Thursday, June 17, 2010

How Should Canada Handle "Advocacy Journalism"

I won't pretend that there has ever been any journalist completely devoid of some biases that didn't slip through into the printed/spoken word but there have been many who worked very hard to at least strive for objectivity. That's what distinguishes real journalism from today's advocacy journalism - the "striving" thing.

Advocacy journalism is the darling of America's far right which, today, pretty much incorporates the entire Republican movement. (If you don't think modern Republicans are the radical right, just compare their policies with those of Nixon* who today would be denounced as a heretic, a damned socialist.) As practiced in the US, advocacy journalism is a powerful force for advancing corporatist and theocratic interests in the guise of populism. It is the use of guile on the gullible to stand logic and truth on their head.

In short, advocacy journalism isn't journalism at all except in name and even that is wilfully misleading. It is propaganda. Fox News may claim to be "fair and balanced" but it's a claim that has been laughed out of a court of law. Still, Fox dominates CNN and CNBC in ratings which sounds impressive until one realizes how, in radical states, propaganda services commonly are the dominant medium. In today's theocratic/corporatist America, the prominence attained by Fox should not be all that surprising.

So, in this era of disease migration, the same disorder is coming to Canada - conservative TV. They're open about their bias now but I suspect they'll ditch that candour once they hit the airwaves and soon enough they'll cloak themselves in claims of being factual, honest and even fair.

How will Canadians take to ConTV? Have we had enough exposure to the hillarity of Fox News to have acquired some degree of contact immunity? Are we less gullible as a people than our sometimes astonishingly stupid cousins to the south?

Should the CRTC, vaunted defender of the public interest in the public airwaves, recognize that advocacy journalism is not journalism at all and require some sort of disclosure? After all, Sun TV will be broadcasting over the public airwaves, our airwaves, public property and it will be employing our CRTC to compel Canadian cable operators to carry its programming. In effect the Harper government is partnering in a way with Fixed News North.

This sort of thing is a disease. As David Frum recently remarked, at first the Republican administration thought Fox News worked for them. Eventually they realized it was they working for Fox News. If that doesn't scare you, it should.

* Nixon, after all, created the Environmental Protection Agency, introduced America's Clean Water Act, first recognized China (at least by the US) and even some advances in civil rights including desegregation and women's rights. Nixon also advocated a form of guaranteed annual income he labelled "negative income tax" and the introduction of universal healthcare. Today's Republicans would flay him alive with a rusty skinning knife.

1 comment:

Geekwad said...

We might encourage people to read more of Mark Twain's writing on the subject of newspapers. Having seen the business (and it is a business, just like being a whore or a lawyer) through his eyes, one will never trust another journalist.