Sifting through slant, buried in bias

By Editorial

Did you know Conrad Black has an insatiable thirst for Sunny De-light? According to a source close to the magnate, he gobbles at least four litres of the stuff every day. The source described how a distraught Black once drank as many as nine litres of Sunny-D in a single sitting. "Conrad had juice dribbling all over his chin and down his neck," the source reported. "He could barely force the stuff down, yet as soon as the carton was gone, he beckoned for more. I hesitated. ‘Sunny-D…’ he gurgled. ‘Give me more Sunny-D!’"

Most information contained in the preceding paragraph is a lie. About the only truth is that Conrad Black exists. The point of this paragraph is to illustrate a point–don’t believe everything you see in a newspaper.

Newspapers can and will print almost anything and it’s up to the reader to determine what is true, what is false and what is offensive. Ususally readers are astute enough, but they aren’t always–and in an increasingly un-media savvy society (Global owns the two largest TV stations AND the two largest newspapers in the Vancouver market–how did this happen?) the populace is increasingly ripe for manipulation and exploitation.

For example, on Jan. 15, the Globe and Mail featured a picture of the first marriage of a gay couple in Canada on the front page–the gay couple on the left embracing and the lesbian couple on the right mid-kiss. The Calgary Herald also ran a similar picture but cropped the two women out of the photo. It’s possible there wasn’t room to run the photo intact. It’s also possible the powers-that-be at the Herald thought that while a gay couple embracing was merely "gross," a lesbian couple kissing was, well, nothing their readers should see. If the reader only sees the two men, are they getting the full story? Should readers be subjected to the moral conundrums of those employed to layout newspapers?

Other examples abound. Remember the front-page photos of Stockwell Day and Jean Chrétien that ran side-by-side in the papers during the recent federal election campaign? Depending on the editorial slant of the paper, one leader would look positively angelic in his shot, the other almost always depicted mid-snarl with his eyes closed. Frankly, it’s surprising no one ran a photo of one of the leaders struggling to contain a nosebleed. How many impressionable voters were swayed as a result of this battle of the smear jobs?

Headlines can be contorted to mislead readers. Quotes can be carefully selected to support a specific agenda. Front-page stories are read by a wide audience, whereas a 200-word story tucked away in a corner on page 18 with no accompanying photo is probably only noticed by the dedicated reader.

Media has always had this control over the masses. What prevents media from abusing their power is competition from other media. In the last decade, competition started to disappear–both in Canada and around the world–as media amalgamated into one another, boosting shareholder profits, but destroying news credibilty. In light of such changes to the dissemination of information in our society, it is more important than ever for readers to be more careful what they believe.