Perhaps a TV news anchor revealed more than he desired Friday. On Twitter, Chris Gailus explained why Global TV would not cover what might be one of Vancouver’s most significant news stories this decade:
…it’s not a TV-friendly story…
Ian Young, correspondent for South China Morning Post, had reported that widespread tax cheating had worsened Vancouver’s housing affordability crisis. More importantly, he demonstrated that, despite holding clear evidence of illegality, government officials decided not to act. In addition, a followup by Young reported that Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) is now taking action… against the leaking whistleblowers who caused them embarrassment.
Young’s initial item reminded me of a situation years ago that involved an acquaintance who was part of a group investigating employment insurance and tax fraud by Fraser Valley labour contractors. He told me that instead of proceeding with charges that were ready, officials in Ottawa shut down the investigation. Feds chose not to move against wealthy people associated with a politically important ethnoreligious group. The investigator I knew was reassigned to examine tax records of individual landscaping contractors. He was angry.
The reality is that CRA prefers soft targets, not ones hardened by diligent tax consultants or political influence. In BC’s immoderate housing market, there are a few big winners but many more people crippled by housing costs. Government has been little motivated to act because economic elites are not harmed by high prices. Mostly, they are beneficiaries or, put another way, they are the landlords who will soon be injuring even the middle classes by demanding rents based on elevated property values.
Is even the possibility of all this newsworthy? Remember who owns Global TV and who controls competing news operations. Owning traditional media is business that appeals to Canadian billionaires. It allows them to select managers who decide how budgets are allocated, whether investigative resources are deployed and what subjects are newsworthy and TV-friendly.
The common notion is that consumers today are less interested in news than in years past. Yet, a comprehensive study of American preferences by Pew Research Centre found 30% of people followed news “very closely” during the 1980s and 30% are close followers in the 21st century. The study’s author concluded there is scant evidence that today’s audiences prefer a diet of soft news.
While audience interests may be only slightly altered, another Pew study found that news programs on local television changed significantly. Researched feature stories have been reduced in number and shortened, while traffic, weather, sports and content from external sources increased. Although local TV news operations are doing less journalism, many stations are filling more hours of programming. Of course, quality suffers.
In corporate media, we see very little discussion about the desirability of committing substantial public dollars to support risky or undesirable private enterprises. This is partly explained by the fact that media companies are partners with industries hungry for direct and indirect subsidies from taxpayers.
The most egregious example is Postmedia’s admitted business relationship with energy companies. Full and accurate reporting from the insolvent newspaper chain is impossible because business interests that keep them afloat simply don’t want it. Not surprisingly, many individuals who continue to work as journalists put comfort and survival before journalism.
However, with a little diligence, citizens can keep themselves informed. In addition to many published sources, I’m fortunate to receive tips and contributions from informal networks that prospect for and exchange information. Because many eyes read many sources, I don’t depend on operations like Global TV News, which is appropriate because I’m interested in news that is not “TV-friendly.”
If Edward R. Murrow shared the Global point of view, he would not have taken on McCarthyism. Cronkite would have avoided unwelcome reporting on Vietnam. Jack Webster wouldn’t have gone alone into a dark place to mediate a hostage taking at BC Penitentiary. BCTV would not have covered abuse at Bountiful and introduced us to the man with 46 children and numerous wives.
If the found-ins at today’s newspapers and broadcast stations don’t know these people, it’s because they know too little about real Canadian journalism:
At his website, TheCommentary.ca, Joseph Planta has a number of conversations with people involved or once involved with British Columbia’s media. They are worth attention, in no particular order:
- Cameron Bell, BCTV News architect;
- George Garrett, ace reporter;
- Brian “Frosty” Forst, peerless morning man;
- Rafe Mair, recovered lawyer and politician, still kicking shins that need kicking;
- George Orr, influential newsman who will be standing for election in 2017;
- Michael Harris, a reporter so excellent, he’s now an outsider;
- Andrew MacLeod, a Press Gallery member worthy of respect.