Journalism

No puppies, no kittens, no coverage

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.

catIs 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:

legends


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:

 

Categories: Journalism, Tax Evasion & Avoidance

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14 replies »

  1. There is one person in that Rogues Gallery wno must be singled out for his own greatness and as a symbol of what once was and whose absence tells the story – FRANK GRIFFITHS. Mr Griffiths owned BCTV and CKNW during the great days when free speech was their stock in trade. You only need look at what happened to BCTV & CKNW after he left.

    I remember being critical a year or two ago of a well known columnist who had suddenly been struck dumb, or so it seemed. His Editor called me in a rage screaming “Do you think I tell my writers what to say and what not to say, Rafe?”

    “You don’t have to”, Wayne, was my reply, to which there was no reply.

    Coming from one who worked 20 years for Mr. Frank Griffiths, what I said was perhaps unfaif.

    Apt as hell, though.

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  2. Spot on, Norm

    “No puppies, no kittens, no coverage” pretty much says it all for Global.

    I gave up on Gailus and Global after watching Chris’s softball interview of Christy in the runup to the last election.

    Truthfully, I was embarrassed for the man. At the time I remember thinking there are thousands of minimum wage workers out there who have more self-respect at their jobs than Chris Gailus.

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  3. Norm…Interesting piece. Sad what has happened to my beloved industry. The other night Global LED its newscast with the story of the dead dog left in a dumpster …only later got to a piece about explosives (possible bomb) found in a storage locker in a busy city location, forcing evacuation of several buildings. Incredible! I feel sorry for my friends, the real journalists who still work there.

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    • My knowledge of Frank Griffiths’ organization was that it hired excellent managers and let them manage. I knew Keith Bradbury from days at UBC when he was, like Tex Enemark, one of the sages of the Parliamentary Council room in Brock Hall. Both those guys were a few years older than the herd of pups that included me. Keith was in the Law faculty at the time and seemed to be a guy going somewhere. He and Cameron Bell ran the BCTV operation when many considered it the best local news organization in North America. The talent pool was deep.

      I was involved with Alpha Cine and we provided news film processing to TV stations in BC. As an example of BCTV’s willingness to spend to gain an edge in news gathering, they contracted us to operate a film processor in their own facility. They had numerous crews on the streets and they operated like a quick-response emergency service. This was before cell phones and satellite trucks but BCTV could uncover a story, assign a reporter and cameraman and have the film in editing within a very short time. It may not have run like a smooth Swiss watch behind the scenes but, to viewers, BCTV was a can’t miss news operation. In 2009, Harvey wrote a story about the retirement of my favourite camera guy and I suggest you read it:

      http://harveyoberfeld.ca/blog/retirement-do-vindicates-my-blog/

      I left a comment at Harv’s 2009 post. This is it:

      In the seventies, I often spent a few weekend hours in the office of the film lab where Eric and other cameramen took their news films for developing. If a big story was breaking, the news guys moved quickly but, sometimes, a dull morning was a dull morning. In those days before cell phones, Eric was fun to have hanging around, waiting for an assignment, even if he was suffering a near death experience from bad ice the night before.

      To BCTV. the job of covering news on Saturday and Sunday was almost as important as on weekdays. The modern style is recycle the same stories from one newscast to another with almost no timely, original material prepared on weekends. If the quality of BCTV News ranked a 10 in the heyday, GlobalTV news today ranks about a 2. That will decline even further as the real news operators retire.

      I recall that Eric Cable Sr., was a pioneer of television news in Vancouver so Junior was well bred for his career. I haven’t seen him in many years but I imagine he remains exactly the same affable guy that I remember.

      I wish an investor would gather people from that old gang and install them as the news department for CHEK-TV. Cameron Bell, get your team together!

      (Response: Wow! Norman ..you DO remember the old days … from Kodak 7240 film and Aquacine to the days of Eric Sr,. to the the Golden Era of BCTV etc. But I’ve got to tell you … something I have heard is that they are now using a new rating system ..and last Tuesday . Global Newshour scored a NINE POINT ONE ..and their closest competition CTV .scored only POINT NINE. Not exactly the way to convince do more with less managers to invest more resources in quality…and that’s a reality that THINKING viewers and REAL NEWS JUNKIES now face. But we who care must never stop fighting for improvement and exposing the decline in quality, even if old comrades can’t take the heat. h.o.)

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  4. I’m with Harvey. Those who worked in journalism in the days before electric typewriters know that everything you’ve written is true. We are beset today by a corporate media cartel that produces messaging in lieu of information. This enables corporate media to transition from the watchdog of government to its lapdog, each favouring the other. There’s an abundance of information on what awaits democracy from this concentration of ownership and cross-ownership in the Davey and Kent commission reports. You cannot have a properly informed electorate unless they have access to the broadest range of information and opinion which is only possible when the media, in all its forms, is most broadly held. Without an adequately informed electorate there can be no genuinely informed consent to be governed. Votes are manipulated, steered by what is fed to the public as information when it is quite deliberately something else entirely.

    Unfortunately, for us, there is not a party on the Hill clamouring to revisit the Davey and Kent commission reports (and the later Senate study) or willing to consider reformation of the national media.

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  5. To add insult to injury the folks at CKNW, and their like, cry out that journalism is suffering because of the internet!
    Never a mention of consolidation and lack of credible content.

    TB

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  6. That’s why they like to cover fires and it goes like this; Anchor: There’s a home on fire. Crews are on scene trying to put it out. Now we’ll go to are reporter on scene. Reporter: there’s a house fire and crews are trying to put it out. Now we’ll hear from the fire chief. Fire Chief: We have a house fire and our crews are trying to put it out.

    I guess it fills time for the broadcast without reporting anything we really need to know.

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  7. Who the hell watches Global TV anymore? There is no news, just pablum, spoon fed by overly made up and overly cute female presenters. Oooooo, seems now to be a word in the very small lexicon of TV news.

    BC has no MSM anymore but a limited number of blogs, which those blogging are doing a large amount of work presenting the real news – the truth.

    Adios Global, I don’t watch you anymore.

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  8. In the beginning I was only worried about slanted reporting because of management directives to “not rock the boat”, as they invested heavily in political donations to the BC Liberals. Now I am worried this is not the only issue….we are faced with an industry full of either completely incompetent people (journalism)….or like Norm has said in the past…..watching Shakespeare’s Marcellus in action. We need to force these “news” agencies to come clean….what is the incentive to provide false information (largely by omission)? Mews not news….I read that in a comment somewhere recently. Mewspeople, not Newspeople.

    Below is from an old official complaint I made to the CRTC and CBSC about not allowing them to even use the term “News”. Please note this is not a left or right leaning position….it is the correct position needed in order to save this province for our next generations. We are talking numbers and facts here. We are talking about the BC Liberals not able to run a popsicle stand without unlimited funding by unsuspecting taxpayers. There are far too many people that are not adding value to goods in this province, their only reason to exist is to suck on the teat of the public’s purse. Get a real job I say.

    Thank You for Your Submission
    Your comment was successfully submitted to the CRTC.

    You are commenting on the Notice #: 2011-14-Call for comments on amendments to the Radio Regulations, 1986, Television Broadcasting Regulations, 1987, Pay Television Regulations, 1990, Specialty Services Regulations, 1990, and the Broadcasting Information Regulations, 1993

    Topic is to discuss restriction of the use of the term “News” to programs that report events with a mandate to present all points of view in a balanced manner by organizations not connected to political contributions of any form. Reason is lack of confidence that the voices of ordinary Canadians are being listened to by policy makers. This is evidenced by the progression to this stage of such an amendment proposal.

    Intervention-Comment: Opposition

    **Beginning of submission, paragraph 1 of 1**

    I am strongly opposed to any further relaxation of standards relating to truthfulness in broadcasting. This includes deception by omission of facts and or events pertinent to the subject. Following is my below complaint as registered by your office on Oct 6, 2009. Re Canwest/Global group of companies, I would like them to be restricted from using the term “News”. Any communication company that donates to any political party, except those that donate equally to all parties, are not providing the general public with a balanced reporting of events or government policies. These are merely entertainment programs and should be labelled as such. Canwest appears to acknowledge this fact by slotting Entertainment Tonight immediately after their “news” program in our viewing area. The time slot from 5:00pm to 8:00pm becomes just one long entertainment program with “Local News”, “National News”, “Local News” again, “ET Tonite”, then “ET Canada”. The corollary to this complaint is that funding to the CBC must be maintained and/or increased in order that the taxpaying public is being informed by true professional journalists.

    **End of submission**

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    • In earlier days, CBC Vancouver was in competition with BCTV for news viewers. They had some excellent people, including journalists and people behind the scenes. But, CBC’s regional operations were always fighting for tiny shares of resources spent in Ontario. One of the senior people in CBC Vancouver used to routinely refer to his employer as the TBC, meaning the Toronto Broadcasting Corporation.

      Today’s the situation is even worse. I suspect CBC management and many of Canada’s leading figures in journalism believe the Lakehead is way out west. That is one of the reasons BCTV was so successful. It was run by people who lived here; they answered to management and ownership who lived here as well. All of these people aimed to serve British Columbia’s residents and they put that responsibility above all.

      Since Vancouver’s daily newspapers, most radio and TV stations are controlled out of Ontario, they view BC as an insignificant backwater. Even if Conservative Party friends are removed from CBC’s Board of Directors and some of the public funding is restored, I doubt the “national broadcaster” is capable of serving regions of Canada well.

      What’s the answer, if there is one? If CHEK-TV had serious funding, perhaps it could become a modern day equivalent of BCTV. I’m sure old timers from BCTV’s finest days would consult and encourage and that large group of people who follow news “very closely” would respond. All we need is someone with deep pockets who believes than an informed public is worthwhile.

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      • The CBC has always been mandated as Captain Canada so, meaing unlike BBC, it must constantly be concerned tjat it doesn’t go too far. Not that they haven’t done fine shows with good people,because they have. They have had wonderfullly irreverent broadcasters like Vicki Gabereau but their culture has been carefully Canadian as approved by the Toronto Department of Pointy Heads.

        It’s impossible to think of a Keith Bradbury or Cameron Bell with CBC, nor a Jack Webster who was fine as a curmudgeonly guest from goofy BC but could never be a CBC type. Nor could any from CKNW except Bill Good who never stopped being one.

        Norm is dead on about Frank Griffiths. He was everywhere but no one ever saw hide nor hair of the man. His managers, at least the three I served under, needed no help in administering the technical side and all carried the Griffiths spirit of free speech and, 99% of the time, damn the torpedoes. They kow-towed to no politician no matter who and suffered their frequent boycotts, in my case anyway, with equanimity unto indifference.

        What must also said is though often resembling a nest of adders, we were treated as family and as individuals when personal problems arose. I have every reason to believe that BCTV was the same.

        CBC could and did do fine stuff but up against a Griffiths station in the longer pull it was badly out matched.

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  9. Hi Norm – I saw Eric Cable last week. He’s a good friend of mine. If you’d like, I can put you kin touch with him, He and Evie are living in the interior now.

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