Though it seemed to register barely a ripple outside of the host country, the G20 Summit held three weeks ago in Toronto has likely left scars that will long exist in the minds of local citizens, journalists, politicians, and the police.
Mike Drolet, Toronto correspondent for Global National, the evening newscast of one of the Canada’s three national networks, covered the demonstrations that were held over the course of G20 weekend. He saw and reported on the sporadic violence that erupted, and he has stayed on the story. There’s been a lot to cover in the ensuing weeks.
The Canadian media, of which I’m a member, are still grappling with what happened to the city, to citizens—and to themselves. In the wake of the G20, four reporters filed complaints with the provincial police watchdog alleging “that police physically assaulted and threatened to sexually assault the female reporters during the G20 summit.”
The media are also facing criticism for the quality and accuracy of their G20 coverage. The most common complaint is that reports—from TV news, in particular—focused on images of burning police cars instead of peaceful demonstrations, on episodes of violence rather than the widespread arrests of people, some of whom did nothing more than leave their houses at an inopportune time. (Two of the more popular YouTube video making the rounds post-G20 show a line of police charging a peaceful crowd that has just finished singing “O Canada,” and a police officer telling a young woman that she will be arrested if he’s touched by one of the soap bubbles that she’s blowing. She ends up being taken away.)
The criticisms of mainstream media coverage are, for the most part, not being met with official responses. Just as some members of the public feel as though those in charge of the planning and security of the G20 are not being brought to account, there is a segment of the population who express the same sentiment when it comes to the press. That lingering resentment found a focal point this week when bloggers and Twitter users accused Drolet and Global National of inserting misleading footage into a G20 report.
On Saturday, Drolet delivered a report about a march held by several groups to demand a full public inquiry onto police actions during the G20. Part of the report included clips of the violence that erupted on the streets during the G20. There were images of a shattered Starbucks window, of burning police cars, and of clashes with police. Here’s the report:
Did you spot the three-second shot of a demonstrator attacking two newspaper boxes? As eagle-eyed blogger Norman Farrell later noted, the boxes belonged to two newspapers in Vancouver, not Toronto. Clearly, that image had nothing to do with G20.
“I guess they were lacking in sufficiently outrageous footage of Toronto G20 vandals so they cut in a video of Vancouver black-bloc crazies knocking over two newspaper street boxes during the 2010 Olympics,” Farrell wrote.
He expanded in a follow-up post:
I raised the issue about Global TV carelessly or deliberately (choose one) spicing its national news report about G20 demonstrators with video showing Vancouver Olympics vandals in action because I see it as part of a pattern. Sometimes through carelessness, other times through intention to shape the message, the news is distorted. Neither is tolerable. Democracy depends upon a free and accurate, unbiased press.
Farrell’s posts and the video soon made their way into the #G20 discussion on Twitter, among other places. Farrell also took the step of filing a complaint with the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC), the independent body that administers standards for the country’s private radio and television broadcasters.
When I reached Drolet earlier this week, he was apologetic about the mistake and emphasized that it was completely unintentional—an editor working on the piece had mistakenly included the Vancouver footage.
“We had a large bank of tape made with all of the footage from the G20 and intermingled within it was a three-second shot from the Vancouver Olympics [protest],” he said. “This guy [Farrell] rants and raves like I’m trying to make it look worse than it was. The Vancouver riots were nothing compared to the G20.”
I also spoke with Neill Fitzpatrick, executive producer of Global National. He said Farrell would receive a letter from him explaining the error, and that a correction would be broadcast’s in tomorrow’s newscast. The mistaken report was originally broadcast on a Saturday, so the correction will air on the same day. The network will also be sending a letter to the CBSC. Yesterday, Farrell published a copy of Fitzpatrick’s letter to him, and you can read it here.