With fear and favour

Editorial by Bruce Wark

illustration Graham Pilsworth

Now that Conrad Black has been convicted of corporate thievery, we might ask whether the journalistic system he presided over is itself a gigantic fraud. Black once owned daily newspapers in every major Canadian city. He also founded the National Post. He used his papers to push for tax cuts for the rich, privatized health care and Canada's complete integration into the American military-industrial complex. Yes, we can thank Black for giving right-wing causes a mighty push before selling his papers to the Aspers, who've been promoting their own big business and pro-Israel agendas ever since. The journalists who toiled for Black and the Aspers often grumbled privately about editorial interference, but few of them quit and those who escaped successive rounds of layoffs continued to labour loyally for their right-wing masters. (For a revealing glimpse into the grim state of journalistic morale at the Aspers' Vancouver papers, see the cover story, "The Death of Canadian Journalism" in the current issue of Adbusters magazine.)

While it's easy to blame the failings of Canadian journalism on Black and the Aspers, I'd say the rot spreads much wider and deeper. After all, the Canadian mainstream news media have always touted the interests of wealthy business elites. Black and the Aspers just made that bias more blatant. What's new today is that the Canadian media are now controlled by a handful of corporate owners and the journalists who work for them have become fatter, richer and more respectable. The ink-stained wretches of yesteryear who might cock a snoot at the powers-that-be have given way to professional wordsmiths who often protect their "credibility" by faithfully serving as mouthpieces for the rich and powerful.

Lest you think I exaggerate, consider the coverage of Stephen Harper's recent visit to Haiti. Remember that when the US, France and Canada forced the country's democratically-elected president into exile in 2004, the Globe and Mail and the National Post cheered. The Globe blamed Jean-Bertrand Aristide himself, declaring that the Haitian president's fall from power was "mainly a result of his own misrule." The paper conveniently ignored the fact that the US had blocked $500 million in international development loans to Haiti while funnelling millions in aid (and weapons) to the country's right-wing opposition. The Post called Aristide's 2000 election "a sham," even though Haiti's poor voted overwhelmingly for him. It also blamed Aristide for Haiti's continuing poverty.

So, when Harper landed in Haiti for a quick visit last month, it wasn't surprising that both papers put a positive spin on his visit to a Canadian-funded medical centre. "For Stephen Harper, a man uneasy in the politician's role of glad-hander," the Globe report began, "a brief encounter yesterday morning with two adorable girls in the heart of Haiti's most notorious slum seemed to touch something in the Canadian prime minister." The Post's report described Harper as "visibly uncomfortable in the midday Haitian heat—yet smiling as he toured the centre—Mr. Harper watched some small children being vaccinated, met nurses and doctors and presented a blood-analysis machine to the clinic." The Post did report that most of the slum dwellers "watched disconsolately from their ramshackle homes" as Harper's motorcade passed, but failed to explain why. A 2006 study in the British medical journal, Lancet estimated that after Aristide was removed from power, 8,000 people were murdered in the Haitian capital. A second study reported: "Suspected dissidents fill the prisons, their constitutional rights ignored." Neither the Globe nor the Post referred to Canada's complicity in the coup and its aftermath. "PM's quick visit signifies positive change," one Globe headline read. Yes, "positive change" for the business elites who profit from the rock-bottom wages in Haitian sweatshops, but not for the poor, black majority Aristide was trying to help. I'd say there was a much better (and truer) story in Haiti than Harper's spin-filled visit, but neither the Globe nor the Post bothered to report it.

Had enough of the “official” story? Bring the truth, email brucew@thecoast.ca.

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