Canadian media industrial complex a prime platform for misinformation

    Mar 30, 2022
    Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s March 23 address to the European Parliament

    OTTAWA—Let’s continue in our next chapter of Nazi Acceptability Politics (I need to trademark this), or what I like to call taking a NAP in the face of the rising influence of the far right.

    Today’s episode features the Canadian media industrial complex that is notoriously incestuous, gatekeeping, and generally bad at content curation. However, now Canadian media have taken it upon themselves to platform fringe words and ideals, positioning them as equally legitimate to the democratic principles they claim to espouse. For example, if you listen to the National Post’s Andrew Furey, you’d think that last week’s agreement between the Liberals and the NDP (it’s not a coalition)—which represents a major overdue expansion of the welfare state—is a subversion of democracy.

    Cool, but where is all that energy when discussing the far right?

    On March 23, Trudeau gave a speech at the European Parliament in Brussels. In it, he refenced the need to protect democracy, warned of rising right-wing populism regarding the “Freedom Convoy,” and scolded Putin, et cetera. Pretty boilerplate, no? Apparently not. Two Members of European Parliament (MEP) had a problem with Trudeau’s speech, and one, Romanian MEP Christian Terhes, refused to attend at all. Trudeau was heavily rebuked by Independent Croatian MEP Mislav Kolakušić and Alternative for Germany party MEP Christine Anderson for his use of the Emergencies Act to clear out the Ottawa occupiers. According to the National Post staff editorial, Kolakušić had some choice words for Trudeau: “We watched how you trample women with horses, how you block bank accounts of single parents so they can’t even pay their children’s education and medicine, that they can’t pay utilities, mortgages for their homes.”

    What the National Post and many other mainstream Canadian outlets failed to mention—or buried deep in the text—is that all of these MEPs who admonished Trudeau globally are part of far-right factions that have gained political power in Europe since Trump was elected U.S. president in 2016. And that’s material. As I wrote nearly two years ago in this paper, “The news is not unbiased: the headlines and layout, what is emphasized, how a story is framed, which stories are accepted when pitched are all the result of multiple decisions made by editors and producers.” When we accuse media of bias, it’s not necessarily a political one. Media bias reflects and reinforces the socioeconomic biases, stereotypes, and racism of Canadian society and culture, which veer white and right; rather than challenging them, Canadian media placate power. The role of objectivity only comes into play when stories or interests cannot be imagined for a white, male, middle- to upper-class heterosexual Canadian; it is weaponized and wielded to keep out journalists of colour and stories of colour.

    Canadian media’s penchant for whiteness is documented and studies have been done. It’s purposeful. Unfortunately, this bias also tends to render issues like the rising authoritarianism of the far right—and white supremacy, in general—as largely innocuous. We saw this during the coverage of the Ottawa Occupation, which everyone determined was “peaceful,” ignoring reports of attempted—and threats of—sexual assault, or general assaults and hate crimes. Apparently, under the banner of white supremacy, one that Canadian media fly high, this constitutes “peaceful.” (It goes without saying, were this a Black or Indigenous protest, they would bring in a SWAT team at the first instance of property damage.) Never mind that these “protests” were actually an occupation, which can never be peaceful by definition, yet CBC News Network continued this language in its coverage the day of the arrests, as if a siege in the capital city of the country is no big deal.

    Here are Canadian media at it again.

    Amplifying right-wing actors, content, media and positions is dangerous and will do more to undermine democracy than occupation organizer Pat King. It is media that is the fourth estate, there to make sure the information we do get is truthful and reflects the principles of this country, including so-called multiculturalism. Media shapes perception, establishes context, and platforms personalities—meaning they have the power to magnify any message they desire (within limits), but they also have a heavy responsibility. And so far, they’ve been derelict in their duties. Platforming white supremacist fascist messaging, by leaving out key details pertaining to the prime minister’s accusers, is downright offensive to democracy itself. It gives legitimacy to otherwise fringe actors, thereby giving a stamp of approval to their ideas for those who are already sympathetic to those views (and those who may be at the margins). The heightened attention allows for far-right groups to convert the attention from broadcast media and funnel the public into their media ecosystem. That’s how misinformation spreads and supporters are identified, thereby growing a movement due to legacy and viral media’s rapaciousness for extra clicks to feed social media’s algorithmic gluttony.

    It is everyone’s responsibility to be careful who and what they are platforming. We (not me) may be sharing messaging from those who want to undermine the very fabric of this country and that stitching is already ripping at the seams.

    Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.