Saturday, December 18, 2010

What a newspaper should be.

 The first thing to do to improve any newspaper is to put an end to the editorial. There is no reason why a person whose major training in life has been to put news reports in little columns, and think up funky headlines should be be daily commentators on subjects of which they hey are  ignorant. Besides, to do so inevitably means that the handling of the news itself becomes biased. It gives you only the news the owner wants you to see. (For example, how many of you have seen any story in any paper about an African government issuing a warrant for the arrest on a bribery charge of former UN Vice-President Dick Cheney? How many have heard that Cheney's company has offered a payment of some 250 million dollars to settle out of court? How many of you have read in any New Brunswick paper about the New Brunswick priess who was morudered in the course of a slaughter of 200,000 Mayans by the Guatemalan army supplied and directed by the US government?)

The newpapers of Canada and the US began essentially as political propaganda sheets largely financed  by political parties. The founders and long-time publisher of The Globe, for example, was the major leader of the Reform (Liberal) party.
Things changed with the advent of cheaper paper and printing in the t1880a and 90s as cheap newspaper (one or two cents) led to a huge and profitable rise in readership. This made them attractive to  private business for the profit - and for the enormous influence and power of owning the only major source of news. So it was that William Randolph Hearst could (rightly) claim credit for starting the Spanish-American War. Lord Beaverbrook us his newspaper to built his political prominence, a move cut off only because the wily Lloyd George duped him into accepting a title - thus condemning him to the irrelevance of being a member of The House of Lords.

Just as the Chinese government uses the New China News Agency to keep pople ignorant of what it is doing, so private business leaders, especially in North America, use their owndership not to inform readers, but to keep them in the dark. That's why so much reporting is either absent or misleading. Theat's why opinion columns stay away from opinions offensive to the owners.
That's why The Moncton Times wrote a series of such disgusting, ranting columns about New Brunswick public schools and teachers. It was a deliberate attempt to stir up doubts and even fears about the public schools, thereby making it easier for private business to take them over. (And it has largely worked. Private business now effectively controls much of the education system through its other propagnda group, The Atlantic Intitute of Marketing Studies.
So what would a good newspaper do?
1. Restrict editors to deciding the layout of the newspaper. That is something they know how to do.
2. Hire people with advanced training and experience in education to make the newspaper an effective means of educating people about their world.
3. This would mean have a wide range of opinion commentaries froom people of very differring views all over the world. We need to see what the rest of the world thinks, and to understand why it thinks that way. Generally, North Americans are crashingly ignorant of the rest of the world.
4. We need to get stories by press services all over the world, and from a range of biases. The reality is that there is no absolute and scientific truth in reporting. A reporter might see Omar Khadr as a beast deserving of assassination (as  Canadian political science prof just did. An ordinary reader might respond as a local woman did - Think of othe suffering, she wrote, inflicted on the family of the soldier he allegedly killed. Khadr deserves no compassion. An Afghanit reporter might see it differently, and remind us of the suffering of tems of thousands of widows, orphans, parents - quite inoccent people - who have suffered because of US and NATO invaders. We need both sides of the truth.
5. A good paper should feature at least a weekly column on  how to understand the news - how we can decide what news is trtustworthy and why. Most people have no understanding whatever of that.

It won't happen, of course. No owner of anewspaper would allow that to happen. From it's origins, the newspaper has been a propaganda sheet in the service of its owners. They are not going to change. The result is that they will continue to drive readers off to to the trivial world of supermake tabs And to send those readers they keep into the hysteria we are watchinig in the US (and soon, here), an hysteria that makes them easy tools for manipulation.

So it's up to us. We have to learn what to believe and what to question. And we don't have much time in this world that a lying press has done so much to make so dangerous.

PS  Guess who wrote all those vicious and ignorant columns on New Brunswick education. After reading yesterday's "To the Contrary", I would be prepared to venture a guess.

PPS As to the bizarre and almost criminal decision of Moncton City Council to give a grant to a  private undersity, we have to ask the big question. Who was putting the heat on them to do something so stupid?

1 comment:

  1. As usual, interesting albeit subjective, commentary. Most of the author's premise is just that and not necessarily supported by substantiated fact...especially regarding the newspaper's trashing of the education system locally at the behest of business masters. The newspaper is a rag but I am not sure there is anyone in local employ capable of such sublety. As an aside, the commentary would carry more weight, is spell check was used prior to internet publication.