds like Gilles Duceppe and Michael Ignatieff.

It has also been a couple of days since Lumby mayor  Kevin Acton and council voted to go ahead with a bid for a prison in their village despite significant opposition, and yes, as with the federal election, some in Lumby are certainly jubilant. Even more, however, are channelling their anger to take the campaign against the prison to the provincial powers who make the decision. Defeat is not in their vocabulary.

Across Canada, and in the small village of Lumby, people are quite clearly divided. The lines have been drawn in absolutes in my opinion, with little middle ground to cover. And in my opinion, the media( or lack thereof ) played a strong role in both votes.

Call me foolish for thinking so, but I find it repugnant to open a paper and find an editorial endorsing a political party, or a certain candidate. Just as I find it equally abrasive to discover openly biased or absent journalism within those pages. Why? Because unfortunately, there is still a very large part of the population that believes papers and news outlets are unbiased and impartial when it comes to reporting. Those staunch hold-outs who honestly think advertisers, corporate influence and political pressure play no part in what we see in the pages of our daily news.

Ha!

When we live in a country where a bunch of corporate media types have the power to sit and decide who can participate in a pre-election debate, something is seriously wrong. When it is the media who has the power to decide what is important for me to hear, or not hear, something is wrong.

The art of crafting a story and presenting a certain view with an agenda is indeed a talent worthy of awards. Selective editing of photos, sound bites, statements and speeches can dramatically alter the truth, the facts and even the flavour of a story. Even more compelling is the timing of when a story is put to press, as in the case of the missing money and corruption in Surrey City  that was released at 8 pm, on a Friday night. During a Vancouver Canucks playoff game no less… accident? Not on your life. That’s called burying a  story and if it had been a less media adored mayor, that would have been all over the front page of the Province. But at least the CBC can say they actually posted the story… although it remains likely it went by the wayside in the rush of Canuck victory.

People are still talking about the Vancouver Sun’s editorial endorsement of Stephen Harper and the Conservatives  – ironic since many feel the press in general have a Liberal bias, which they certainly do  at the provincial level . Meaning the BC Liberals with a federal Conservative leaning are extremely happy at this electorial outcome. ( Kevin Falcon must be kicking his heels in glee! )

These endorsements place newspapers in a tough spot of explanation in my view. On one hand, I have had editors tell me in  a scornful manner that my accusation of political bias or influence is insulting, and the reason a certain news story did not run was because it wasn’t newsworthy, or there was a lack of space or it wasn’t relevent….and yet both our major papers have endorsed candidates/parties during election times- federal and provincial !  Newsflash, how much more biased can you get? A paper can’t play both sides and expect people to believe transparency and neutrality still exists when this happens.

Which brings me to the other issue facing many Canadians - particularly in small towns and villages like Lumby. A lack of press. True enough, there is a small community paper in Lumby, and they do get access to other news outlets like Vernon, Kamloops or Kelowna, but those papers are not likely to have the budget for investigative reporting, leaning on the most basic reports. They also tend to have relationships with advertisers and companies that would make it prohibative to offend a particular audience with certain styles of reporting. Even here in Surrey, one of our local community papers is pretty much the mayors personal PR agency, and rarely if ever will one read a negative or even potentially negative story about her and council within the pages.

As the people within these small communities look to large outlets beyond their horizons, they then meet the big dailies and the big dailies opinions of who is the politician de jour, which politician gets the free pass on accountability, which stories they will see and which ones will remain untold because of  “editorial constraints”.

I long for the days when one could open a paper and read the latest expose of government wrong-doing, the days when one could sit back after particularly fine paper and say ” Thank God for the press.”

In a book titled ” The Elements of Journalism”, by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, the authors list the 9 elements a journalist must adhere to,to fulfil their duty of providing information to the public. Those elements are:

  1. Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth.
  2. Its first loyalty is to the citizens.
  3. Its essence is discipline of verification.
  4. Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover.
  5. It must serve as an independent monitor of power.
  6. It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise.
  7. It must strive to make the news significant, interesting, and relevant.
  8. It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional.
  9. Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience.

There are plenty of exceptional writers and journalist in this town. Time for the powers that be cut them loose and let them serve the public in the way they are obligated to by their own professional standards.

I’m Laila Yuile, and this is how I see it.

This column originally appeared on Ms. Yuile's blog. Reprinted with permission.