Volume 96, Issue 76
Thursday, February 13, 2003

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Former journalism dean critiques media

By Liz Donaldson
Gazette Staff

According to a former Western dean of journalism, concentration in media ownership threatens the variety of perspectives the public receives in its news sources.

Last night, Peter Desbarats returned to Western to deliver a lecture on the current state of our national media, and also examined the relationship between the media, democracies and the current terrorist threat.

Desbarats's speech outlined what he feels is the media's current narrow scope of opinion, which he attributes to the concentration of owners who currently dominate the television and newspaper industry, and governments' willingness to support such narrow political views.

"We like to think we're a model democratic country, but we're not, simply because we don't have as much attachment," Desbarats said. "That's why the role of news media is of critical importance in dealing with democratic issues."

However, according to Desbarats, it is becoming increasingly difficult to sift through the headlines to find accurate accounts of news stories because large media groups, such as Canwest Global, are the dominant sources when it comes to Canadian inquiries into governmental issues.

"[The large media groups] have an enormous amount of influence, which pose the danger of how they will use that influence," Desbarats explained.

He said the fact that The Ottawa Citizen currently lacks a publisher, having replaced their previous publisher, Russell Mills, with a business manager, is another example of negative journalistic trends. "That is a business term, not a journalism term," Desbarats added.

The Canwest media group has also recently opened up a central news production factory in Winnipeg, which will reduce local media discretion significantly, Desbarats said.

Brian Chaddington, a member of the Canadian Public Relations Society, as well as the event organizer, posed a simple question to listeners. "If I asked you if you believed the news, would you say yes?" He went on to explain that most Canadians are believers. "[They believe because] it's the news and, unfortunately, I am also guilty."

Desbarats also covered the state of North American media coverage in regards to such issues as Iraq and the Sept. 11 attacks, with a feeling of disappointment. "Almost every day, fear-mongering by the media is pushing Americans into supporting, what I feel to be, an unwarranted war."

Newspapers around the world need to step up to the challenge of providing the public with less narrow political views, Desbarats explained. "How do you take sides when our current media gives us so few perspectives?"

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