Prime Time Crime


(Published in the Chilliwack Times week of Jan. 10, 2011)


Dismal media coverage in 2010


  By John Martin


Without a doubt, the distinction for being the biggest loser in 2010 goes to the national media. Understandably struggling to fend off and compete with emerging information technology and social networking, the country's major media was dismal and frequently irrelevant these last 12 months.

With the rarest of exceptions, media was consumed with trivial items that failed to resonate in any way whatsoever 50 kilometres outside of Ottawa.

Proroguing parliament is a routine activity that every Prime Minister regularly engages in. Never has this been a story worth mentioning, even when Jean Chretien did so only to avoid having to answer embarrassing questions following the release of the auditor-general's report into the sponsorship scandal.

But when Stephen Harper pulled the plug the reaction from the nation's media was that doing so was a constitutional abomination and the end of democracy.

It was the same thing with eliminating the long-form census. All in all, a rather mundane reform that perhaps warranted some discussion and informed debate. But again, the media response was to treat this minor matter akin to the country separating. Yes, some bureaucrats and academics have been deprived of one particular data source. That's earth-shattering news that warranted two months of daily coverage?

Media like to think they're the eyes and ears of the public. OK, what else consumed their every waking moment in 2010? Well, there's the matter of whether or not an Afghan detainee might have been smacked upside the head with a size-nine sandal on his way to custody. Apparently it's stuff like this that keeps Canadians up at night worrying about the state of their country. This one item received hundreds of times more ink than any coverage of a Canadian soldier killed in the line of duty. Absolutely disgraceful.

Oh, and then there's the matter of the application to the CRTC for another all-news TV station. Someone cheekily dubbed the requested service "Fox News North" and lo and behold, our very sovereignty was in peril. This particular application hardly warranted more attention than every other request from the last 10 years combined.

But the biggest failing of the country's big media was its round-the-clock, never-ending obsession with the next federal election. "Will there be an election?" "There'll be an election in spring--guaranteed." "Election this fall--count on it."

Most of the country's MPs get out of Ottawa on a regular basis and this keeps them in touch with real Canadians. For journalists on the national beat--it's another matter. It's as though they actually believe all Canadians can think of is the next federal election--as if we haven't had enough in the last several years.

At least there's some self-serving rationale to the federal election epic story. It's never easier being a journalist than during a campaign. Every day there's a controversy, a gaffe, an outrage, a policy to scrutinize, and perhaps a candidate stepping down. Columns literally write themselves once the writ has been dropped. Sure elections are expensive, but don't kid yourself; media are ecstatic with minority governments being in election-ready mode 365 days a year. Especially the lazy ones.

And of course there's all those political advertising dollars being thrown around during a campaign.

Canadians' futures are not going to be altered one iota from a prorogued parliament, a shorter census form or one more all-news TV service.

And they're not losing any sleep over the timing of the next federal election.

Columnists and editorial writers are fond of trashing a government policy and concluding with, "we deserve better."

When it comes to media coverage of the issues that matter, we deserve a helluva lot better.

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


Prime Time Crime

Contributing 2010