The Mainstream Media Discusses Itself

An En Camino Media Alert*

June 03 , 2003

A Hypothetical Newscast

Picture this. It's the news on Canada's public television network, the CBC. The newscasters come on, and make the following broadcast.

"In domestic news, Montrealer Adil Charkaoui was arrested earlier this week by CSIS, the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service. CSIS arrested Mr. Charkaoui on a 'security certificate' under the 'Immigration and Refugee Protection Act'. The 'security certificate' provides for arrests of immigrants on suspicion that they are a 'national security threat', and was signed by Solicitor General Wayne Easter and Immigration Minister Denis Coderre. This is one of numerous cases of CSIS arresting immigrants from Canada's Muslim community on 'security certificates'. Another case is that of Mohamed Herkat, who is still being held pending deportation.

"Immigrants arrested under 'security certificates' do not have normal due process rights. There is no chance of bail, detention can be indefinite, and neither the person detained nor a defence lawyer is allowed access to the evidence against the detainee. Any immigrant could be arrested under this act on 'national security' grounds. Interviewed from jail, Mr. Charkaoui said: 'I have no links to Al-Qaeda. This is a new form of McCarthyism, a new witch hunt. There's no proof, only suspicions. If they have proof they should show it.'

"Advocates against the 'security certificates', including Toronto-based Homes Not Bombs, argue that they endanger fundamental human rights to fair trials. They also suggest that CSIS has displayed a pattern of violations and incompetence: 'This follows a classic CSIS pattern. Others who have been arrested on the security certificate report a similar pattern: demands from CSIS to spy on members of specific communities are made, and if not accepted, the security certificate comes down as punishment.'

"In another immigration news, members of Montreal's Action Committee of Non-
Status Algerians and No One is Illegal have just been released from an Ottawa jail in which they were being held after having carried out an occupation of Immigration Minister Denis Coderre's office. The ten members of the Action Committee and two No One is Illegal supporters emerged from jail with one charge of simple mischief, each, showing visible signs of having been beaten - photos of their injuries have been released and are publicly available
s.jpg, According to one direct witness, the approximately 30 tactical unit forces sent by Ottawa police to end the sit-in extensively beat the protesters, as well as using electric "tazer" devices on them.

"The non-status Algerian advocates claim that the impending deportations to Algeria will put those deported in serious danger, and that the Canadian government's decision to terminate the moratorium on deportations to that country is motivated by economic and political self-interest rather than on a reasonable assessment of Algeria's political climate as 'safe'.

"Meanwhile, in international news, protests outside the G8 summit in Evian, France, were met with severe repression by police. In a particularly violent episode, 'a British activist, who had abseiled from a motorway bridge near Aubonne broke was injured, when the police cut the rope he was hanging from. He fell 20 m deep and is now in hospital' (see Inside, George Bush and Tony Blair rebuffed an offer by French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac to reduce subsidies to agricultural exports to Africa from G8 countries, a move that would help mitigate some of the starvation and chronic hunger suffered in that continent. (

"Next up on CBC: Journalists discuss the way that increasingly concentrated private ownership, private advertising, official sources, ideology, and flak from powerful political interests prevent them from providing objective and balanced coverage of the issues. As a preview, here's Robert Fisk on reporting on the Middle East:

[cut from the newscaster to Robert Fisk speaking]

'Over and over again for example, when I am in Jerusalem or Damascus, or Cairo, I talk to my American Colleagues. Who are just like me, same jobs much better salaries of course, but the same role. And what they tell me is fascinating. They really have a deep insight many of them, into what's happening in the region, but when I read their reports its not there. Everything they have to tell me of interest has been erased. when they want to put forth a point of view, they ring up some guy in America who has very little knowledge usually in one of the places I call the tink thanks, the think tanks, the Brookings institute, the Rand corporation, and this guy blathers on for two paragraphs of bland prose, and this is put in as opinion. But I want to know what the reporter thinks, if you send a reporter to a region, if you send him there because you think he is intelligent, fair, decent reporter; you don't have to ask him to give 50% of every paragraph to each side. I mean if you follow the rules that a journalist seems to have to follow in the Middle East, what do you do say if you cover the slave ship and the slavery campaign? Do you give the same amount of time to the slaves and the slave ship captain? Or what if you are covering the Second World War, do you give the same amount of time to prisoners and an SS guard? NO. You have to have some sense of morality, and passion and anger. You know when I am at the scene for example the slaughter of Hamer in 1982, where the Syrian army crushed the people of Hamer, up to 20,000 dead, destroyed their mosques in the old city. I managed to get in there, and my piece if you read it now, drips with anger at the way in which this massive armed force run by the then president's brother was erasing a city and its history and its people. If you read my account of the Sabra and Shatila massacre carried out by the Israelis allies in 1982 as Israeli soldiers watched, the same thing happens. We should not be employed to be automatons to effectively just be a voice for spokesmen. We should be out there telling it how it is, how journalism used to be.'

The Real Newscast

Unfortunately, you won't see such a newscast on CBC. While we would happily be corrected, in our monitoring of the CBC, we did not see coverage of the 'security certificate' arrests, nor the Sans-Statut/No One is Illegal action and arrests, nor the violence against protesters of the G8 summit, nor the significance of the US-UK rejection of France's offer to reduce subsidies to agricultural exports to Africa.

Instead, if you tuned in for some news on Canada, here's what you would expect after 90 minutes of Canada Now (May 27th-May29th):

15 minutes of Information on SARS and the paranoia this disease is causing, with no coverage on the nurses or doctors and how much they have been taxed by an underfunded health care system

More fear-mongering and 12 minutes of Mad Cow Disease and profits lost by the cattle industry, with no information on factory farming of beef, which may be the reason cows and people are susceptible to mad cow disease in the first place.

Only 3 minutes on the trillion dollar Anti-Ballistic Missile Defense Program that is up and coming on the US agenda with almost no information on what Canada's role will be except for that Canada will engage in 'talks'.

Only 4 minutes on poverty in Canada and information on the feds' new Market Basket Measure of poverty, which measures income and accomodations to provide a more accurate measure of poverty, even though according to the measurement itself, in every single province, a basket of necessities costs more than social assistance.

2 minutes on Chretien's comments on Bush being a conservative from the South and his comments on the US deficit, with undertones that our relationship with the US will be further ruined by these comments.

Only 2 minutes on the Amnesty International report criticizing the US and Canada's role in the war on Iraq, with limited detail on the report.

The other 52 minutes included stories such as an escaped bull that destroyed some antiques, the drug sniffing dog and a private investigator, the new tool parents are using to find out if their children are doing drugs, Mountain Everest Climbs, a North Pole Expedition, the retirement of hockey goalie Patrick Roy, Chretien visiting different countries and not saying too much, why the diagnosis of diseases is not always appropriate, Orca protection in BC, and other random stories happening in Canada.

There was, however, an interesting panel by the media, on the media.

On May 28th, CBC Newsworld televised a special Foreign Correspondents Forum hosted by Peter Mansbridge. The panel consisted of 8 foreign correspondents who have been based in locations in the Middle East and Eastern Europe ( Neil MacDonald, Don Murray, Celine Galipeau, Patrick Brown, Paul Workman, Nahlah Ayed, David Halton and Michel Cormier). The forum was intended to be a question and answer session to give the public an opportunity to ask foreign correspondents about foreign journalism.

Instead of a discussion on journalistic integrity and objective reporting in the media, the question period for the most part was a love-in, with questions such as what gave these journalists their inspiration and when are they able to sleep after having to report all night, what about their loved ones, how can one distinguish between being a journalist and a human being, etc.

When asked about balanced reporting in the Israel-Palestinian conflict and why bombings in Israel make the news immediately whereas when a Palestinian is killed it may or may not be reported, Peter Mansbridge was quick to state that this was an unfair analysis and that CBC Newsworld does do a lot of coverage. Neil McDonald actually spoke about Israel's proactive system of dealing with international reporters, which involves bringing reporters right to the scene of bombings in Israel, while making it hard for reporters to enter the occupied territories and report on stories there.

Missing from the panel was the kind of journalism suggested by Robert Fisk (who, incidentally, has been on CBC's 'Counterspin' several times). In the Pacifica interview cited above in our 'hypothetical' newscast, Robert Fisk was asked about Israel and US 'proactive' policies of 'closed military zones' and 'embedded journalists':

Pacifica: Governments tell us that they are protecting journalists by creating closed military areas, by restricting journalist access to battle zones, do you accept that?

Fisk: Well that is what the soviets said when they labeled cities closed military areas in the Soviet Union. Look: during the Israeli occupation of Lebanon I learned very quickly that whenever the Israeli army declared an area a closed military area it meant they were doing something which was meant to be hidden, and everytime they did that I got into the town to see what they had been doing and invariably there had been extra judicial executions, torture, or prisoners taken away and not being seen again, like what has happened here. Exactly the same happens in the west bank. The moment they declared Bethlehem a closed military area, I am talking about the first of the reoccupation of the west bank by Sharon's soldiers, I went straight into Bethelehem, and I did the same in Ramallah. Our job as journalists when we here the words closed military areas is to go straight in because that is where the story is. It has nothing to do with our protection. Indeed in the case of the Israelis they have shot so many journalists and wounded so many journalists the last thing I think they are interested in is the protection of journalists.


When asked about censorship, the reporters suggested that there was no real CBC censorship of stories, however, the editorial process and the processing of scripts forms a censorship mechanism. The journalists also discussed the role of nation state governments in preventing journalists from collecting information, by controlling the access to information. Their focus was mostly on China and to a very limited extent on US and Pentagon controls. Patrick Brown even accused FOX TV in the US of sitting around in a rec room with beers saying whatever comes into their head. But again, no journalist raised the real problems, summarized again by Robert Fisk:

'I will sum it up very briefly. The relationship of the press and television to government is incestuous. The state department correspondents, the white house correspondents, the pentagon correspondents, have set a narrative where instead of telling us what they think is happening or what they know is happening, they tell us what they are told by the spokesman. They have become sub spokesman. Spokesman for the great institutions of state. When an American correspondent visits the Middle East they turn up in Beirut, Damascus or Cairo and where do they go? The first visit is to the American Embassy for a briefing with the ambassador, the economic advisor, the defense attaché and no doubt the CIA spook. Then they go and see an Arab Minister of information who almost never knows any information about anything ever. Then they write a story. Now it's not always that bad, but that is the main theme which is followed. So what you have I think is a general consensus in America, which I hope is breaking up, that to challenge American foreign policy is in some way, not just insensitive, but unpatriotic. Especially foreign policy in the Middle East which is still a taboo subject.'


The CBC admits to using US sources for much of its material. And while Patrick Brown was critical of Fox TV, there little mention of CBC's biased and selective coverage of stories during the war in Iraq and almost no mention of work on followup stories on Afghanistan and Iraq that show the real results of US led invasions. (See our previous media alert for more information. There was no critical analysis or even a mention of the death of journalists in Iraq at the hands of the US army and the other deaths of journalists in war torn zones.

When questioned about limited CBC coverage on the death of 4 million civilians in the Congo, Peter Mansbridge admitted that there was limited coverage, while Don Murray made excuses stating that there were no safe places for journalists to be present in the Congo, compared to in Iraq. They both concluded that CBC should be providing news on the Congo and yet they are not, and they offered no ideas on when or if CBC will be sending foreign correspondents to report on the Congo.

In general the one and a half hour forum provided little information on the process of reporting fairly. Perhaps the audience was stacked, perhaps questions were screened, but however it happened, in this time, the few questions on CBC's role and the role of media in war coverage were not answered adequately and the few criticisms about CBC's coverage of world events were quickly brushed aside.

While we applaud CBC's idea of having open forums and self-criticism in the media, we would suggest that the CBC tackle some of the serious issues that people badly need information about, and some of the real reasons why the media isn't providing that information.

The idea for these media alerts came from the UK's 'Media Lens' ( Like them, our goal 'is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.'

Write to the CBC expressing your views:

Canada Now:

Foreign Correspondents:

Peter Mansbridge:

Write to 'En Camino'

Subscribe to receive our bi-weekly media alert by sending a blank message to:

Visit 'En Camino' at

Taxonomy upgrade extras: