Tuesday, August 01, 2006


Journalists are historians ... like it or not

It's been raining at Parksville beaches. Heavy clouds block the view across the bay to the islands and the Coast Mountains, to Mt Garibaldi's comforting hulk on the horizon, unchanging through the centuries. It's good for the soul to think upon things that hold true.

I've been thinking a lot about the media upon which we all rely for news of the world. I'm all for the media. In my opinion, a respected journalist -- a Robert Fisk or an Adrienne Arsenault -- demonstrates the highest degree of courage, intelligence, and public service. We're in their debt.

But even a Fisk is nothing without a publisher. Luckily, he has The Independent publishing his reports from the battle zones of the Middle East; Arsenault has Canadian Broadcasting Corporation behind her. And in British Columbia ... ?

We have Canwest and the Black newspaper group owning almost every news outlet, with scarcely an iota of difference between them. Good journalists have withheld their by-lines in protest when editorial changes pushed their reports in an unaccepted direction. It's that, or quit, or go with the flow. It's a tough call, because the Asper family and David Black are partisan louts in a field which must be even-handed and fair-minded to be an effective source of news.

BC media is silent when they ought to investigate and explain. They shriek when there is nothing to shriek about. Busy readers recognize the charade and tend to lump all media factors together -- the journalists as well as the publishers -- and call "the media" bad names, turn them off, and in my opinion lose out on the option of salvaging what little we do have. Because readers have a duty to educate the publishers.

Journalists are our historians -- academics on the run -- and whether unduly biased or not, their reports form the tapestry of our times. If B.C. journalists aren't able to do their best work, blocked as they are by a business attitude which sees its primary function as influencing and shaping public affairs for private purposes, the publishers are saying: public interest be damned, and the public record along with it. We can speak to that. Phone, write, e.mail, to journalists as well as publishers, it does make a difference.

What it means, in the long run, is that British Columbians on the one hand ... and the media which fails to serve them honestly on the other hand, are locked in a deadly conflict of interest.

The ideal solution? Maybe average folks should have their own special news media to speak for them. But media ownership is a rich man's game. Buying and operating a newspaper or TV station is beyond the moon for anybody except the wealthy, and so the game turns in upon itself again: the rich promoting the rich promotes the rich.

I've been thinking all this, while watching the tides coming in and going out on Parksville Bay. I remembered a booklet called "Bingogate's Victim" written by a former Attorney-General of B.C. Bet you've never seen it. Here are two quotes:

"The Liberals demanded that the Attorney General appoint a special prosecutor [who] wrote a report saying there was 'no evidence to convict' and that no individual should be charged. Why didn't that put an end to the matter? Because some Liberal pit-bulls in the Legislature did not care a fig for what [the special prosecutor] had said. They wanted more headlines.

"Gary Collins, MLA, led the Liberal assault in the Legislature. 'David [Stupich] and associates had stolen money from charities,' said Collins ... had David still been an MLA, Collins could not have said such things ... as it was, Collins could hide behind Parliamentary privilege and his words could be freely reported." As they certainly were.

2) In opposition, the B.C. Liberals had clamoured for a public inquiry ... and so, the Smith Inquiry ensued.
"One of the officials, Bob Siumpson, in 1987 as a senior gaming officer, had slipped a note to his boss, the Social Credit Attorney-General pointing out that, after a review, the NCS 'had a clean bill of health.' The commission took this as more evidence of a cover-up by civil servants ... "

"On June 23, 2001, the new Liberal Attorney-General, Geoff Plant, deep-sixed the Smith Inquiry. His party had hotly demanded the inquiry while it was in opposition. But now, fresh from a victory at the polls, the powers that be decided to axe it. The nettled commissioner loudly protested but the burial proceeded.

The new premier, "Gordon Campbell ... simply told the press that 'this enquiry is pointless because the voters have already passed judgment on the NDP by electing the Liberals'.

"His words let the cat out of the bag. The trumped-up Liberal charges had served their political purposes ... they had played an ignominious role in a disgraceful episode in the political and judicial history of B.C."

A friend of mine said to the author, "Alex, you're going to be sued!"

Alex Macdonald, a former B.C. attorney-general, replied, "Good! There's a lot more I'd like to say in court under oath!" But he was never sued.

His final words in this 40-page booklet: "David and his friends left a proud legacy to Nanaimo and its residents, as well as to the people of B.C. It is outrageous that he should ever have been charged."

Interesting, eh?

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