Tag Archives: journalism

is it freedom of speech?

QC papers reprint cartoons

QC papers reprint Charlie Hebdo cartoons

Thirteen people are dead.

Most are writers and satirical cartoonists at a Paris magazine called Charlie Hebdo. The killers added two police officers to the list of dead during their getaway.

Headlines around the western world trumpet expressions of shock, sorrow, outrage, anger, denial and solidarity in something called  “freedom of speech”.

In Quebec, French-language newspapers repeat the insult — reprint cartoons of the prophet Muhammed — as though one outrage committed by murderers justifies repeating an insult to all Muslims.

Before this goes further, nothing justifies the slaughter of unarmed people. It’s a crime — a mass murder. For the news media, it’s too easy to identify every massacre of innocents as “terrorism”.

Maybe it is. For certain, this was carried out by extremists who threatened to kill the people at this magazine, firebombed it, and decided to wipe out those working at the magazine that mocked the sacred, their sacred. The question we must ask is: Why?

Why did Charlie Hebdo decide to shock, to push, to push beyond good taste into insult, to venture slightly and then more beyond political satire, to sneer at and insult, to promote racism and intolerance in pursuit of something — but not truth anymore.

When that happens, it isn’t satire. It isn’t to expose the criminal, the incompetent, the idiotic, the stupid, and the lying liar. It becomes something else. It turns into a deliberate and concerted campaign against an enemy; a magazine looking for a fight.

There’s no such thing as limitless free speech. We all know the example of the person who yells ‘Fire!” in a burning movie theatre. There are consequences for being an ass in public. But the consequence or reaction should never be murder.

Neither should the reaction by journalists be further provocation and insult. This isn’t responsible journalism nor is it defending or practising free speech.

It’s piling one stupid insult upon another.


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Filed under Canada, Canadian politics, journalism, racism

alt = different?

The Dominion / Media CoopThat’s the question I wanted to answer before heading into Montreal last week. I was invited to a sit on a panel discussing Indigenous issues with an alternative audience and Q&A to follow.

The occasion was the launch of a special print edition of the Dominion Magazine. Leanne Simpson wrote the cover story: “Idle No More: Where the Mainstream Media Went Wrong”. So I sat down, scanned a dozen or so alternative and mainstream media (MSM) sites to compare their coverage of the same or similar stories. What I found surprised me. Continue reading

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eyes and the prize

White only-smWhat a week that was.

It begins on Monday with Obama’s inauguration and the beginning of his second term as President of the USA. The first time was historic. This time seems almost normal. The first Black President of the USA.

Obama’s public ceremony takes place on the same day that his nation remembers Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Continue reading

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you gotta hear this


This American Life

What Happened at Dos Erres?

This American Life has an amazing story called “What Happened at Dos Erres?

A massacre in Guatemala in an Indian village in 1982. A phone call 30 years later tells a man living in the U.S. he’s one of two young boys that were kidnapped back then. To get the rest, click on that link.

It’s stories like this that made me want to become a journalist in the first place. Listening to it makes me ache to get back into radio which, when done like this, shows what radio can do. It made my hair stand on end.

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my coloured tv

What tribe are you from?

A colleague told me recently that the appearance on local TV reporter with braids changed his life. You know, the reporter was a real Indian – or NDN if you prefer.  Not some movie character or actor with a wig in a TV drama. Not as some dude on the street being interviewed about the weather. This was a TV reporter with braids on the 6 o’clock news. My colleague said the image changed his view of the world, its opportunities, and led to his decision to become a journalist.
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changing lenses

I try not to have a lot of regrets. Things happen. Move on, if possible. Leave it behind. A former love suggested that only I could be responsible for my  happiness. She’s a former love so she must have taken her own advice.SABC News

But there are things that continue to gnaw even these many years later. This is one of them. It started out as most ideas like this – half-baked. It bounced around the back of my skull for months, maybe years. By the time I pried that slippery thing out and inflicted it upon others, I was in a position to take it from germ to proposal. Whether my immediate audience was able – or even willing – to understand is another matter. I should probably have considered that beforehand.

So what was this big idea? Simple, I thought in saner moments; bloody genius, after a few beers or tokes. Why do we accept the way that the world is structured? Why do we operate as though this is the only way that things should work? If the information is there, and we have the ability to interpret and use that information as we see fit, or as we should see fit… Then why don’t APTN Newswe? Why do we accept a status quo or a model or a system that really has not worked too well for us? Don’t we have a duty to try to either fix the damn thing? Or scrap it? Start over?

Now, in most things, such as engineering, airplane construction, putting a new roof on the house, I’d agree wholeheartedly to just leave things as they are. Don’t screw around. I don’t want that plane or roof falling with me or on me. But some things don’t work, fail continuously, inflict damage and/or pain, and it just doesn’t make sense that it keeps going on and on and on.

My big idea had to do with culture. News. Journalism. Writing. (Bet you thought it’d be the Indian Act or Indian Affairs, eh?) For years, I’d worked in mainstream journalism and became an advocate – if not acolyte and born-again missionary – for western journalism methods and standards. I believed in public broadcasting and public service journalism; that the bottom line should be informing people and protecting democratic rights not entertaining people for cheap eyeballs to keep stockholders happy. My problem? Even public broadcasting didn’t seem to work or to satisfy me.

My qualms took shape in South Africa in the late 90s. I’d gone to help some friends try to transform the SA Broadcasting Corp from an apartheid apologist and mouthpiece, maybe even spy, into something responsible to all of the people, and dedicated to changing the world for the better of everyone. Hah! Silly me. It’d be easier to get an intelligent policy out of Indian Affairs! (Oops, I really, really tried to leave Indian Affairs out of this post. Me bad.)

The problem with the SABC, as I learned to see it (with the help of former SA exiles who returned to fight the good fight in the corridors of the news department) was its culture. We could train people – producers, editors, reporters, camera people, etc. We could help them revise policies and procedures. We could mentor and nudge, encourage and suggest. We could even develop new shows for them. But that old culture of obedience and subservience to power and authority was engrained in the wood and paint, polluted the water and air in that monstrosity called Auckland Park.

So, after a few years, I became convinced that we were not freeing minds as much as showing experts at camouflage how to become better chameleons. It wouldn’t matter after awhile whether our trainees served the Broederbund or the ANC since they had been trained for so long to blend into the background and survive.

Now that’s a huge over-simplification and tarring with a massive brush. I came to admire and regard with awe a number of SABC journalists. Brave, sharp as hell, curious, modest, caring, worried about their country and their fellow South Africans – all at the same time. They had all of the qualities that the best journalists  embrace and personify. They somehow survived the old masters and I worried how they’d deal with the newer ones.

Survival, after all, is not for the faint-hearted or the polite in places like South Africa or many other places on earth. It’s easy for foreign devils like myself to helicopter in with fancy ideas about how the world should be. But then we’d go home and those people we grew to love and respect would have to find the gumption to speak truth in the face of power.

A typical day and another workshop, this time in Durban with a group of newspaper journalists. Some write for richer, established, formerly White dailies and others for poorer, newer Black papers hoping to capture the huge readership in the townships. They did essentially the same kinds of stories and used the most of the same news sources. The only real differences were in pay scales, the names of their papers, and sometimes the owners.

Asked to identify their target audiences, the reporters gave strangely similar replies. It turned out that they were all going after the same top 10% of the population – the same target readership during apartheid. Things have changed, I asked, and shouldn’t their target audiences change as well? Certainly the Black newspapers should be explaining the world from a township perspective if they wanted to become relevant to that readership? Silly me, they replied, didn’t I know that Blacks didn’t have money? That money powered the engines? That most township Blacks couldn’t or didn’t read?

So one of the lessons I learned, and they taught me many, was that the owners of most of their newspapers weren’t that interested in serving the majority of poor, poorly educated Blacks. They talked change but didn’t walk it. Informing the Black populations about this thing called democracy, informing them of and protecting their rights, advocating on their behalf, explaining their world in terms that they could relate to and understand, got in the way of profit. That’s when it struck me that things weren’t much different with Indigenous reporting back home in Canada.

But… and here’s the regret… they taught me so much that I wanted to bring home to Canada. Their lives, their hopes, their dreams, and the way that they saw through all of the bullshit excuses, euphemisms, and justifications inspired me. Now, to put it all to good use, I thought to myself. So I came back to Canada, and got THAT job – the one  I’d probably been preparing myself for during all those years kicking around places like the CBC.

So there I was; top news guy at my not-yet and still-to-be-built national TV news operation. I’d be the one picking the journalists. I’d be the one providing a vision for a world of Indigenous journalism that had yet to be articulated let alone made real with sound and pictures. Holy shit! Now what was that big idea that kept rustling around back there? I couldn’t for the life of me remember what it was no matter how hard I tried.

I’m scrambling to get material ready for our first-ever news department group hug, bitch-slap, sucker punch, condolence, forgiveness, argument, blame and name, correcting, and agenda-setting meeting. What is it I really want to do? There are lots of things that must be done. A pile of things that can be put on hold or bumped up in priority. But if I could only remember what it was that I really…. Then it hit. Got it! The memory flooded back in full 16-bit colour.

What if we changed the cultural lenses by which we – native, Indian, Métis, Inuk, Indigenous – journalists did things? Why, I asked myself, do we seem to arrange our newsroom beats or areas of responsibilities to mirror government departments or business sectors without an apparent thought? We just do it.

We create beats for reporters to cover Health (Health Canada, provincial depts of health), politics (Indian Affairs, prov depts of native affairs, Aboriginal political organizations, etc), housing (CMHC, Indian Affairs, etc), education (Indian Affairs – again!, prov depts of ed, school boards), etc, etc, ad nauseum. Just like in that Harry Potter movie, I looked into the thing I feared (or hated) the most, waved my wand, and uttered the incantation: Ridikulus!

I walked into that meeting with those journalists, editors, and producers at the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network and said: Why don’t we chuck the usual beat system and try something new? Why don’t we define how we – as Indigenous peoples coming from Indigenous cultures and communities across Canada – are going to cover stories so they make sense to our peoples, our nations, our communities? (sound of crickets… shuffling of chairs… a pen falls off the conference room table way down there…)

What are going to do instead, someone asked. Good question, I answered right back! What, I asked the wall of blank faces in front of me, if we redefine and reclassify stories along the lines of things that our folks, our main audiences, think is important to their lives?

First step is to ask ourselves this question: How do we define the most important things in our lives? (more sound of crickets… more shuffling of chairs… I swear a pen is thrown across the conference room way down there…)

Eventually, with a lot of hard work, I’ve dragged out a flip chart full of things that don’t look anything like the standard, mainstream news media’s beat system. We identify a whole bunch of things that are common and central to the lives of our Indigenous audiences. Take the following:

  1. Family and extended family, Mothers and children, Elders, Young adults, Men. (In other words, people.)
  2. Community, Society, Culture, Language, Work, Justice, Resources, Learning, Governance. (Things that serve or are there for to provide to people.)
  3. Foreign governments (like that damn Indian Affairs department), Outside cultures, Foreign laws, Foreign rulers. (Things that oppress people)

The list wasn’t all my invention – it came from the group as well. I thought it was brilliant. Revolutionary. Remarkably intelligent and sensible. Why don’t we – as the Indigenous news organization – tell stories from our perspectives, using our own values, and shaped to suit our audiences needs.  Wow! Double holy shit!

Some of the folks looked at that list in horror, and at me with not a little fear that I’d completely lost my freaking marbles. The faces of some, okay maybe one or two, beamed as though struck by a celestial light. I wish I could have pointed to something that already existed to help everyone understand that what we were talking about was a cultural lens. We were talking about replacing the foreign lens that dominated mainstream news about Indigenous peoples, with a much more appropriate Indigenous lens.

At least, we might end up with stories that would be a lot more relevant to the peoples and nations that we had identified as our core audiences.

Now the beauty of such sessions is that they eventually end. Bitch-slaps are forgotten if not forgiven. Friends go their separate ways to never speak to each other again. Red hot overnight romances fizzle out in the  old light of a new dawn. Then people settle back into familiar places and routines, like that one producer who  went back to writing poetry or playing solitaire when she could’ve been producing some kick-ass stuff about Pickton.

The experiment went ahead more in fits than in starts. They tried. They really did. But they didn’t have it in them to continue down this road for long. Eventually, they just slipped back into the old and familiar same old.

What did I learn about the whole damn thing?

Revolutions suck.

But what other choice do we have?


Filed under Africa, Canada, Indigenous peoples, journalism, South Africa

it’s simple simpson

I’ve been pondering some of the commentary published in recent weeks about the Kahnawake band council’s decision to evict 26 people. Most of that commentary came from pundits at national newspapers, although one national newspaper actually paid an individual to spout some rather noxious stuff disguised as informed opinion. But I digress…

I’ve decided to look at one example by a more respected pundit. His name? Jeffrey Simpson of the Globe and Mail. His take was entitled: “Suppose there was a place the Charter didn’t apply…

You already know the story. 26 people face eviction from Kahnawake. Most are White and have never been band members. Others are Mohawk with White partners but stripped of their membership by the band council. Some are married. Some have children. One Mohawk man, a Vietnam veteran, was stripped of membership at the request of his own family.

Not every Kahnawake Mohawk agrees with the evictions although there was enough support when the band council put its proposed by-laws on membership and residency to a community vote a few years ago. Still, if the Kahnawake band council isn’t embarrassed by it’s by-laws and the way it’s dealt with the issue in the media, it should be.

Simpson condemns the evictions as a “race-based” violation of human rights. But it seems that his target isn’t only that exemption to human rights legislation built into the Indian Act by the Federal Government of Canada. Nor is it just the Kahnawake band council and it’s by-laws.  Nope. He seems to be aiming at uppity Mohawks everywhere and the reserve system in general. In fact, after reading that column several times, I came away confused about what pissed off Simpson more – that exemption or Mohawk resistance to assimilation.

Simpson writes that the band council’s actions “reflect an attitude of self-segregation that is the unfortunate flip side of aboriginal sovereignty that has been the intellectual framework for policy for four decades.”

Of course, there’s the rub. Mohawks don’t consider they are Canadian. They don’t recognize Canadian sovereignty on their territories. They are a self-governing ‘nation’ that has ceded nothing to Canada. They have their own rules, traditions, police forces, governance. If what other Canadians would consider basic human rights are abused, well, apparently that’s just the way it goes, according to the federal government.

According to Simpson, all Mohawks and their communities are apparently involved in “Internet gambling and cigarette smuggling” and these activities are the “mainstay economic engines on the Mohawk territories.” The root of this evil, according to Simpson, is their damned refusal to be assimilated, to give up the ghost, to fade into history and become… just like him in every way except for his privileged status as a White man.

His implied solution? Well, it’s seems to be the same one that Canada’s has tried over and over for more than 160 years. Cultural, legal, historical obliteration. Yeah, that’ll serve ’em right.

How to justify this… um… violation of human (and now Indigenous) rights? Well, we all know those uppity Mohawks are out-of-control criminals – every damn one of them. What with their cigarette factories and tobacco stands and their Internet gambling servers.

Well, hold on a sec. Let me paint you a slightly different picture of Kahnawake.

I know people from Kahnawake who serve in the military (Canadian and American).  I know others who work as civil servants in local, provincial and federal governments. Still more who are carpenters, plumbers, general labourers, construction workers, printers. I’ve worked with a few as journalists and TV and radio producers. Some are senior managers of large companies or are management consultants, university professors, teachers, computer techs, and on and on.

Kahnawake is dotted with convenience stores, snack shops, restaurants, gas stations and car repair shops, craft stores, a few designer clothing businesses, a business complex, police and fire departments, a Canadian Legion and social clubs like the Knights of Columbus, a pharmacy, medical centre, print shop, etc.

Is Kahnawake dotted with cigarette factories and tobacco stands? Yes. Does it have a company that runs Internet gambling? Yes, it does. Is that all there is to Kahnawake or any Mohawk territory? Hell, no. Any journalist who makes that kind of claim is either lying or is not doing his or her job by presenting an accurate, truthful picture for the reader to consider.

Simpson didn’t need to resort to nasty racial stereotyping to make his point. Is he arguing that the Charter of Rights should apply? Well, it already does. Is he arguing that the Canadian Human Rights Act should apply? Well, it will – next year. But the decision to exempt reserve band councils was a decision made by… (wait for it) the Government of Canada. Why? To exclude its Indian Act.

Has the band council acted illegally? No. It is simply following the ground rules as laid out by the Indian Act and Indian Affairs. Will it become illegal next year? Possibly, if those by-laws haven’t been repealed or amended, when that exemption to the Canadian Human Rights Act expires, if and when someone files a complaint about discrimination to the Canadian Human Rights Commission (the same body that a lot of Conservatives want to eliminate).

It’s the a funny thing about discrimination. It tends to hold up a mirror exposing those who make it possible for racism and discrimination to exist in the first place. So take a good look, Mr. Simpson.


Filed under Aboriginal peoples, Canada, Canadian politics, human rights, Indigenous peoples, Indigenous rights, journalism, racism