Will and Kate’s wedding and Scarlett Johansson’s leaked nude photos grabbed a lot of headlines this year, but that may have come at the expense of other more important stories that were under-reported—or not reported at all.
In releasing its 2011 list of Canada’s top 25 most under-reported stories by the mainstream media, NewsWatch Canada says topics of national significance were ignored while there was a “disconcerting abundance” of “soft” news such as celebrity scandals and human-interest stories.
Researchers at NewsWatch Canada, a media watchdog based at Simon Fraser University’s School of Communication, combed over both major news reports and independent news sources from the past year to uncover important stories that received little or no attention from the country’s major media.
“Story topics such as the divorce of Kim Kardashian are given front-page coverage due to low production costs and appeals of personalization and dramatization. “Soft” news stories are taking up an immense amount of space in our public sphere; space that we know could be used much more effectively if there was more societal awareness of this issue,” NewsWatch said in its report.
Some of the underreported stories include the closed-door CETA negotiations with the European Union; the ways in which corporate lobbying is shaping Canadian and U.S. laws and regulations; the militarization of Canada’s foreign policy; the negative impacts of fracking; and Canadian interference in Haiti.
“Such omissions in major Canadian news media imply that the news provides only a partial reflection on the information citizens need,” says SFU School of Communication lecturer Kathleen Cross, who supervised the project.
“We need to rethink the role and structure of large news organizations in Canada.”
The report noted that citizens depend on the news for accurate and reliable information that is “vital to democratic governance,” both in terms of accessing information critical to their lives and holding those in power accountable.
But the increasing commodification of information has led to several trends in the news media that have been detrimental to keeping people informed, with much of North American and British news content shifting to infotainment and soft news formats while “mission-driven journalism” seems to be floundering.
“It is critical to examine the governing logic and ownership structures of the news,” the report said, referring to the domination of mainstream news media by private conglomerates “whose overarching goal is to garner profit.”
“While neo-liberal economic theory touts an unregulated media environment as the best system for representing diverse interests, the reality proves otherwise. Despite the arguable competition between private media firms, mainstream news appears relatively uniform. A glance at mainstream headlines will show little variation across the ‘hard news’ spectrum.”
However, many of the topics ignored or underreported by mainstream media were covered by independent news outlets, the report said.
A national judicial panel helped the researchers evaluate which 25 news stories were the most significant and in need of in-depth investigative journalism. The judges used impact, credibility, and national or international importance as the main criteria in their selection.
The following list includes the first 10 of the top 25 stories NewsWatch identified as receiving little or no attention from Canada’s major media. For a complete list, go to http://pages.cmns.sfu.ca/newswatch/files/2011/11/NewsWatchCanada20111.pdf.
1. Canada-Europe Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA)
CETA, a free-trade agreement between Canada and the EU that is being negotiated behind closed doors, will give European corporations access to government procurement actions down to the municipal level, including public institutions such as hospitals and public utilities.
2. Canadian mining companies lack accountability
Canadian mining companies are responsible for a large percentage of environmental and human
rights abuses around the world, yet are not held accountable.
3. Corporate lobbying shaping laws
Corporate lobbyists around the globe are spending billions of dollars in order to write and determine policy at the national and international level.
4. Crisis in long-term care
Long-term and assisted living care for the elderly in Canada is facing a crisis in the form of early hospital evictions, hospital over-crowding, affordability, and quality of care in private and unregulated residences.
5. Violence against aboriginal women in Canada
More than 600 indigenous women across Canada have gone missing or been murdered in the past 30 years, 75 percent of aboriginal girls under the age of 18 have been victims of sexual abuse, and aboriginal girls and women are nearly three times more likely to become victims of violence.
6. State of native reserves in Canada
Appalling third world conditions on Aboriginal reserves have stagnated in the past 10 years, and indicators of wellness such as housing, education, and water quality have actually declined.
7. Health effects of Canada’s tar sands
Toxic waste from Canada’s tar sands contaminates the environment while nearby Northern Albertan communities find themselves increasingly affected by cancer.
8. Long-term effects of Fukushima
Japan’s nuclear disaster is far worse than governments have revealed to the public. Effects from the fallout have been felt in both the U.S. and in Canada but their significance has been downplayed.
9. Abandoned oil wells cause environmental hazard
Abandoned Albertan oil wells must be cleaned up to avoid environmental contamination, but the companies that own them have little incentive to do so given the huge costs and weak regulations.
10. Global disposable workforce
Thousands of migrant workers are admitted into Canada every year for short periods of time, but
their rights are often abused or ignored.