” Losing an illusion makes you wiser than finding the truth” ~ Karl Ludwig Borne
“…I know I can’t go back to working parallel to the real problems, hiding my opinions and yet somehow hoping that one viewer every night might piece together what I wanted to say. I thought if I paid my dues and worked my way up through the ranks, I could maybe reach a position of enough influence and credibility that I could say what I truly feel. I’ve realized there’s no time to wait. ” ~ Kai Nagata, former CTV Bureau Chief, Quebec City, on Why he quit his job.
Powerful words from a young journalist who bravely bared his heart and soul to the world, after quitting his job at CTV- and nearly became famous for it. You may have already read it -his ‘manifesto’ went viral – but if you haven’t, grab a cup of coffee or a drink and take a few minutes to absorb and reflect at the link above. What Kai speaks to is a big problem for the media in this country, a media that is more and more often compromised by advertisers/profits/politics- take your pick. And in my opinion, Kai’s post became so big, so fast, because so many others like him working for news outlets across the country, felt exactly the same way. As he states in his follow up post 24 hours later : ” People are thirsty.”
We all have illusions, and when those illusions are shattered it can rock your world. My illusion, for the longest time, was that it is the duty- yes duty- of news outlets and journalists to report the truth, no matter what; to hold those in power at all levels accountable and to remain free of bias from any outside influence.
I’ve learned that is not always the case in this era where far too often profits are prioritized over journalistic excellence, ethics and integrity. It’s something that is never far from mind when I research and write, and I have hardly been the only one to talk about and question what has happened to the profession. In this post from last year, I refer to retired journalist and fellow blogger, Harvey Oberfeld and his questions about influence, Sean Holman of Public Eye Online who examined a sponsorship deal involving government and our big local dailies.
And of course, more recently was a very revealing post written by Ian Reid, in which he speaks of the ‘club’ between local media personalities and local politicians, which of course matters because as Ian succintly states: ” The truth suffers.” If you don’t read these kind of revolutionary posts, you might not know that “Bill Good( CKNW), Rick Cluff( CBC Radio Vancouver) and others share personal relationships with BC Liberal premiers, Cabinet members and MLAs. They hang out. They golf together. They are personal friends.”
You might not know that Stephen Smart( bureau chief, CBC Victoria) is married to Rebecca Scott, who was a long time producer at CKNW and was most recently whisked away to Victoria by the former CKNW talk show host and new premier, Christy Clark as her communications director… but I’m sure none of these relationships and friendships and marriages could ever, ever, influence what or how something is reported in this province… right?
Ian’s post is key to understanding why some stories never see the light that could be shone on them by the mass audiences of the largest outlets in BC. And here is why:
“That could be the BC Rail story in a nutshell. Much of the media was part of the strategy to sell from the beginning. And they’re still a party to the cover-up. The local Bell media clan – CTV and the Globe – were spoon fed by the prosecution with information that only supported the prosecution’s view that the full extent of the scandal is nothing but the actions of a small group of rogues. And now the CTV newsroom staffs the Premier.
What’s worse is it’s not isolated. The club brings the same vision to every story. For every BC Rail story half hidden by the club there’s another two fully hidden.”
Isn’t that the truth.A serious matter when the current sitting premiers statements about her lack of involvement in the BC rail sale seem to be directly contradicted by the documents circulating on the net . But move along folks, nothing to see there, right?
And I think that last statement of Ian Reids might apply to far too many other stories as well. When I broke the Sea to Sky Shadow toll story, which became a series, it was first run by News1130, did a midnight run on the CKNW overnight news before being halted when the morning crew arrived.. and that was it. Nothing. A reporter from the Squamish paper did a couple stories on it, it went viral, and then nothing more in the media until Mark Hume of the Globe and Mail did a story that received national attention. There was proof, there were confidential, sensitive documents and there were outright lies written in emails from ministry of transportation PR reps, but there was no coverage from the biggest news outlets in BC. And I asked why, as did others.
Off the record, it came back to me that the shadow tolls on the Sea to Sky highway were old news to many in the media who knew about them back when the protests were happening at Eagleridge bluffs. Some of the protesters has discovered that ” vehicle usage payments” were part of the deal with the consortium financing it, and took it to the press, thinking the people of BC should know we are all paying for each vehicle that uses that road, but no. Nothing was done, no one was interested, the story was never told until some sensitive documents started finding me.
That really surprised me, that the presence of these payments had been known to so many in the media who have been around for a while. And it was an eye-opener, since how could that not be newsworthy? Even some junior reporters were surprised at all of it. My first personal experience with how it all works, and perhaps theirs too.
It’s true that losing an illusion makes you wiser than finding the truth sometimes, but my illusion that the press should be free from any obligation other than the public’s right to know, is one I wish was still unbroken.
I’ll leave you now with an excerpt from that previous post examining media bias, because there is no other way to end this but with a reminder of a code of ethics every newsroom should have on their wall – in my opinion – and one every news director or editor should paste on the screen of every reporters computer:
“It is important to note that the Society of Professional Journalists have posted on their site, a code of ethics. Among these voluntary guidelines, are sections devoted to acting independently, and being accountable :
Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know.
—Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
— Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
— Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.
— Disclose unavoidable conflicts.
— Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable.
— Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.
— Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; avoid bidding for news.
Journalists are accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other.
— Clarify and explain news coverage and invite dialogue with the public over journalistic conduct.
— Encourage the public to voice grievances against the news media.
— Admit mistakes and correct them promptly.
— Expose unethical practices of journalists and the news media.
— Abide by the same high standards to which they hold others.
Clearly, one has to wonder what new journalism graduates must feel like when they enter todays newsrooms. After all, you spend 4 years being taught ethics, morality, and the importance of unbiased reporting, find yourself full of youthful righteousness ready to show the truth…. and then step on the newsroom floor only to find the news you are assigned to report is very different from the news you should be reporting. That you can’t piss off the advertisers. That there isn’t enough of a budget to do a diner review, let along an in-depth investigative piece on the real story of non-profit billing practices. That bad government news stories are run on Fridays and good news ones they want to pump are run on Mondays, and that all those other clever young journalism graduates of past are now nothing more than flunkies paid to shill for the “bad guys”.
How disappointing the reality of some modern news organizations values can be, how tragic the consequences are. Citizens are now often faced with having to decide for themselves what is truth or spin, what is real or altered, what is contrived or motivated by hidden factors they have made public.
Sadly, it would appear the famous words of George Orwell are still as relevent as they were when first spoken:
In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.