Journalism That Inflames but Doesn't Inform

Article excerpt

The media that a democratic society needs is seen as ill-served by concentration and convergence, tabloid television, journalism that in flames rather than inform, and a focus on controversy that avoids complexity. Speech on acceptance of the Hy Solomon Award for excellence in public policy journalism, Public Policy Forum 16th annual testimonial dinner, Toronto, April 10, 2003.

As you know, journalism is not always practiced in the Solomon tradition. [Financial Post columnist Hy Solomon, for whom the award is named]. Fox Television recently asked me to explain Canada's position on the Iraq war and to provide a national perspective on tensions with the United States. The interview never aired.

During the usual preparations with the network for the interview, I told a very surprised producer just what Canada had done for the U.S. after September 11. How homes had been opened to stranded travelers. How Canadians fought and died in Afghanistan in the war on terror. How Canadians are guarding the U.S. fleet in the Gulf.

The producer then made an executive decision: I was too moderate. They would use Jack Layton instead.

Journalism that chooses to inflame rather than inform is more destructive: it misses the point. Thoughtful public policy discussion is not just for wonks.

How we think and talk about issues shapes more than what we decide or how we act; it determines who we are.

Fox is far from alone in figuring that the safest route to a solid bottom line detours through controversy, not complexity. The threat of tabloid television and the pressure to dumb down the news are just as real in Canada.

In this country, a unique level of media concentration is the unintended consequence of well-intentioned tax law protecting newspapers from foreign ownership.

The implications of that concentration are profound.

At a time when there is so much to discuss domestically, so much to understand internationally, fewer voices and even fewer viewpoints are being heard in some of the country's largest newspaper markets.

That may be in the short-term interest of the bottom line. …