Canadian journalism does. It needs a critical voice. It needs self-criticism more than ever. Someone who consistently looks at the media, how it screws up stories every day, gives tons of air-time to small-minded bigots, becomes defensive in the extreme if criticized, is way too cozy with government officials, too complacent about what it should be upset about, and too upset about inane crap.

I stay up way beyond my bedtime week nights (Mon-Thu) to take in The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. I’m prepared to pay the price the next morning because I really appreciate what they do. I like the way they do it. I don’t learn much more about the stories they cover because I still inform myself by scanning domestic and international stories. But both comedy shows hold things up to ridicule and satire, allow me to laugh at our human failings and stupidities by looking at things in something akin to the average person-on-the-street’s viewpoint.

Jon Stewart on the The Daily Show isn’t a real host of a real news program, and Stephen Colbert isn’t really a right-wing TV shock jock. They just play them on TV. But polls show that a lot of Americans trust Stewart more than some news anchors, and many right-wingers believe Colbert’s comedic personality is the real deal. Now that’s funny. What’s not so funny was the key role they played in getting Americans to understand how badly the Bush Administration had undermined their rights and liberties and mismanaged the nation while the mainstream news media were cheerleading from the sidelines. Shame on U.S. journalism, and they knew it because Stewart and Colbert kept telling them.

Here in Canada, we have The Mercer Report and This Hour Has 22 Minutes, both on CBC. Mercer’s show is a sort-of news show; his “Rants” are often hard-hitting political commentary. 22-Minutes is a skit-based, multi-hosted fake news program that often dips more into skit than political satire. Neither show is as effective as their Comedy Network counter-parts because of really dumb CRTC rulings on complaints that both shows on Canada’s public broadcaster might confuse viewers if they resembled REAL news programs. Puh-lease!

The result, of course, is a watered down, not-as-biting, pair of programs that tend to shy away from hard-hitting political satire or real criticism of the Canadian media. Too bad. Canadian journalists need to be held up to ridicule from time to time. Just think what a good satirist could have done with the reporters who helped railroad Maher Arar.

Why am I so concerned? Because I believe the news media in Canada, and journalism in general, is in desperate need of a shakeup. They don’t ask or challenge. They regurgitate more than investigate. They respect authority more than is healthy. They lack skepticism. They actually believe what the cops tell them. They are boring, copy each other too much, are afraid of not copying each other enough, are afraid of standing alone – even or especially when they know they are right. They are afraid. They are complacent. They don’t care, don’t inflict those who deserve it, or comfort those who need it. No wonder a lot of people hold lawyers and politicians slightly above journalists on the esteem scale..

What got me thinking about this? A journalist’s blog, and a post about a book that I’m hunting down. Here are some snippets from that post:  

What Davies fingers is the rampant commercial pressures which have led to the all-too familiar “churnalism” as journalists are pressured to produce more and more with less and less. Out of the window goes many or all of the time-honoured practices of the profession, those that involve the time needed to produce quality, such as actually leaving the office and generating own stories rather than quickly and cheaply absorbing and regurgitating “safe” information from whatever sources offer it.

Complicit in this are PR agents “spinning” news with increasing sophistication and cynicism, understaffed conveyor-belt news agencies, and secretive government agencies, intelligence departments and military units spewing propaganda.

. . .

I personally believe it is incumbent on all intelligent people to be a lot more sceptical about what they accept as fact. But for journalists scepticism — not cynicism, mind — is a sine qua non, and should be right up there with truth-telling as basic precept of the profession. 

Okay. All good and understandable reasons why journalism is failing us – the audience. But I still feel journalists need a good, swift kick in the ass every now and then,  because they really do take themselves too damn seriously.

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