That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

The many mainstreams

WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange today explains the release of nearly 400,000 classified Iraq War records as an act of a free press in extremis. It’s a premise which anyone who takes part in the bloggosphere is naturally sympathetic.

Whatever the Pentagon’s sternness in vocalising concern over the safety of military personnel still in Iraq, they know as well as anyone that this is not remotely affected by such leaks. Instead, it’s a sternness expressed out of principle – a natural defence of the supposed right of states and armies to control and manage information and to act as a vanguard in the public’s interest, rather than letting too much democracy undermine their decisions.

Of course, a state is meant to represent its citizens. So, its citizens ought to not only direct the decisions of its state, but at the minimum, have access to information about how those decisions are carried out. So, unsurprisingly, I’m with Assange.

While I’m always thrilled with WikiLeaks publications, I’m not going to write about the Iraq leaks here per ce – partly as I certainly have nothing new to contribute, but also because it’s touched off another, mildly-related concern of mine. Assange’s point about absolute press freedom, and the shades of freedom that we, in various parts of the world, live with.

Forget your Twitter and your blogs for a moment. I don’t personally (yet!) subscribe to the revolutionary narrative of Twitter changing the world. I see a world that eats what it’s given, rather than a world that hunts. So the mainstream media matters, and the efforts of WikiLeaks and smaller alternative publishers continue to face an incredible uphill battle. But this battle is contextualised by where it’s happening. Mainstream media culture varies tremendously.

Let’s talk about Canada. Anywhere in the world, people complain about the mainstream media. So much so that it’s been acronymised into the “MSM” to save crucial typing and speaking time. And well people should complain. But I wonder sometimes whether Canadians ought to express a particularly voracious protest against the media concentration that exists in the Great White North.

The work of Progressive Bloggers and others to work around the MSM is fantastic, though I would actually criticise the view that the MSM is by its own nature a monopolous lie machine. In Canada, I think it is. But when looking at media culture in European countries, you see that Canada is exceptionally bad.

Look at Britain. Political discourse here is generally livelier and better informed than it is back in Canada, and this isn’t down to education systems so much as it’s about a much more diverse range of views expressed within the MSM (this British press diversity convinces me that a character like Stephen Harper would be eaten alive in the UK…. anyhoo).

Think about the national newspapers available to you. In Britain, you can read the Guardian, Independent, the Times, or the Telegraph (in left-to-right order of, umm, left-to-right papers), and those are only what are considered “quality publications.” If quality is less crucial to you, then you can range from the Morning Star to the Mirror, the Evening Standard, the Sun, the Daily Mail, and the Daily Express (again, left-to-right) if you want something cheap and most probably full of pictures of boobies.

But at least it can be said there are a range of national publications that fuel debate. And crucially, none of these papers pretend they are “centrist” or unbiased papers. You know what you’re buying, you buy it because it makes you nod and say “yes!” a lot, but all the while you treat it as subjective commentary with which you agree – not as universal gospel, and not necessarily as reflective of the mainstream mood. Every reader of a quality newspaper remains aware that, each day, the Sun outsells all qualities combined.

In Canada, it’s the Globe and Mail. Umm. That’s kind of it. I know, there’s some upstart paper with a bright yellow banner called the National Post (tell Kory Teneycke! His services are not necessary!), and it’s good for an outrage and all. But if you want a serious newspaper available in any city in the country, you really have just the one choice. And it doesn’t wear a bias on its sleeve – it seems to purport neutrality, thus communicates its old-fashioned Progressive Conservative bias in stealth, and falsely implies a reflection of the mainstream.

If you want to buy local city papers instead, you are no better. In Vancouver, you can buy three different newspapers – the Province, the Sun, and the NP – and you’ll have put your cash into the very same conglomerate.

This is what makes the MSM more insidious in Canada than elsewhere, and when we talk about press freedom, Canada is at one highly controlled and unvaried extreme, whilst organisations like WikiLeaks take you to the opposite view. As is appropriate, maybe, the UK sits in the middle. Britain’s MSM is the porridge that Goldilocks chose (when she didn’t have access to WordPress, of course).

So, here’s to controversially provocative investigative journalism and here’s to pushing the boundaries of press freedom towards the absolute. But let’s recognise as well that this battle is perhaps easier in some places than others. Sorry, Canada.

Filed under: Canada, International, Politics, UK, , ,

The ‘cautious nod’ of leadership

Showing up a bit late to the Grand Lodge of the Bleeding Obvious, PM Stephen Harper has given what the G&M calls a cautious nod to the Afghan government entering into some form of negotiation with Taliban forces to end the decade-old anarchic bloodbath over which we help to preside.

Oh, they’ll be relieved.

Even a cautious nod is coming some distance towards acknowledging reality. But is being a latecomer to reality anything we should be proud of? There is no longer any obvious foreign policymaker behind which Harper can hide anymore, thus he’s been dragged kicking and screaming (or cautiously nodding) into the daylight of the contemporary global consensus and the full toll of a decade of fruitless warfare. That’s the style of leadership that got us ignored at the UN last week.

Maybe Taliban Jack ought to have a crack at foreign policy after all?

Filed under: Canada, International, Politics, , , ,


October 2010

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