The mistake was unintentional, but it fed into the existing perception that mainstream media coverage of the G20 painted demonstrations as violent and destructive and, in the process, delivered an inaccurate depiction. Global’s careless mistake was understandable in its nature (lord knows it has happened many times before in TV newsrooms the world over). But it took on additional significance and meaning for some people because, rightly or wrongly, it was seen as part of the larger narrative of G20 media coverage.
Tomorrow’s on-air correction from Global will attempt to fix the mistake—but what about that larger perception? How do we address that? My fear is that we in the press won’t make any attempt to do so. People will forget the Global mistake, but the perception will remain.
While this issue is not the focus of reporters and newsroom leaders in this country, the press is, however, following up on the treatment of reporters during the summit. Canadian Journalists for Free Expression has launched a survey of journalists “who believe their freedom of expression was compromised by police/security personnel during the G20 security operation.” A Web site run by the Canadian Journalism Foundation has been publishing first-person accounts from reporters who were caught up in the protests and violence that erupted over the weekend.
The country’s newspaper columnists are also weighing in, with one prominent writer, The Globe And Mail’s Christie Blatchford* offering a critical assessment of some of the people who called themselves reporters during the G20, declaring that “journalism is not merely a collective of the self-anointed.” Yes, the argument of who is and isn’t a journalist is once again part of the discussion.
Blatchford added: “… in the G20 protests, journalists, real or self-appointed, traditional or otherwise, had no special rights to go where we wanted and no special badge of protection against arrest.” The lack of discussion within Canadian media about the nature of coverage leads me to wonder if perhaps we feel as though there’s a “special badge of protection” that frees us from asking tough questions about our coverage the way we’re attempting to press the leaders responsible for the summit?
I’m just as deserving of this criticism because, as part of the team at OpenFile.ca, a recently-launched collaborative local news site for Toronto, I spent G20 weekend helping direct coverage while also producing some reporting of my own. (Our G20 work is collected here.) We haven’t done a post-G20 examination of our work, or that of the Canadian press as a whole. Perhaps this column is a first step towards doing so.
Many Canadian citizens are now calling for a full public inquiry into the G20, and a civilian-led review is planning to examine police actions (though there is debate about how effective this will be). It will be months or perhaps years before any of these processes are borne out, if at all. When it comes to an accounting of the good and bad of media coverage, we should do better by the public and be fast, thorough, and open about examining the faults and mistakes, no matter how small or accidental—present company included.
Correction of the Week
Lawyer did not have a drug problem: A story published in some Thursday editions about Curtis Kyles, a suspect in the killing of Crystal St. Pierre, reported incorrectly that criminal defense attorney Paul Fleming had problems with drug abuse and prostitution. The story should have said that Fleming questioned a detective about whether St. Pierre had drug and prostitution problems. – The Times-Picayune
Correction: This article originally misspelled Christie Blatchford’s first name as “Christy.” We regret the error.