Feb 182013
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Too often, vital stories killed for fear of angering advertisers. 

by David McLaren

 About a year ago, a mid-Ontario broadcaster asked me to provide short, 90-second commentaries on matters of my own choosing. Things went well until I submitted the following comment on low-wage big box retail (with special attention to Wal-Mart).

The broadcaster rejected the commentary out of fear it would upset one of their advertisers (guess which one). The comment itself is fairly benign, and I researched and referenced anything that might be challenged … well read it for yourself.

Such examples illustrate the necessity for ad-free journalism. Let's consider (again) advertising’s chill effect on main-stream media.

  • Journalists pull their punches in their reports and avoid fair comment when the story involves an advertiser. Often restraint starts in the executive suite, as with William Thorsell, former publisher of the Globe and Mail who, for years, refused to assign anyone to the environmental beat.
  • As a result of this self-censorship, certain stories are not printed or broadcast at all.
  • Media tend to maintain and promote a point of view and theory about the world that doesn’t stray too far from main-line culture – certainly not enough to ruffle the feathers of advertisers.
  • Conversely, they show deference to stories that portray advertisers favourably (eg, business reporting is full of these).

And it’s getting worse, due to the use of SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation). Even just the threat of legal action can make journalists and civil society groups think twice or thrice about tackling tough stories, such as corporate behaviour in the third world.

There's a whole lot more media space for folks who like to be controversial (eg, Ezra Levant and Christie Blatchford) to slander and libel marginalized groups like the Roma and First Nations,  than it is for respectable journalists to report their investigations of corporations.

Worse, the Harper government's decision to cut the Canadian Human Rights Act's s.13 – speech “likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt” — has made hateful commentary even easier.  Meanwhile, mainstream media deflect  and decline articles and commentaries with any kind of pro-worker, pro-union, or pro-human rights angle.

Here's the commentary that the mid-sized Ontario broadcaster declined to air:

If you could lift one person out of poverty by spending 15 cents more every time you went shopping, would you? Sure you would. And so would I.

The question is, why the Walton Family won’t. They own Wal-Mart and their wealth now exceeds the wealth of 40 percent of all Americans — the ones at the bottom of the pay scale — like Wal-mart's sales force — er, associates.

All by themselves, the Walton family has the power to raise thousands of their own employees out of poverty. Not even the President of the United States has that sort of power. The best he can do is try to convince Republicans Congress to raise the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour. Good luck with that.

Seventy percent of America’s economy is consumer driven. It’s a no brainer. The more people who can buy stuff (without falling too deep into debt as we Canadians are doing) the better the economy.

The Waltons seem unlikely to open their hearts or raise their prices. Their associates are looking for the same bargaining technique as workers used a hundred years ago — unionize.

But the Waltons close stores when their associates get too big for the boots they sell. Remember Jonquiere Québec in 2005?  So Wal-Mart employees have taken to organizing in other ways. Google OUR WalMart to find out how.


About David McLaren

David McLaren has worked for government, the private sector, arts groups, environmental groups and First Nations in communications and policy analysis. He is an award-winning writer living at Neyaashiinigamiing (Cape Croker) on the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario, who finds himself in Toronto temporarily.


© Copyright 2013 David McLaren, All rights Reserved. Written For: StraightGoods.ca

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