Media and democracy

Media is increasingly under threat from governments and corporations, was the message delivered at the Media and Democracy forum held last Saturday at the Hillhurst-Sunnyside Community Hall.

The forum, hosted by Arusha and Friends of the Herald, consisted of activists, journalists and professors from Calgary discussing the direction that media, specifically newspapers, is heading. The discussion ranged from globalization to the Calgary Herald strike.

"The most compelling argument for it [globalization] was a phrased coined by Margaret Thatcher, ‘TINA’ There Is No Alternative," said International Activist Ann McGrath. "What else can we do in this globalized world? Media is becoming a commodity, a tool for propaganda. The media filters the news to suit its specific needs, which is known as media framing."

McGrath was the first of four speakers on the panel to discuss where society is headed. Other speakers included: Mount Royal College Journalism Instructor David Rooney; Media Critic Doug Cowan; and journalist and writer Gillian Steward.

"The new media, the Internet, has been hyped to give anyone the power of a printing press in their home," said Rooney. "Canadian newspapers have been slow about taking advantage of the Internet. However, Hollinger International is very aware of the web and has established <<Canada.com>> as its major toe-hold on the web."

Cowan, a United Church minister, focused on propaganda, disillusionment and its relation to the news. The discussion focused on propaganda and the Gulf War. Utilizing slides of the covers of the magazine Newsweek, he illustrated how this magazine, through subtle colour schemes and language styles, framed the war against Iraq.

"The tool for propaganda analysis is to question why that picture is there," said Cowan. "What tool does the picture serve? How else could the idea be framed?"

Steward finished up the panel with a local discussion of democracy in Calgary. She pointed out how Calgary is less served by its local media. Steward also sees the media in Calgary as repressed; with the possible exception of the CBC, she postulates the Calgary community doesn’t see many challenging stories.

"I think the Calgary Herald and the entire media in Calgary is timid," said Steward. "I’m not blaming individual reporters but I think that there has been a successful repression of many issues in the media community. I would call it ‘bulletin board’ journalism, just a list of events."

The keynote speaker was Chair of the Bachelor of Applied Communications-Journalism at MRC Ron MacDonald. He argued in favour of independent journalism, which according to MacDonald, is connected with democracy and community. He believes there has been a trivialization of politics by journalism, and he used the Calgary Board of Education as a prime example of journalism creating public opinion. He also believes that the journalism has lost touch with the roots of the community.

"Journalists talk to young people, but we don’t talk with them," said MacDonald. "I know there are grad students who can speak just as intelligently as the 55-year-old guy in the suit who keeps popping up. We [journalists] need to find new experts, new sources of information."

The audience for this forum encompassed a wide variety ages and backgrounds. Several booths were also set up to educate people about a variety of topics including fluoridation, genetically-engineered foods and Medicare. The University of Calgary’s Revolutionary Anarchist Kollektive was onhand to increase awareness for the plight of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a journalist convicted of killing a police officer in Pennsylvania.

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