Prime Time Crime


(Published in the Maple Ridge Times week of May 31, 2010)

Don't focus on non-issues

  By John Martin


It's no secret that these are among the most challenging times major media outlets in Canada and elsewhere have ever faced.

Shrinking advertising revenues are the least of their problems. The digital era has ushered in a plethora of new ways for consumers to get their news and information. This is particularly the case with young people who, for the most part, couldn't imagine themselves sitting down to watch the evening news or pick up the daily newspaper.

Several traditional media outlets have already folded. Others have downsized. Some have amalgamated and content sharing is now the norm in an industry where "scooping the competition" was once paramount. Most have incorporated digital content and completely revised their services to survive and thrive in the new communications era.

Still, I get the sense that big media outlet in this country have a much more serious challenge than making themselves accessible and technically relevant in the digital age. They have to accept that they no longer control the agenda. In days gone by with only a handful of influential media sources available, a select group of organizations could determine what information was or was not important or newsworthy. It then became a matter of which news organization could best provide coverage.

All that has changed.

Despite thousands and thousands of pieces of reporting, investigation, analysis and commentary, Canadians still don't give a hoot about the so-called Jaffer-Guergis affair. No matter how hard media has tried to turn this into a scandal of Watergate proportions it's clear the public is not interested and the story has resonated with no one outside the Ottawa press.

Ditto for the documents related to the Afghan detainee issue. If there's a single Canadian laying awake at night wondering if the executive branch of the federal government knew about alleged improper treatment of a prisoner of war, he or she has yet to come public. Yet the national press is adamant this is the crime of the century.

It was the same with the most recent prorogation of Parliament. To the media (and a few dozen university professors) shutting down Parliament ahead of schedule was a constitutional crisis of epic proportions and surely the death knell of democracy. To the rest of us, it was one big yawner of absolutely zero consequence.

These three issues; Jaffer-Guergis, transferring detainees, and prorogation have absolutely dominated the news this year. One would be hard pressed to assemble any hundred other stories that have received half as much coverage as this triad of trivial. For all the hyperbole and foaming at the mouth, these "crises" have had no impact whatsoever on people's voting preference.

Personally, I have half a dozen over-lapping social circles consisting of long-time friends from high school days, musicians, academics, beer-drinkers, co-workers and more beer-drinkers. I have not heard one person among these utter so much as a word on Jaffer's lobbying, some Afghan getting smacked with a shoe on his way to custody or Stephen Harper shutting down Parliament. Not once did a student, in class or casually, raise any of these issues in my presence.

Canadians have been well served by the country's long-standing media. I hope most of them continue to adapt and persevere. But until they realize that beating a non-issue to death will not force people to tune into something they have no interest in, all bets are off.

John Martin is a Criminologist at the University of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at


Prime Time Crime

Contributing 2010