Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Comparison: Independent vs. Mainstream Media

One major news story making headlines across Canada today is the pending strike by The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW). As of June 1st, postal workers across the nation plan to halt their jobs, demanding Canada Post to not go through with its planned changes to the postal program, including lower wages for new workers, less paid sick days, and a (slightly) higher retirement age. With a story so recent and popular, it is no surprise that it would be covered by various forms of media, both independent and mainstream. Though only one truth can really exist, the media is infamous for spinning the news anyway it wants, and through this comparison, we'll see that where you get your information from may prove to be more important than the story itself.

INDEPENDENT SOURCE: Halifax Media Co-op (via Labour Start Canada)
LabourStart logo.


Comparison 1 - The Owner & Bias

The Halifax Media Co-op is owned by the Dominion Newspaper Cooperative, which is a grassroots newspaper published monthly by independent journalists. From the mission statement found on their website, they are proud to be independent because they feel as though it provides them with the opportunity to create factual news stories to inform the public. They come right out and say their bias, which is "towards the perspectives of those most affected by events." This makes their newspaper out as the underdog, like many independent sources. This does have some advantages, meaning many untold stories get heard, but it creates a bias towards the underdogs of the world - those left out, forgotten, or seen as less important. The voice of this newspaper will likely be empowering to the regular people, and most likely never on the side of wealthy, corporate, upper class citizens.

The National Post was previously owned by Canwest before they hit financial troubles a few years ago, selling their media assets to Shaw Communications and their newspaper ownings, including the National Post, to Postmedia Network Inc. Before the sale, Canwest owned Global TV, E!, Showcase, Slice, HGTV, and other huge stations in Canada. Though the newspaper is not technically linked to these TV players anymore, Postmedia and Shaw definitely have some associations in the corporate world. Postmedia Network Inc. itself also owns some advertising companies as well as a bunch of local newspapers across Canada. Being a corporate source, especially one with a large set of assets, makes the National Post very careful of what it publishes, staying favourable to all associated business ventures. Also, since it is a privatized company, this newspaper must support and adhere to the corporate world, never putting down wealth for fear of seeming hypocritical - quite the opposite of an independent media source.

Comparison 2 - Dedication to Story

Not much of the National Post was devoted to this story about the postal strike. Though it was featured on the home page, it was more towards the bottom and not accompanied by a picture like many of the other articles. Through a search, more articles were available on this topic, but the National Post probably doesn't want to call much attention to this dilemma, as they are greatly biased towards one side and don't want this obvious favouritism to decrease their reputation as a reliable news source. Also, the unhappiness of workers makes the Canada Post look bad, so reporting on this story would just show to readers how upset postal workers are if this is such a big deal, rather than downplay their anger.

On the contrary, I found the Halifax Media Co-op article on an independent news site completely devoted to labour stories in Canada. Needless to say, the entire upper half of the website was filled with links to stories about the possible strike. This is favourable to independent sources because they want to shed light on issues that affect "regular people", for the purpose of sticking it to the mainstream corporate world.

Comparison 3 - Explicit & Implicit Messages

The National Post and the Halifax Media Co-op have very different messages, even though they are reporting on the same story. Both stories have very blunt explicit messages, which is somewhat surprising, as news source usually like to at least seem unbiased. The National Post article gives the explicit message that the postal workers are being unreasonable and "playing an obnoxious game" for not accepting Canada Post's new rules while many are struggling to find jobs in this economy. The Halifax Media Co-op takes the side of the workers, saying that their jobs are already hard and under-respected, and calling the restructuring of Canada Post "an obvious ploy to weaken the [postal workers'] union."

Even though the message is slightly obvious, both sources are implicitly saying who they support in this debate - the National Post supports Canada Post and the Halifax Media Co-op supports the CUPW. This leads to the other implicit message of the story - the political support that each source is known for. The National Post is wide-recognized as being pro-Conservative and extremely pro-corporate, which is why they would support a strike, in hopes of the government seeing that it is time to privatize our mail system rather than keep it as a Crown Corporation, another point mentioned favourably in the article.

Why We All Must Support Our Postal Workers
An image from the Halifax Media Co-op article.
On the other hand, the Halifax Media Co-op is, like most independent sources, anti-Conservative, as the current leading political party never seems to consider the underdog over the white collar worker. They are against this strike, saying that it will provide further incentive to privatizing the mail system, and that a "defeat of the postal workers would be a major blow to the Canadian labour movement," showing they are on the side that is not with Stephen Harper, no matter what that side is. This point is driven right from the beginning of the article, which opens with the hook, "In all honesty it is as simple as this: You want to fight Harper? Then support the posties!" The sources' views on the strike all come down to who they support in parliament.

Comparison 4 - Included & Excluded Voices

Since each news source has a different view on the story, they tend only include the voices that support the same side they do. In the National Post, the author herself puts down the demands of postal workers, but to make her opinions seem more like facts, she cites many percentages of the Canada Post usage going down. Also, she adds in her thoughts within the statistics, like in this line: "In its contract negotiations with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), it is proposing to create two tiers of employees, grandfathering current hires and offering new ones a cheaper (but still sweet) deal." Who's to say if the deal is still sweet? She should just stick to the facts. Also, later in the article she talks about other countries who have privatized their mail systems and how they see this as favourable, hinting that we should follow suit. She doesn't include any voices of the postal service workers, because they would likely disagree with her arguement. Towards the end, she includes a quote from the CUPW, but immediately afterwards points out that what the union suggests would not work without privatization, spinning everything in the National Post's favour.

In the Halifax Media Co-op article, the main voices are those of the CUPW overall and postal workers. Without specific quotes, the article goes on about how postal workers deserve better treatment and the many hardships involved in working for Canada Post, even before this dilemma. This is somewhat suspicious because if all these bad things are true, why would they not get confirmation from a worker to authenticate these stories? This article is more obviously an opinion piece, rather than the National Post article that pretends to be factually-based, so it does not have a lot of reliable sources to prove what it is saying, and not many voices are represented, for they may discount the points the opinioned author is making.

Comparison 5 - Benefits & Disadvantages of the Message

If the message in the National Post is accepted, it benefits first and fore-most the Conservative government. Their advocation for privatization of the mail system is clear, so if readers accept this, than they will agree with the beliefs of Stephen Harper and his interest in a privately-owned Canada Post. Also, this article's message would benefit Canada Post, because it is calling the possible strike unreasonable and pointless, and therefore agreeing with their restructuring of the workers and leading other readers to believe that this is right. However, this message disadvantages the postal workers because it does give them the chance to share their side of the debate, and immediately targets them as the wrong-doer in the situation without allowing them a fair explanation.

If the message from the Halifax Media Co-op is accepted, quite the opposite affect will ensue. This article benefits the Canadian postal workers, completely taking their side and standing by them on all their demands. If this message is accepted, it also would benefit all union members in Canada, as this article points out the importance of unionization over giant corporations. In contrast, this article greatly disadvantages Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party, as it puts down their idea of a privately-owned mail service, and goes into great detail as to why their plans would not work, causing the audience not to support them. And of course, it would disadvantage Canada Post by making it look like the bad guy in this fight and seem unjust and cruel to its workers.

Both articles also disadvantage the public in general, seeing as they are obviously biased, and don't give Canadians the proper chance to learn the facts and form their own opinions. This is a fault in many media sources as the hidden agenda of an article usually takes precedence over factually informing its audience.

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Bin Laden Story

As I'm sure we all know, as of May 1st, 2011, almost 10 years after the tragedy that was 9/11 took place, Osama Bin Laden had been killed. This story, whether good or bad, has taken the media world by storm. Headlines, news shows, and journalism specials galore have devoted much coverage to this revolutionary event. But in this climate of questions, where the media is our only source of information, how can we know who to trust? Each news story has a carefully selected vocabulary of words, painting a different picture of what really happened that day in Pakistan, and what this controversial death means for both the United States and other countries. Here, I'm going to take a look at two very contrasting news sources, the Fox News and Al Jazeera, to compare what they have to say on this hot topic in current events.

Fox News - American Source
Chairman & CEO: Rupert Murdoch

Although this article is very short, as it was published the night of Bin Laden's death for the purpose of providing basic information, I chose it because the language used in it really stood out to me. The article has a very basic message in terms of its story, saying that Bin Laden was confirmed dead by President Obama, and giving simple details on the attack itself, the crowds outside the White House, and the other attacks Al-Qaeda is responsible for. The article is clearly told from the American point of view, not even mentioning Pakistan once, either as the location of the killing or as an accomplice in the attack. Though this article is trying to be informative, it doesn't do a great job because the author made sure to put in his or her opinions, and left out some very important facts in the story.

The article constructs Bin Laden in an extremely negative way, which would be expected, as he is allegedly responsible for the deaths of many Americans - but that's just the thing, Osama Bin Laden has never been fully proven as the face behind 9/11. Sure there has been speculation, and Bin Laden has openly admitted to being at war with the United States, but Fox News is incorrect as they refer to Bin Laden as "the glowering mastermind" behind Sept. 11. They continue this negative characterization by listing previous attacks Al-Qaeda is alleged to be involved in, which serve no other purpose in the article except to make Bin Laden seem much worse of person, and falsely link him to other tragedies. In contrast, this article constructs Obama as a national and global hero, noting him as the leader of the operation that killed Bin Laden and quoting his words that, "justice has been done."

One very striking thing about this article from Fox News is how they describe and construct events. They over-dramatize everything, calling the president's speech a "dramatic late-night statement," and citing 9/11 as the event that led to "America's entire intelligence apparatus [being] overhauled to counter...terror attacks at home." They bring in irrelevant information about other American terror attacks, and blame the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq directly on 9/11, when this is a topic that has received much skepticism. This article's message disadvantages Pakistan, never crediting them for any help in the attacks, and also disadvantages Americans, in the sense the they are being fed half-truths. If this message is accepted, it will further boost the American pride in believing they have saved the world and it will lead citizens to feel as though the war on terror is over, when in reality, it may only just be beginning.

Al Jazeera - International Source
Owned by: Oatar Media Corporation
Chairman: Sheikh Hamad bin Thamer Al Thani; Editor-in-Chief: Ahmed Sheikh

This article is one we looked at in class, and I chose it since it stood out for its almost positive Osama Bin Laden construction. This is not just an article, as it is entitled, "Obituary," implying that Bin Laden lived a life worth being looked back on and commemorated. The tag line sets the tone for what is to come, reading "With his long beard and wistful expression, Bin Laden was one of the most instantly recognisable people on earth." The article continues on to explain Osama's life story, and features information on his family life and becoming a radical. This article provides a huge contrast to the one from Fox News, as it is told from the perspective of Bin Laden supporters, and paints an image of a man fighting for his beliefs.

Al Jazeera, in this particular article, constructs Bin Laden as just a normal guy who decided to become a leader to rebel against the evils of the world. By going into detail about Bin Laden's family life (i.e. losing his father at a young age, his wives and children), the author does a great job of making Osama seem more human, and provides a way for people to sympathize with a man who is really a terrorist. The article also gives a neutral/bordering on positive characterization of Al-Qaeda. They never refer to them as a terrorist group, and only ever say they were blamed for certain attacks, making them out as always the victim and never the bully.

If this article's message is accepted, both Al-Qaeda and Osama supporters will gain backing, as this is basically an advertisement for Middle East terrorism. It chooses its language so carefully because it never directly says "Osama is awesome," but words like "leader," "champion," and "wistful" have strong connations of supporting what Bin Laden stands for. This article does not show all sides of the story, which is a common fault in media, and therefore disadavantages readers from receiving the truth about what is going on in the world. When articles are so biased as this one, it is hard to know who we can believe and where to turn to for answers.

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Thursday, May 12, 2011

Canadian Advertising Standards

These ads have all run across Canada for many consumers to see - but are they really appropriate advertising? According the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards (http://www.adstandards.com/en/standards/the14Clauses.aspx) some of these advertisements may not be holding up to Canada's regulations.

Dawn Animals Commercial

This commercial may have violated clause one of the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards, Accuracy and Clarity. From the statistics displayed (Dawn has saved thousands of animals in oil spills), the commercial is making the statement that Dawn is so gentle they can use it on animals, but in reality, as a consumer, I am not really sure that Dawn is the best thing for animals. The commercial implies that Dawn has some life-saving formula and is so helpful, but really it is just a dish soap. I don't think this ad has gone as far as violating the code though because it does not make false claims so much as oversimplify the truth.

Scotiabank Commercial

This commercial comes close in violating clause four, Bait and Switch, and clause five, Guarantees. The ad talks about joining Scotiabank and getting a free flight, but as we know, no giveaways are ever that easy. At the end of the ad, a voiceover quickly explains some conditions to the free flight, but this part is short and quick while distracting the audience with bright and colourful text. Although this ad does not directly violate the code, it uses the ever-ambiguous line "some conditions may apply" which doesn't really give the consumer all the necessary information, and leaves us thinking the deal is better than it may actually be.


The ad may violate Accuracy and Clarity, which is clause one in the code. It claims that Rogers is Canada's "most reliable" network, but what does that really mean? How can you define reliable? It also makes the claim of "best surfing," but again, that term is so unclear. I think the ad actually does violate the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards because if they claim to be something that can't actually be explained, that can be seen as a false claim. The truthfulness of the message is very distorted and not forthright, so it is essentially tricking the consumer and creating an illusion without a definite meaning.

Ellen Tracy Trench

I think advertisement definitely is close to violating clause fourteen, Unacceptable Depictions and Portrayals. By having two tall and thin women wearing nothing but a trench coat, with one flashing a gaping man, this ad is extremely distasteful. Clause fourteen recognizes that distasteful are not necessarily a violation, but this ad could be classfied as demeaning towards women. It objectifies women and creates stereotyped gender roles of men judging women for their body. It directly implies that naughtiness is associated with wearing this coat, and the action of the naked woman is clear. The ad is not appropriate to be seen by younger audiences, and because of its degrading representation of women, it comes very close to violating clause fourteen.

American Apparel Socks

I have no doubt that this ad violates clause fourteen, Unacceptable Depictions and Portrayals, for similar reasons to the Ellen Tracy Trench. It features a woman wearing nothing but socks, and the pictures of her on the left of the image give somewhat of a porn feeling to the ad. The ad seems like it is selling more than just socks - also the career of an adult film actor! It goes past the point of distasteful because it is also degrading towards women and provides an offensive representation of how women are viewed and clearly objectifies Lauren Phoenix, the star of the ad.

Dolce and Gabbana

So far I would say that this ad is the most inappropriate of the one's on the blog, once again violating clause fourteen. It features a group of strong and shirtless women standing over a woman in a powerful position. This implies sexual dominance of the men and victimizes the woman. Not only does it objectify woman, but it also condones gang rape and the powerlessness of women in comparison to men. This is an example of violating clause fourteen, Unacceptable Depictions and Portrayals because it represents women in an unfair way and promotes violence against us, and therefore is not acceptable ad to run in Canada.

Nike Ads
Though the first Nike ad is not visually inappropriate, the copy on it is ignorant and prejudiced, violating clause fourteen, which seems to be violated often because of its open-ended rules. In this ad, it says that going to watch your son in the ballet is bad, because boys should be doing "masculine activities," like playing soccer with the shoes being advertised. This is extremely offensive to all men who are not stereotypically "masculine," saying there is something wrong with them. In this day and age I thought society was moving forward in losing stereotyped gender roles, but this ad goes ahead to violate clause fourteen, proving that intolerant still exists. The second Nike ad is similar in its message, showing an implied sexual scene between two men and saying that it is "not right." I do not think this ad goes as far as to break the code since the message is extremely well-hidden, but still has something wrong about it. This ad is only distasteful for its subconcious message against being gay, but unfortunately I think it would be hard to prosecute against as breaking the code on clause fourteen.

Burger King Seven Incher

Some would say this ad comes close to violating clause fourteen, Unacceptable Depictions and Portrayals, because of its underlying sexual messages. Compared to the second Nike ad, this ad's sexual connotations were very obvious, pointed out immediately by the image, the slogan, and the name of the sandwich. This ad doesn't discriminate against women in the same way or level as the Dolce and Gabbana ad, but does in some ways make them out as sexual objects. This ad would be hard to prove as violating the code because even though it is distasteful, the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards clearly states that offensiveness is not always enough to ban an ad from being shown across the country.

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Sunday, May 1, 2011

Bowling For Columbine

For this week's blog post I am going to answer questions 2-5 on the viewing guide of Bowling for Columbine, all of which pertain to the topic of violence and its portrayal in today's American media.

2. According to Moore, how does the American media create a climate of fear in the U.S.? List some of the effects of this type of media.
In the United States, the media does an amazing job of creating both fear and paranoia in many citizens. Most news stations love to over-exaggerate and dramatize any story that comes their way, whether or not that story is actually as big as they make it out to seem. Especially with murder stories, the news makes citizens feel as though there is a heightened risk for violence in their country, and causes everyone to worry about a world that isn't necessarily as dangerous as it is perceived to be. By creating this panic and constant worry, the media itself is the one who benefits. The more scared people are, the more they turn to the news for information, because we are taught that knowledge is power. But is the media's first priority really educating citizens? No. They are simply interested in control. When they are the only source Americans have for their news, the media can do or say whatever it wants, and people are blindly willing to trust it for the sole purpose of easing their own worry. We have becomed so petrified, that as a people we have let our fear take over our critical thinking skills needed to recognize the media's hidden agenda.

3. Explain what is meant by "if it bleeds, it leads."
This phrase was introduced in the film to explain that murder headlines are always the top story on the news. This has always been something I realized, but this film really provided great insight as to why the media does this. Whenever we flip onto a channel looking for information, the media makes sure to feature violent stories to incite our paranoia and continue the controlling theory explained in the previous question, which will keep their ratings high.

4. Why are crime rates in some cities dropping but fear of crime is rising?
In short, the media doesn't care how many murder stories really exist, so long as they have enough to fill their time segment. And even if there isn't many, they are known to endlessly stretch out small bits of information to keep the stories going. As seen with the recent killing of Osama Bin Laden, CNN spent five minutes talking about just the location he was in! We watched them zoom the map from many angles and analyse distances, but really, they were just filling time to stay on the story. A statistic was mentioned that crime rates are 20%, but media coverage of crime is up by 600%! This is the perfect proof of how exaggerated news stories are and that integrity is never the media's first concern.

5. According to Dick Herlan, who has produced COPS and World's Wildest Police Videos, why do these shows choose to focus on arrests of people accused of petty crime rather than corporate criminals?
Well, this guy did a great job of avoiding the real question, but the answer is simple - violence sells. In a media world getting gorier and gorier by the minute, we have become used to the sight of violence and now we won't seem to settle for anything less. Though we act like violence is troubling and unsettling, let's be honest - we love a little blood and guts to ease that part of us wanting to peek through our hands as we watch someone getting hurt. Shows like COPS are genius, because although the crimes are small, they give the police the opportunity to be violent and dramatize the situation, rather than film the boring guy in a suit having court hearings. Another reason is the treatment of the criminals - police feel superior to lower class criminals and love exerting their power over them, but white collar criminals get better treatment due to status and wealth. In these times, better television means more violent television.

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