How numbers translate

Yesterday’s protest in Montreal against the Charest government’s budget announced Tuesday drew a healthy crowd of people. Just how healthy, however, depends on what language you speak.

As students, unions and various other groups along with ordinary people from many walks of life marched from Phillips Square to Square Victoria yesterday afternoon to denounce the budget that includes a surcharge for healthcare, raised Hydro rates and increased tuition, the media came out in droves as well. It seems, however, that they did not all see things the same way.

Does this look like 150 people to you? (photo by Chris Zacchia)

According to Montreal’s major French media, there were quite a few people in attendance. While Radio-Canada and La Presse had crowd tallies at 10 000 and 12 000 respectively, more conservative estimates of 5 000 and the nebulous “thousands” showed up in publications like Journal Metro and the site Canoe.ca.

On the English side, CTV used the term “thousands” as well and showed footage of large crowds to go along with their report, but readers of Montreal’s only English daily The Gazette, got a drastically different number:

“According to Montreal police Constable André Leclerc, a smaller group of about 150 protesters forced their way into the building, damaging the main doors.”

That statement, in reference to a small breakaway group of protesters who entered Montreal’s World Trade Center where Raymond Bachand’s Montreal office is located, was the only number given for a while last night on the paper’s website. They have since added in a line about there being “over a thousand people.”

Ten thousand is over a thousand, so the line is technically correct, just as the line about the 150 protesters who entered the finance minister’s office building was technically correct. Both, however are incredibly misleading about the scope of the protest and its focus.

“Over a thousand” sounds small compared to other protests, this march wasn’t. The headline of the piece, the only piece in the Gazette about the protest, even talks about the small breakaway group as though they were bigger news then an unexpectedly large number of people decrying the budget.

While this small misleading report on the protest may seem perfectly at home next to the much longer and in-depth article about Bachand defending his position, the Gazette’s coverage, next to all the other press on this event, looks like a petty attempt to defend a budget that only works for wealthier business types and sell it to their readers as something only opposed by a small group of vandals.

Or maybe 10 000 people marching and a population up in arms in French does translate to a few malcontents causing problems for a loved plan in English.

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