News and Dissent:
The Press and The Politics of Peace in Canada
News and Dissent: The Press and The Politics
of Peace in Canada
Ablex (Norwood, N.J. ), 308 pages,
Cloth, $69.95, Paper $37.95
I think it's fair to assume most people are concerned about peace.
What Robert Hackett is also concerned about is how the media dealt
with this issue in the 1980s. News and Dissent delves with
care and responsibility into relations between the media and the
peace movement in Canada during this turbulent decade.
In 12 chapters plus an epilogue, Hackett digs deep into several
issues that affect how we hear, read, and see what is reported to
us, as well as who and what decide exactly what is it that we hear,
read and see.
As he explains in chapter one: "It would, of course, be foolish
to claim that the news media are in any sense the major determinant
of war and peace. The question of media effectively must be approached
with caution and clarity. Politicians and social movements sometimes
exaggerate media power as a scapegoat for their own political ailments."
He continues: " Rather, media work through a nexus of other
factors, ideological and institutional, domestic and international."
Hackett, a media specialist at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby
B.C. goes to great lengths and into great detail about how public
curiosity and interest can influence much about what gets reported.
It would seem that social movements are able to get media attention
when there is a lot of "dis-ease" on certain issues.
Hacket explains how the news media can create a particular "environment"
to set the path of foreign policy. Media influence on foreign policy
makers is not restricted to information provision. By emphasizing
particular events, the media can place new and possibly unwelcome
issues on the political agenda, affecting the priorities of policy
makers." The Mashat immigration affair springs immediately
"...news is produced by organizations that have specific news-gathering
nets that to some extent predetermine what is to become news, quite
apart from the quality of events in themselves." Advertisers
also exercise their power by providing most of the revenue that
media outlets need to stay in business. If they prefer conservative
consumers and these consumers prefer conservative news, the media
will tend to provide it.
A major problem with the media's coverage of peace and related
issues is the lack of specialists. There never seems to be a problem
finding journalists who specialize in sports or fashion, but for
peace and security issues, there are very few journalists who remain
as specialists. Most news organizations don't want to go to the
trouble developing a single area of expertise in their reporters.
Generalists are less likely to get directly involved in the story
and are therefore less likely to question the angles chosen by their
It also doesn't help that there's little financial incentive for
reporters to remain in one field. There's also their own and their
editor's anxiety of their becoming stale in a particular beat, and
their avoidance of long-term foreign assignments for fear of missing
promotion opportunities at home. "Most journalists are likely
to be oriented toward their career more than any particular beat
or topic," Hackett writes. "Some of the specialists I
interviewed stuck with it out of a strong personal interest in the
field, but they recognized themselves as a minority."
Hackett devotes a chapter to the Cold War in relation to peace
and security, NATO, the arms race, communism, and the peace movement..
Focusing on the peace movement at the time, Hackett stresses the
negative and steotypical attitudes of the media and the general
public towards the movement. Peace activists were generally seen
to be "... naive, ill-informed and emotional and /or as political
extremists or suspect, indeed as virtually treasonous."
Turning to the military, Hackett says it's only recently it has
been more interactive with the media. The military enjoyed a quiet,
influential role in society until the 1970s when its position and
purpose bagan to be questioned. Peace activists expected to be questioned
by the main-stream media. The military didn't expect to be attacked
While the defence industry and those who fund it enjoy "...
economic and political clout without needing to mobilize public
opinion," peace activists need coverage and find it invaluable.
The over-reliance of Canadian news media on American coverage is
touched on throughout the book. The major criticism is that Canadian
news organizations don't give their reporters enough free rein to
fully cover an issue independently. Much seemingly Canadian content
on peace issues is just American reporting revamped.
As valuable case histories of coverage, Hackett has selected the
US bombing of Libya in 1986 and the Annual Walk for Peace in Vancouver.
Each gets a chapter.
The coverage of the U.S. bombing of Libya relied overwhelmingly
on official "Western" military and political sources.
Experts in non-violent conflict resolution were virtually blacked
out. Demonstrators were treated as action subjects not to be quoted
at all, let alone in depth. Coverage of the Walk for Peace, on the
other hand, went from a simple mention in the Vancouver dailies
to wide and deep coverage, demonstrating how a non-violent local
event can become accepted as a legitimate news topic.
News and Dissent is very thorough. It provides in-depth
analysis of the function of the media in relation to both the peace
movement and the military. Much of the information is backed up
with references to other writers and publications, thus providing
an extensive bibliography for further reference.
Because Hackett is a responsible academic - and this to his credit
- his language tends to be academic. Many sections could have been
expressed with a bit less academic vocabulary. The general format
is that of a textbook.
News and Dissent is a " must" for the student
of journalism or the mass media or for anyone doing in depth research
on the mainstream media's treatment of war and peace. Hackett's
observations of 1980s coverage are all too applicable today. With
the Gulf War coverage, one might say, in spades.
This article originally appeared in Sources,
Media, Culture articles from Connexions Digest and Library
Media Stifle Ideas and Debate - Review of Democracy's
Oxygen: How Corporations Control the News. (CX5228).
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