Robyn Benson, PSAC

The silence of the media

Pride Mulcair1.JPG

It was telling. News headlines blared: “Premier Wynne and Justin Trudeau attend Pride church services ahead of parade.” Where on earth was Tom Mulcair, Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition? Skipping out on Pride Day? No, in fact, there he was, in the congregation, along with the Ontario Premier and the leader of the third party in the House of Commons. You can find a photo (see above, with Olivia Chow), but somehow he wasn’t worthy of inclusion in the headline.

And later that same day…

Pride Mulcair later.JPG

We are raised to believe that the media reflect the world and transmit that world to us. But Big Media actually reflect certain interests and points of view, and those are what get transmitted. Recall that all but one newspaper in Canada endorsed Stephen Harper in the 2011 election. That’s not a coincidence.

Most often, it’s not that our stories—those of working people and their representatives demanding fair treatment and social justice—are retold with an anti-labour bias. It’s that they aren’t being told at all.

How many of us are aware, for example, that many Canadian workers didn’t get to enjoy Canada Day with their families, but trudged in to work as usual? Amid all of the fireworks and the revelling and the calls to national pride, they don’t get noticed.

And when the PSAC won pay equity at Canada Post—a thirty-year battle for fundamental rights—where was it reported, other than in the Toronto Star (the only major newspaper that didn’t endorse Harper in 2011)? And in the Brampton Guardian, to be fair.

The large newspapers in Canada used to have a “labour beat,” and some fine writers covered the labour news. But that was then, and this is now. Recently CBC’s Jian Ghomeshi, in all innocence, tweeted about losing his luggage on Porter Airlines. He hadn’t even been aware that there was a strike going on. He was graceful enough when it was pointed out to him, but that’s not the issue. He didn’t know, and he’s a top media figure. For that matter, Justin Trudeau didn’t know either—and he’s surrounded by advisors.

We live in these silences—working, caring for our families, and scoring our small successes. The Just Us! Cafe in Halifax is now unionized. The bitter Porter Airlines strike is over after several months. Sparse reporting on happy endings, however, doesn’t nearly make up for media indifference while workers were slogging it out at considerable personal cost to win these victories. Thanks mostly to our own communications networks, however, these on-going struggles and other stories get out and make the rounds.

The main message here is—be critical. Don’t believe everything you read, see or hear in the mass media, which are, by nature, anti-union, pro-corporations and pro-Harper. Anti-labour assumptions can be found even in the occasional mildly sympathetic attention we do manage to get. And, more importantly, don’t imagine for one moment that they are reporting all of the news. The name of Kim Kardashian’s new baby is guaranteed to get more coverage than a so-called “labour dispute” and a successful end to a tough strike.

For those members (yes, I do check out the comments at our Facebook site) who are witheringly critical of everything our union leadership says and does, don’t stop. That’s part of what holding leaders to account is all about. But I would simply ask this. Be at least as questioning of what you read in the papers, hear on “talk radio” and see on TV. And be curious about what isn’t mentioned. There are loads of stories out there—and I bet you could tell quite a few yourselves.

[First photo, above: Michelle Siu/Canadian Press. Second photo: Adelle McGregor. Tom Mulcair with Sharon DeSousa, REVP-Ontario, and Jason McMichael, First National Vice-President of CIU]

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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on July 2, 2013 8:30 AM.

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