Tomorrow morning, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the US is set to scrap Net Neutrality. Specifically, they plan to eliminate Title II protections that force the courts to treat internet access as an essential service.
John Oliver explains this distinction more in depth (if you haven’t seen this segment, you really should, even if you know about Title II):
In a nutshell, without this classification, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) would be free to restrict or slow down access to sites that cannot afford or refuse to pay a fee to be in the fast lane. They could also start bundling sites together the same way cable companies bundle stations and charge extra for packages.
The Nightmare Scenario
My guess is they would probably bring in a mix of the two.
First, imagine basic internet including major email providers and maybe the weather network and a few search engines. You could then add the Social Media package with Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for an extra fee, the news package with only mainstream sources for another fee. YouTube would cost extra and if you want Netflix, well you’d have to pay extra for it, above and beyond what you pay (or what your roommate, friend or ex pays, let’s be honest) to Netflix.
Don’t think this is possible? Look at this add for mobile internet packages in Portugal:
Meanwhile, smaller competitors, some widely used and relied on but not popular or potentially profitable enough to be automatically included in a package would take forever to load. If Verizon or Comcast can’t make an extra buck off them, why would they make it easy to access them?
While sites with primarily written content that use embeds for video and audio (like this one) may end up coasting underneath the throttling radar, others won’t. What about BandCamp? Vimeo? Crowdfunding sites? Gaming sites? How about sites that don’t use a lot of bandwidth but really irk the ISPs because of their content?
While the FCC is billing this as “Internet Freedom” it’s actually about letting a handful of companies restrict the freedom of everyone else. I have no problem with websites charging for their services or opting not to, they are already free to do that online. ISPs, on the other hand, should not be.
They don’t own the internet, we all do. Or no one does.
Yes, the ISPs may own the cables, but that only permits them to charge a rate for use of said cables. They have absolutely no business telling us what we can and can’t use the cables to access. No one tells you what you can and can’t say on a phonecall, the Internet should be no different.
Beyond the USA
While this may seem like an American problem, but it’s actually a global one as the internet is a global entity and America is a huge part of it. The biggest sites are American and so are most of the largest indie sites and non-profit sites.
Not only that, there are quite a few people that rely on or at least need some American eyes and ears for their livelihood: independent musicians, app and game developers, the list goes on. While their internet access may not be limited, their potential audience and clientele will be.
Meanwhile, the free flow of information and independent journalism could be seriously compromised, with stories about protest in the US not covered, or not properly covered by mainstream press not making it past someone’s computer or phone, let alone around the world. Likewise, smaller stories could have a hard time finding their way to interested people in the 50 states.
Then there’s the whole issue of American influence. Portugal may not set the global standard when it comes to the Internet, but the US does.
Here in Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may have said he supports a free and open internet and is “very concerned” about the FCC’s attempt to roll that back in the States, but how long will that stance last? You can bet that Canadian ISPs are just itching to do what their American counterparts may be able to do very soon and will use what happens south of the border to influence lawmakers here.
So What Do We Do?
The first thing we can do is fight like hell to make sure these changes don’t pass, and by we I don’t mean me, at least not directly. Americans (those reading this and others) are the only ones who can contact their elected officials and the FCC to fight this at the source. There is also an online campaign to oppose the FCC’s intentions called Break the Internet.
If they aren’t successful, there’s the legal avenue, though that takes time, probably more time than it takes for ISPs to start changing the Internet forever. There’s also hoping someone (ie Elon Musk) decides to offer unobstructed access (he already wants to offer the world access through satellites) and thus make it unfeasible for ISPs to offer anything but the net as we know it even if they are no longer legally obliged to.
Hoping for a capitalist benefactor/Bond villain to save us all may only lead to disappointment. People outside of the US fighting hard to preserve Net Neutrality and those in the States fighting hard to bring it back (or creating some sort of pirate ISP) may be the only way to fight and win.
But if we do win eventually, or even if the ISPs lose tomorrow in the US (or in the near future), we need to talk about how to prevent this from happening again, because you know it will. This isn’t the first time I’ve written about a threat to Net Neutrality and it certainly won’t be the last.
Maybe it’s time to look to more radical solutions to preserve what we have and have had for years. Maybe it’s time to nationalize ISPs. At least, the very threat of such an action would scare the corporations who currently control access to the web to forever shut up about changing the rules. At best, we could end up with an internet that could never be changed.
For now, though, let’s hope that the FCC sees the light, or moreover, is forced to see it.
The change of government didn’t stop the steep decline of press freedom in Canada according to Reporters Without Borders. Canada now ranks 22nd in the RWB index, four spots below last year. The international press freedom watchdog urges Trudeau to act on his vocal defense of free media.
Every year, Reporters Without Borders publishes a report on the state of press freedom in 180 countries. They base their rankings on questionnaires submitted to media professionals, lawyers and sociologists in each country, and on the number of acts of violence and abuse towards medias and journalists.
In 2015, Canada was eighth on the list. One year later, thanks to the ever-increasing hostility of the Conservative government toward the media, it had plunged to the 18th spot.
Many expected Trudeau to change this bleak course when he took office, considering how he advocated for a strong and free press during the campaign. While the government’s relations with media may appear more cordial, the Prime Minister has so far failed to live up to that expectation. Canada has slipped down four more spots, now ranking right between Samoa and the Czech Republic.
The top of the index is once again filled by Scandinavian countries, with Norway in the lead. Costa Rica follows in 6th place. At the other end of the scale, North Korea surpassed Eritrea as the very worst place in terms of press freedom. Turkmenistan and Syria are close behind.
RWB says Canada’s poor score this year is partly due to the fact that a number of journalists have been put under police surveillance in Quebec, including La Presse’s Patrick Lagacé. The organization also cited a court ordering Vice journalist Ben Makuch to hand over all communications between himself and an RCMP source as it highlights Canada’s lack of specific legal framework for journalism.
RWB also highlighted the charges brought against The Independant’s journalist Justin Brake for trespassing while he was covering the protests against the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project in Labrador. Plus the NGO expressed disappointment at the PM’s failure to repeal C-51, which is widely considered as a huge setback for press freedom and individual rights. RWB already tried to bring all these concerns to Trudeau’s attention in an open letter written in November.
Canada is not the only country with a less than stellar performance. The US went dropped from 41st to 43rd, a relatively small slip, considering Donald Trump severely restricted media access to all kinds of information and his outright calling the press “an enemy of the american people.” It might suggest that the Obama administration’s difficult relationship with the press and war on whistleblowers might have had more far-reaching effects than it seems.
In fact, RWB maintains that press freedom is in more danger than ever, all across the world.
“We have reached the age of post-truth, propaganda, and suppression of freedoms – especially in democracies,” The report declared in its cheerful introduction. It attributes the worsening state of affair to a conjuncture characterized by the rise of strongmen and the erosion of democracies in Europe and America alike. As for Canada, RWB recommends that the government repeals C-51 and put forward concrete measures to ensure confidentiality of journalistic sources.
* Featured image from Reporters Without Borders official site
Until the recent election of the Orange racist misogynist, the public seems to have had mixed feelings about the press. On the one hand, people use it as a means of achieving justice via social pressure and shaming when our legal system fails them. On the other hand you have people unreasonably targeted in the court of public opinion thanks to the press and social media, ruining their lives before the courts can decide their innocence, liability, or guilt. On top of that, news websites are covered with politically or corporate sponsored pieces masquerading as real news that claim to be offering sound advice and information when they’re really just pushing products or agendas no one needs.
It is in this new age of juggling fake vs. real news that we as a society need to take a serious look at what real journalism is, and the laws and ethics of those who practice it.
The simplified definition of journalism is the occupation of a diverse bunch of people who write, edit, and distribute electronic, print, and audio visual material on subjects of public interest. People think of journalists as strictly doing the news, but most news websites have everything from the news, to animal sob stories, to entertainment stuff, to insight on fashion and tech trends to ranty editorial pieces.
That said, though the press is universally recognized as playing an important role in any healthy democracy, there is little in Canadian law explicitly protecting its members. Journalists are widely considered to be the watchdogs of our democracy, calling bullshit and demanding justice before everyone else, but there’s no special law guaranteeing their rights.
Most of the rights of journalists come from the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In Quebec, the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and the Civil Code, and in the rest of Canada, case law.
In the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, we have article 2(b) which guarantees freedom thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press for everyone.
In the Quebec Charter, we have sections 3 and 9. Section 3 is a lot like 2(b) of the Canadian Charter in that it protects freedom of opinion and expression. Section 9 protects our right to the non-disclosure of our confidential information.
Last but not least in Quebec, we have civil law, written into our Civil Code and Code of Civil Procedure. The rule is that any evidence found to be obtained under circumstances that violate someone’s fundamental rights and freedoms can, to a certain discretionary degree, be rejected by the courts.
Journalists’ fight to protect their sources is one of the more frequent issues that come up before the courts, forcing our justice system to define the rights of the press outside of any definitive legislation.
In 2010 in Globe and Mail v. Canada (Attorney General), the Supreme Court was asked to come up with a way of deciding under what circumstances a journalist should be made to reveal their source.
Anonymous sources are extremely important for societal watchdogs as it allows them to get information from people in circumstances where their job, their reputation, or their lives would be jeopardized by publicly sharing the information themselves. On the other hand, you have the right of the authorities to know where important information is coming from in order to successfully resolve a criminal investigation, and the right of lawyers to have access to information and people in order to successfully defend their clients against criminal charges or lawsuits.
The Supreme Court in Globe and Mail used the Quebec Civil Code and the Canadian and Quebec Charters to come up with the following test as to whether a journalist should be made to reveal their source:
First, one must ask if the evidence resulting from making a journalist answer questions that could reveal their sources would be relevant to the case. If the answer is yes, the courts must consider the following four factors about the anonymous source:
The relationship must originate in a confidence that the source’s identity will not be disclosed
Anonymity must be essential to the relationship in which the communication arises
The relationship must be one that should be sedulously fostered in the public interest
The public interest served by protecting the identity of the informant must outweigh the public interest in getting at the truth
In addition to those rules and tests, you have the criminal code and the rules regarding civil liability.
Hate propaganda, public incitement of hatred, and promoting genocide are all criminal offenses in Canada.
If someone causes you damages such as those that could cost you your wealth or livelihood, damages that negatively affected your health, or damages that caused you psychological problems, you are allowed to seek reparations for those damages. People in Canada have successfully sued journalists and media companies for damages because their actions ruined their reputations and/or violated their right to privacy.
Outside the law, the press tends to regulate itself. Lobby groups like the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec put out codes of ethics for the profession that set out the rules they all should follow. This includes no plagiarizing, making sure to put out accurate information, and making clear distinctions between their personal opinions and the facts they present.
In an age where politicians feel free to accuse the press of undermining democracy, media literacy is more important than ever. We have a responsibility to keep our eyes open for the thinly veiled sponsored pieces and the ranty conjecture masquerading as fact.
Journalists who expose this to us are more important than ever and we need more rules to protect them. Politicians may not like reporters, but without them there’d be no democracy, and no one would know who they are. As Oscar Wilde once said:
“The only thing worse than being talked about, is not being talked about.”
Let’s keep the press free, so they can keep talking.
* Featured image by Pete O’Shea via Flickr Creative Commons
Content providers who publish April Fools posts were understandably shocked to learn that Facebook will now be treating their generally sarcastic annual jokes the same way they treat fake news.
“Fake news is a huge problem,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a press conference this morning, “and so-called April Fools celebrations are just cover for this practice. We say no more!”
In an effort to curb the spate of completely made-up stories cramming people’s newsfeeds which helped turn the tide in the last US Federal Election, Facebook went on the offensive a few months ago (and a few months after such an offensive was needed). This involved blocking stories reported as fake and entire sites that were responsible for several fake news stories.
Zuckerberg didn’t specify what algorythms would be employed to curb the impact of “fake April 1st news” as Facebook has taken to calling it, or if they would be reporting transgressors to authorities as they had talked about doing in the past.
US President Donald Trump weighed in with an early morning tweet:
While it remains unclear if this new decision by Facebook would only be applied to US-based accounts or to all of Facebook, organizations representing media around the globe came out with a strong statement of opposition. Except for media in Spain, they seemed a little preoccupied with something.
It remains unclear if April Fools media pranksters will be able to weather the storm. In addition to Facebook’s decision, they are also facing an uphill legal battle against parody sites like The Onion, Breitbart and Info Wars (and their Canadian counterparts The Beaverton and The Rebel). In a class action suit filed last month, these outlets claimed that running BS content is something they do 365 days a year and therefore sites who partake in the practice on April 1st owe them royalties.
At this point, you’re probably guessing that what you are reading is not true (and maybe a little too meta for this early on a Saturday). Fake news, the actual kind, is a blight on web journalism and Facebook is right to try and fight it, as long as they remember that opinion backed up by facts is not fake. April Fools jokes are a cherished part of our culture and something that are part of our culture and something FTB partakes in once a year.
So, without further adieu, I’ll let Fake Twitter Trump let you know officially what you’ve all guessed:
* Please note that as far as Forget the Box knows, there is no US Military action planned against Spain
Last week’s Montreal snowstorm was quite the disaster. People stranded in cars on Highway 13 for hours, busses just not showing up, sidewalks still not cleared days later. It was a disaster on a political level and an institutional one. Fortunately, it was not a disaster on a human or social level.
That’s not how Andrew Potter and Maclean’s Magazine see it, though. In a much shared (primarily for the purpose of criticism) editorial, the Director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada posited that the real culprits in last week’s snowmageddon were restaurants that gave two different bills, one for cash payments and one for “traceable” payments. Um, what?
I have lived in Montreal my entire life and I have never been offered a different fee depending on what payment method I chose for supper or drinks. Not saying there isn’t any sketch in Monteal’s service industry, just saying that if there is, it’s way smarter and nowhere near as obvious.
Regardless, how does this have any relevance to the issue he is discussing? Oh, yeah, it’s societal decline that led to what happened last Tuesday. People just not caring about their fellow human. No sense of community.
Clearly, Mr. Potter doesn’t have the faintest clue what he’s talking about. But I guess that doesn’t matter to right-leaning Maclean’s readers in the rest of Canada who just had their preconceived notions about Quebec and Montreal justified.
This “editorial” reads like something Potter wrote months ago and saved for an appropriate news item to come along that he could tie it to. Maclean’s must have been all too happy to get yet another article blaming Quebec culture for something.
Now don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of blame that should go around because of what happened last Tuesday. Blame our political leaders who let over 300 9-1-1 calls slide until 4am. Coderre and Couillard do have a lot to answer for. Blame their nonsensical attempt to pin what happened on a trucker who allegedly refused to be towed (unless he was stalled across all highway lanes, I fail to see how this is even an excuse).
Potter and Maclean’s let them off the hook. Instead, like the politicians, they pinned it on the community. My community.
Last Tuesday I remember seeing people helping to push cars stuck in the snow, taking people in who couldn’t make it home and stuff like this online:
That’s right, people getting out and pushing a bus that was stuck in the snow. That’s Montreal, that’s my community. Sure, we have our problems, but when the shit hits the fan, we pull together.
It’s a real shame that Maclean’s chose to publish the one guy in town who refused to see it that way, either out of ignorance or a desire to grind his favourite ax. It truly is amateur hour.
Back in 1960s America there were three major news networks NBC, CBS and ABC, though as one talking head says in reference to ABC, “There are three networks but if there were four, they’d be fourth.” At the time, networks still provided gavel-to-gavel coverage of political party conventions, but ABC, lacking the resources the other two major networks had, was only able show a few hours of political party conventions in the evening.
To save their struggling network, they would have to do something drastic, something that had never been done before. And that is exactly what they did during the 1968 conventions, hiring the flamboyant left-wing author Gore Vidal and ultra-conservative editor of the right-wing magazine, National Review, William F. Buckley to debate in a ten-night after convention special.
This event is said to be the first real attempt at political punditry and this documentary is a behind the scenes look at it. Set across actual archival footage of the debates, the film is both a character exploration of Buckley and Vidal themselves as well as a fascinating examination of how punditry became the way it is today.
Buckley once asked if there was anyone he would consider not debating and responded: “A communist or Gore Vidal.” In a brilliant and conniving move, ABC asked the two to come on and they agreed. The reason was quite simple: because they actually wanted to destroy each other as Christoper Hitchens notes in the film: “There was nothing feigned about the mutual antipathy, they really did despise each other.”
It became clear early on in the debates that it was not about the convention but about how both men saw the state of America at the time and how their political philosophy fit (or didn’t) into the landscape of political rhetoric – and both these men disagreed vehemently with the other. This point reaches its apex when Buckley, upon being called a “crypto-nazi” by Vidal, responds with the threat of physical violence on live television.
That instance of a violent threat would haunt Buckley for the rest of his life, eternally being dumbfounded as to why he reacted the way he did. In Vidal’s mind, after that moment he had won.
The point that directors Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville are trying to make in Best of Enemies is quite clear and is well-taken and a valid one: there has been a degeneration in political coverage, having morphed into vapid shouting matches. Watching CNN, one would be hard-pressed to disagree with this point, but there is indeed something lacking in their argument.
The real focus of the film clearly is to look at how we argue about politics not about the content of those arguments. As Ben Burgis from Counterpunch says in his article about the film: “you can’t separate the two without being misleading.” Yes, Buckley was intemperate but the content of his arguments was toxic.
In the film, Vidal wants to paint Buckley as racist but we are not sure why. We know Buckley may have said troubling things about the civil rights movement, but that is about it. What we do not know is the examples of white supremacist policies he wrote about in the National Review. The film lacks a lot of context in that regard in more ways than one.
The film almost falls short of wanting to go back to a period where the centrist, status quo media ruled the airwaves (it, of course, still kind of does, but not to the extent it did in the 60s). The film decries ABC’s move as a move towards the destruction of television discourse, but I would argue that it might have served to expand debate. It also, of course, has its negatives as we all know.
In sum, the critique falls somewhat short as we are left with little context for both men’s political ideologies, but that is of course not the point of the film. Despite this, it is an entertaining film and an interesting look at the relationship of both men who absolutely despised each other as well as an interesting story of television history that deserves to be watched.
Dammit. The following sentence is one I never wanted to type and never thought I would, either:
Kudos to CNN, The New York Times and the rest of the corporate mainstream media for fighting the good fight and speaking truth to power in the US.
Ugh. I know. But credit where credit is due.
Since Donald Trump was elected President of the United States and especially since he took offfice, they have been calling him and his administration out on absolute falsehoods, some so glaring it’s astounding they were put forward in the first place. They have also been critical of the more extreme points of his policies.
In short, they are doing their jobs, finally. And the Trump administration has been fighting back, calling them fake news and of course, who could forget:
Then yesterday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer cancelled his regular press briefing in favour of an off-camera “press gaggle” with select media outlets. ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX were there and so was Breitbart, the far-right online bastion of bigoted news presentation that used to employ Chief White House Strategist Steve Bannon. Not invited: CNN, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, the New York Daily News, the Hill, Politico and Buzzfeed.
That’s right, the White House invited Breitbart over CNN and the New York Times. To put this in perspective, imagine if the White House invited Breitbart over CNN and The New York Times. No real need for allegory with this administration.
There is leaked audio from inside the gaggle of Spicer trying to defend his decision:
To their credit, the Associated Press and Time were invited to this exclusive event but declined in solidarity with their colleagues. That’s right, I just used the word solidarity to describe the actions of a division of a multinational corporation. That’s just how things are now.
Clinton News Network
It wasn’t always that way. In fact, during the Primaries a few short months ago, the mainstream press, the very same outlets that I am now defending, were pulling out all the stops to defend the status quo.
Calling CNN the Clinton News Network wasn’t a Trump supporter thing, it was a Bernie supporter go-to. I remember being livid with the network for breaking away from Bernie Sanders speaking live to a shot of Trump’s empty podium before he took the stage.
Obviously, it wasn’t a move designed to help Trump, it was clearly a way to silence Sanders and make everyone think the Trump-Clinton matchup was a done deal. You see, the Democratic Party establishment thought Trump was the ideal foil, someone who couldn’t possibly win, and as such, they wanted to elevate him…and CNN helped do just that.
The New York Times also ran countless articles discrediting Sanders and his campaign. It’s clear they saw him as more of a threat than the orange buffoon reality star B-list celeb who was running for the GOP.
But it goes further back than that. For years, the mainstream press had a very cozy relationship with the powers that be, regardless of who the President was. Barack Obama, George W. Bush and even Bill Clinton enjoyed a far less critical glare than they should have.
Yes, the corporate media did question and call the leaders out on some things, especially scandals, but they were far too trusting of the official narrative most of the time. Otherwise, the whole story about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction may have not led to a war, or at least not a media-championed war.
What it took for the mainstream media to do their jobs
It’s quite possible that the Trump Administration thought that they would have an easy ride coming in. What they failed to realize is that the reason the establishment press was so cozy with previous establishments is that those administrations knew how to play the game.
Did that game involve deception? Of course it did. But clever deception. Wording things in a way that could technically be defended as factual. Rarely an outright lie and then never one that is blatant and easy to de-bunk.
The unwritten rule? Don’t insult the press or the public’s intelligence with your BS. A rule that the Trump Administration clearly never heard or considered following for a moment.
So that’s what it took for corporate press to finally start doing their jobs. A narcissistic carnival barker with the temperament of a spoiled child trying to shove outright lies down their throats and punishing them when they don’t present his ridiculous claims as absolute truth.
Well, at least there was a bridge too far for them. Now we know what it is.
Not a good day for independent media, either
As someone who has always championed independent or alternative media sources (including this one) as well as media with a declared, or at least obvious, bias (like this one), what happened yesterday in Washington was in no way a victory for the non-corporate press. In fact, it signaled a rather unwelcome transformation of the very concept of independent media.
With biased sources like One America and the Washington Times as well as biased and independent sources like Breitbart included in the press gaggle, independent media has become a mouthpiece of and propaganda tool for the government. It would be different if the White House had also granted press credentials and given special treatment to, say, The Young Turks and Democracy Now, but that’s not the case.
No, it’s the mainstream sources who haven’t investigated the President that hard and indie outlets that are so far right that in this White House they are considered mainstream which make the cut. It’s not about independent versus mainstream, it’s about kissing Presidential ass or not.
It is important for independent media to stand with their corporate colleagues on this one issue. Then we can all go back to criticizing them for lack of coverage on extremely important issues like Standing Rock.
For the corporate press, here’s hoping you don’t go back to the old ways and have finally learned that:
“Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.”
– George Orwell
On Tuesday, gunmen burst into the FM 103.5 studio in San Pedro de Marcos during a live news broadcast. They shot and killed the station’s director Leonidas Martinez in his office before doing the same to journalist Luis Manuel Medina, just as he was reading the news on air. The station’s secretary, Dayana Garcia, was also injured. Mr Medina was hosting Milenio Caliente (Hot Millenium), an investigative news show.
Part of the event was livestreamed through Facebook. The video shows Luis Medina attempting to continue his program as shots can be heard in the background. Then a female voice warns “shots, shots!” before the transmission cuts off.
Three men have been arrested in relation to the attack, but no charges have been filed yet, according to Al-Jazeera and the Independant. The motive behind the attack is still unknown.
Reporters Without Borders ranks Dominican Republican as 62nd out of 179 in their 2016 World Press Freedom Index. According to RWB “Journalists who dare to tackle corruption or drug trafficking are often the victims of physical violence or even murder.”
Two years ago,Blas Olivo, the press director of the Junta Agroempresarial Dominicana, a politically active association of agribusinesses, was murdered. The crime was linked to the Latin Kings gang, though some suspected foul-play from the authorities.
When you look back on 2016, you may think of all the greats we lost like David Bowie, Leonard Cohen and, most recently, Carrie Fisher and her mom Debbie Reynolds. You may also remember it as the year the UK decided to leave the EU or the year the US decided to leave its senses politically.
No matter how you saw it, though, you have to admit that quite a bit happened. With that in mind, we take a look back at 2016 in the News.
As this post had two authors, parenthetical initials indicate if the section was written by Jason C. McLean (JCM) or Mirna Djukic (MD).
2016 was the first year of the post-Harper era and it was an agitated one in federal politics.
Justin Trudeau’s popularity soared for a while, still largely carried by the expectations built during his campaign and his undisputable quality of not being Stephen Harper. To his credit, he did score some significant points in his first months in office by immediately opening the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and rebuilding relationships with our neighbours (which gave us both the most hilarious handshake attempt of all time and the TrudObama Bromance).
One of the first flies in the ointment was the infamous #elbowgate incident in the House of Commons. Last May, the Prime Minister took it upon himself to escort Conservative Whip Gordon Brown through a cluster of opposition MPs in order to move the procedures along and accidentally elbowed NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau in the chest. This was perhaps a fairly embarrassing show of temper for the PM, but it degenerated into something out of a Shakespearian comedy in the following days, with Trudeau issuing apology after apology and the opposition throwing words like “molested” around.
Inopportune elbows aside, the Liberals took quite a few steps during the year that caused the public to question how different they really are from their predecessors. Not only did they go through with the $15 million arms sale to Saudi Arabia, but they also quietly changed the country’s policies about export controls to ensure that they could continue to trade arms with shady regimes with a lot less obstacles.
As for the Greens, they started the year as the underdogs who were doing unexpectedly well. The increased attention, though, revealed a world of messy internal struggles. These started when the party voted in favour of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. Leader Elizabeth May disliked this so much that she considered resigning. (MD)
Indeed, discrepancies between the government’s discourse and their actions accumulated throughout the year. None was more flagrant than their attitude toward pipelines.
The Liberals campaigned on promises to restore the trust of Canadians in the Environmental Assessment Process, “modernize” the National Energy Board and make Canada a leader in the worldwide climate change fight. Trudeau was the first to admit that the current environmental assessment protocols were immensely flawed and he mandated a committee to review them.
While still waiting for their conclusions, though, he had no problem with major projects still being approved by that flawed process. He had no comments when it was revealed that the NEB board members in charge of reviewing Energy East had secretly met with TransCanada lobbyists nor when indigenous resistance against various projects started rising.
If he thought that the population was on his side, or that they would remain passive about it, he was sorely mistaken. In August, the NEB consultations about Energy East were shut down by protesters. Anger and mistrust towards the NEB only grew after that, with environmental groups calling for a complete overhaul.
None of this stopped the government from approving two contentious pipelines in late November. Both Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain project and Enbridge’s Line 3 were officially accepted. Fortunately, they did reject Enbridge’s Northern Gateway, which was set to go through the Great Bear Rain Forest. (MD)
2016 was the year that saw the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe emerge victorious (for the moment) over big energy and the North Dakota Government.
In July, Energy Transfer Partners got approval for the $3.78 Billion Dakota Access Pipeline to cross the Missouri River at Lake Oahe, the tribe’s only source of drinking water. The plan also saw DAPL cut across sacred burial grounds.
The Standing Rock Sioux challenged this both in court and with water protectors on the front lines. They invited others to stand in solidarity with them and assembled the largest gathering of Native American tribes in decades.
Things came to a head on Labour Day Weekend early September when DAPL sent private corporate security to attack the water protectors with pepper spray and dogs. Democracy Now’s shocking footage of the incident got picked up by major networks and there finally was major media attention, for a while.
As more people joined the camp and solidarity actions, including Facebook Check-Ins from around the world, increased, corporate media interest waned. Meanwhile the Governor of North Dakota Jack Dalrymple activated the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, which brought law enforcement from ten different states to Standing Rock.
With most media focused on the elections, police used tear gas and water cannons on water protectors in freezing temperatures. The US Army Corps of Engineers sent an eviction notice demanding the camp be cleared by December 5th and roadblocks went up.
The Sioux Tribe’s infrastructure survived, however, and once 4000 veterans showed up in solidarity, the official stance changed. President Obama’s administration got the Army Corps to change its tune and deny the easement over Lake Oahe, meaning the DAPL will not go through Standing Rock, at least not until the Trump Administration takes office.
While their fight may not be over, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe did flip the script in 2016 and was even named FTB’s Person of the Year. (JCM)
Indigenous Issues in Canada
Meanwhile in Canada, indigenous issues did make their way a bit more to the forefront in 2016. The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women finally got underway September 1st.
While long overdue, the Inquiry will be independent of the Federal Government and has a budget of $53.86 million to be spent over two years. While overall optimistic, some in Canada’s First Nations communities are concerned that the scope of the inquiry is too broad, making it easy to not investigate police forces and specific cases.
Quebec is considering its own inquiry. It’s needed, especially when you consider that the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) treated accusations that its officers were assaulting native women in Val d’Or by going after Radio-Canada and its journalists for reporting on the story and no one else.
Meanwhile, conditions in many First Nations communities continued to deteriorate. An indigenous police force in Ontario even recommended its own disbanding for lack of proper funding. (JCM)
The provincial government keeps slowly but steadily dropping in the polls. According to a Léger-Le Devoir poll conducted in November, the Liberals hit their lowest approval rating since the 2012 crisis. With only 31% of the intended vote, they are now barely 1% ahead of the PQ.
The fact that they did reach a budgetary surplus as a result doesn’t seem to have calmed the popular discontent. The shadow of past corruption scandals also remains.
Couillard assured the public that none of the scandals happened under his watch and that his administration is fully committed to fighting corruption. This commitment was, however, brought into question by a recent report which accuses the government of lagging behind on the Charbonneau recommendations.
In any case, the party was left in turmoil. It wasn’t long before another of its prominent figures left. Bernard Drainville, champion of the infamous Charte des valeurs, but also a major architect of the party’s policies and democratic reforms, decided it was time to call it quits. In a slightly surreal move, he announced that he was retiring from politics to co-animate Éric Duhaime’s notoriously salacious radio show.
Those who had hoped that his departure would help the PQ move toward a better relationship with minorities and immigrants were disillusioned by the conclusion of the leadership race. Veteran Jean-François Lisée and his divisive views on immigration won by a landslide, while the favorite, Alexandre Cloutier was left in the dust with Martine Ouellet and Paul Saint-Pierre Plamondon.
However, let’s not forget that Quebec’s political scene is not limited to the two major parties. In fact, a new player is preparing to enter it before the next election. FTB learned that a provincial NDP is in the works, hoping to provide the voters with a progressive option that doesn’t aim for Quebec’s independence. (MD)
Rape culture neither started nor ended in 2016, but it did seem to find its way to our newsfeed frighteningly often.
First came the disappointing conclusion of the Gomeshi trial in May. The fact that a celebrity with so much airtime on the CBC and elsewhere had been sexually harassing his colleague for years and committing multiple sexual assaults while his entourage and superiors turned a blind eye was outraging enough on its own. The fact that four counts of sexual assault and one of overcoming resistance by choking pretty much ended with a slap on the wrist from the court was worse. It made it very hard to keep pretending that our institutions and our society were not rigged to protect aggressors and silence victims.
Barely a month later, as if to demonstrate the scale of the problem, there was the Brock Turner case. Turner, a 20 year old student athlete at Stanford and a perfect mix of white, male and class privilege, was standing trial for raping a young woman on campus. Caught in the act by other students, he was found guilty. This could have landed him in prison for more than a decade, but he got six months in a county jail (he only served three).
A horrible event brought the discussion about rape culture a lot closer to home for many Quebecers in the fall. Multiple attackers entered the dorms of Université Laval and assaulted several students during one night in October. This sparked a wave of compassion and awareness with province-wide protests.
During a solidarity vigil in Quebec city, a young student named Alice Paquet revealed that she was raped by Liberal MNA Gerry Sklavounos back in 2012. Despite an onslaught of victim blaming and skepticism, Paquet decided to finally press charges, and her lawsuit is now in front of the Directeur des Poursuites Criminelles et Pénales. The latter will decide if the case goes to court. (MD)
US Presidential Election
For most of the year, politicos everywhere, including here in Canada, were glued to what was transpiring in the US Presidential Election. And for good reason, it was an interesting one, to say the least.
First there was the hope of some real and unexpected change in the form of the political revolution Bernie Sanders was promising. The upstart Vermont senator managed to go from basically nothing to winning 23 states in the Primaries and even got to meet with the Pope, but that wasn’t enough to beat the largest political machine out there and the Democratic Party establishment’s chosen candidate Hillary Clinton.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump, another upstart candidate, though one of the secretly pro-corporate and openly far-right variety, easily clinched the Republican nomination. With the exception of a bit of plagiarism on opening night and the whole Ted Cruz non-endorsement incident, the GOP Convention was quite unified behind Trump.
The Democratic National Convention was a completely different story. Sanders delegates booed speakers endorsing Clinton and connected to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and even left the room in protest when Clinton officially won the nomination.
The ensuing General Election campaign went back and forth for a few months with each candidate having their ups and downs. Clinton’s health rumours and Wikileaks revelations and Trump’s…well, his being Donald Trump.
Well, on Election Day, the unthinkable happened. The ideal “pied piper candidate” the Democrats had sought to elevate, because he would be so easy to beat, ended up beating their “inevitable” future President.
The bogeyman came out from under the bed and was elected to office. The joke went from funny to scary. Failed casino owner and third-rate reality star Donald Trump won the Electoral College vote and became President Elect of the United States.
As Trump started building his brand new bubble filled with climate change deniers, corporate execs and white supremacists, the fight against him in the streets started and shows no signs of stopping in 2017. The real question is now: will the Democrats change gear and become a progressive alternative or stay the establishment course that led them to defeat at the hands of an orange carnival barker? (JCM)
At least Montreal didn’t spend 2016 electing a frequently cartoonish populist who doesn’t listen to experts. We had already done that back in 2013.
This was the year, though, that our Mayor, Denis Coderre, really started to shine. And by shine I mean make Montreal nationally and even globally famous for some really bad decisions and ideas.
2015 ended with the Mayor dumping untreated sewage right into the river. With that out of the way, 2016 was going to be the year where we planned for our big 375th Anniversary in 2017.
Coderre’s focus was squarely somewhere else in the last half of the year, though. After a 55-year-old woman was killed by a dog in June, Coderre tabled rather extreme Breed-Specific Legislation aimed at pit bulls, despite no initial proof that a pit bull was the culprit (and the later revelation that it absolutely wasn’t).
There were protests and even international condemnation, including that of celebrities like Cyndi Lauper. Coderre would hear none of it, though, even ordering the mic cut on an citizen during a City Council meeting.
When the so-called Pit Bull Ban, officially the Montreal Animal Control Bylaw, became law in September, the proverbial other shoe dropped. People started picking up on some of the other aspects of it, in particular the fines and fees and the fact that it covered other breeds of dog and cats, too.
The SPCA got a temporary injunction on the “dangerous breeds” aspects of the law in early October which was overturned on appeal in December. The bylaw comes into full effect March 31, 2017, at which point the SPCA will no longer deal with stray dogs or accept owner surrenders.
In September, another project met with a legal obstacle. Turns out fines Société de transport de Montréal (STM) security officers were handing out constituted a human rights violation.
While the STM will be appealing the Montreal Municipal Court decision, for now at least, they’re not supposed to be sending out squads of transit cops acting as glorified revenue generators. In practice, though, we’ve heard reports they’re still doing it.
What was really surprising was that the SPVM got warrants for this surveillance. What was not surprising at all is how high this probably went. Police Chief Philippe Pichet must have known, and he was handpicked by Mayor Coderre a few years prior.
2016 continued the sad tradition of police murdering innocent people of colour for no good reason and getting away with it (for the most part). The Black Lives Matter movement also continued to speak out against these killings.
There were two such murders in early July very close together, to the point where it was possible to confuse notification of one with the other. Alton Sterling and Philando Castile died at the hands of police in different cities in different states within 24 hours of each other.
In Dallas, Texas, a lone sniper, not part of the peaceful protest, decided to murder nine police officers, which, of course, became a national tragedy and an excuse for the right wing to incorrectly attack BLM.
In September, following the police murder of Keith Lamont Scott, the city of Charlotte, North Carolina erupted. There were days of protest and the governor declared a state of emergency on the second night.
There is sadly no sign that any of this will change in 2017, especially given the positions of the incoming administration on race and police. (JCM)
Sadly, this year was marked by the continuing conflict in Syria. Dictator Bashar al-Assad has again been accused of deliberately targeting civilians. The carnage in Aleppo reached new heights as the regime’s forces renewed their assault, driving residents to send their goodbyes over social media.
Local groups have been fighting the rising terrorist factions in Syria, namely the now famous Kurd “women’s protection unit”, also known as YPJ. However, despite their important role, their status with the international community is on shaky ground. One YPJ fighter is currently detained in Denmark under terrorism charges. (MD)
So that’s our look back at 2016 in the news. Here’s hoping for overall more uplifting stories in 2017!
So this is it. Call it the series finale for American Democracy. Call it The Thrilla with Far Too Much Vanilla. It’s the 2016 US Presidential Election and it will be resolved tonight (in theory).
I’ll never complain about the length of a Canadian campaign again. This site alone has published 21 posts on the subject and spoke about it numerous times on our podcast and most of our readership can’t even vote in US elections.
From the spark of revolutionary Bern in the primaries to the threat of a smug orange mushroom cloud in the general, we have been paying attention. Canadians like me, people around the world, Americans living abroad, some right here in Montreal and of course those living in the 50 states have been closely watching, reading and posting about the developments.
Tonight will be no different. The question becomes, will you be taking in the results alone or with others. In both cases, there are plenty of options:
2016 US Election Results Watch Parties in Montreal
If you want to watch the election results pour in and either celebrate or commiserate with a room full of people, there are a bunch of places in Montreal where you can do just that.
Here are a few:
US Election Results Viewing Party @ Chez Boris: Usually, this Parc Avenue breakfast and lunch place isn’t open much past 7pm. They made an exception during the recent Presidential Debates and it was a success, so they’re doing the same thing for election night.
I like that the place is open specifically for this event, which means those in the room are also only there to watch the election results. They’re promising deep fried oreos, Icelandic-style veggie dogs and hot dogs and an election-themed costume contest and bingo. Details and a rather funny description are available on their event page, and also this, one of my favourite event images so far:
Chez Boris, 5151 Ave du Parc, 7pm – 12:30am
Democrats Abroad Montreal Election Night Party @ Sir Winston Churchill Pub: This is probably not the best place to ironically wear your Make America Great Again hat. Also, probably not the most pro-Jill Stein crowd in town. If, however, you’re waiting with anticipation for Hillary to smash that glass ceiling, this group of people watching the results at Sir Winston’s are very much “with her” as well.
Democrats Abroad Montreal and Democrats Abroad McGill are hosting an election night party, as they did for the debates. If you happen to be looking away from the screen or even outside having a smoke when a state turns blue, don’t worry, the cheers of the crowd will let you know what happened.
Sir Winston Churchill Pub, 1459 Crescent, 6:30pm – midnight
OCSM US Election Pub Night @ Burgundy Lion: The Oxford & Cambridge Society of Montreal has a section of tables reserved at the Burgundy Lion Pub. This is a group that hosts events for Oxford and Cambridge alumni living in Montreal, so it’s sure to offer a much more academic perspective on the vote south of the border
Burgundy Lion, 2496 Notre Dame Ouest, 6:30pm – 3am, Ask for the O&C tables or Martine Verdy. Please RSVP with Professor Gerald Ratzer at email@example.com
US Election Night Party @ Groove Nation: If groove is in the heart and politics is in the head, then Groove Nation is putting together a package deal for election night. The venue most known for live shows and dancing will be showing live election results on a giant screen.
According to the event page: “Whether you are for, against, or abstaining, you are welcome to join us for drinks and debates. Whatever happens at the end, at least it will finally be over! We think.” They’ve also got a good image:
Groove Nation, 410 Rachel Est, 6:30pm – 3am
Election Night at Casa : America’s Final Rose Ceremony 2016: Casa del Popolo has probably one of the best names for an election results watching event I’ve seen. It’s also the event which takes into account the psychological effect this election has had on people. They’re offering free community support along with $4.50 pints and $3.50 shots.
DJ Christina Bell will be spinning tunes, the results will be shown on a giant screen and there’s no cover. There are also “no jerks or Trump supporters allowed”.
Casa del Popolo, 4873 Boul St-Laurent, 9pm – 3am
Watch the 2016 US Election Results Online
If you’re not so sure if you can contain your reactions in public or would just prefer take the results in at home alone or with friends, there are options other than mainstream news outlets. Here are a couple:
The Young Turks: I love this team. They’re biased and don’t hold their opinions back. They were pro-Bernie in the primaries, but now their main host and network co-founder Cenk Unger as well as most of the other pundits on the panel plan to vote Hillary, while remaining critical of her. A few are backing Jill Stein. They all hate Trump.
If you’re looking for solid analysis from a progressive perspective, they have it. They also will be reporting the results as soon as they come in. Generally once two of the major outlets predict a winner in a state, they announce it as well.
The Young Turks will be streaming live from 1pm to 1am and possibly longer on YouTube and Facebook.
Democracy Now: Amy Goodman is the paragon of independent journalists. She, along with Juan Gonzalez, will be hosting live election night coverage featuring up-to-the-minute results not only on the race to the White House but also for the US Senate and the US House of Representatives as well as ballot initiatives across the country, including California’s push to legalize recreational weed.
DN is not op-ed, in fact, it’s known for objective journalism. What I love about them, though, is how, through their selection of topics to cover and guests to have on, they present information that rarely gets a hearing outside of progressive circles. I trust them to focus on what’s really important this election as well as the the big stories everyone will be covering.
Last month, Montreal’s international reputation took a hit thanks to Denis Coderre’s pit bull ban. This was amplified by celebrities speaking out against it. Now, we’ve caught the attention of famed whistleblower Edward Snowden, who tweeted this:
Snowden linked to a Montreal Gazette article about the Montreal Police (SPVM) spying on La Presse journalist Patrick Lagacé’s cellphone. Lagacé had been looking into Escouade, the police task force dealing with street gangs and drugs, and the possibility that they were fabricating evidence.
The SPVM wanted to know who the journalist’s sources were. They asked for and received 24 warrants to monitor Lagacé iPhone, record its metadata and track his GPS location between January and July of this year.
For Snowden, this story serves as a warning for journalists everywhere: if you don’t protect your phone data and GPS location, you may be putting your sources at risk. It’s also an indictment of the fundamental disrespect some police forces have for freedom of the press.
For Montreal, though, it means that once again, we are a shining example to the world of the wrong way to do things. And the ultimate culprit may just be the same one as the pit bull ban, or at least quite close.
As Alex Norris, City Councillor with Official Oppositon party Projet Montreal said in the same Gazette article Snowden tweeted: “We believe that it is inconceivable that an operation this sensitive would not have been approved by Philippe Pichet. If he wasn’t advised of this operation then it means he has lost control of his organization.”
If it goes as high as Pichet, then it’s not that far from the office of the man who appointed him: Mayor Denis Coderre. The sad thing is, spying on police is not out of character for Coderre, either.
For the second time in as many months, Montreal is in the international spotlight. And we don’t look good.
* Featured image of an SPVM officer going through a protester’s bag in July 2015 by Cem Ertekin
The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has been in the news lately over its announcement to loosen the rules requiring Canadian television productions to have pre-dominantly Canadian talent. Despite the CRTC’s claim that allowing productions to have more foreign artists will open the door to new talent and have more International and Canadian co-productions, Canadian artists like the members of the Canadian Guild of Professional Screenwriters are criticizing the move as having long term negative financial and cultural repercussions for Canada and its artists.
To most of us, the CRTC is that annoying organization that issues fines and cuts Canadians off of those great Superbowl Ads. It’s the government body that keeps Canadians stuck with sometimes inferior quality TV shows due to Canadian Content requirements established by law that force networks to reserve a certain amount of airtime to Canadian productions, be they ads or shows.
But the CRTC is also the body that helped keep great shows like Royal Canadian Air Farce, Kids in the Hall, DaVinci’s Inquest, and Nikita on the air for as long as they were.
Why does the CRTC do this?
They are required by law.
The CRTC is the government body responsible for enforcing, among other things, the federal Broadcasting Act and Canada’s anti-spam laws.
The Broadcasting Act sets out the broadcasting rules and policy for all of Canada, specifically with regards to television, radio, and any other means of broadcasting programs and ads. According to the Act, Canada’s broadcasting policy includes that the Canadian broadcasting system be effectively owned by Canadians, that said system operate primarily in English and French, and defining the system as a public service for the purpose of maintaining and enhancing Canada’s national identity and cultural sovereignty.
The Broadcasting Act also says that the Canadian broadcasting system should “serve to safeguard, enrich and strengthen the cultural, political, social and economic fabric of Canada” by providing programming that reflects Canadian opinions, attitudes, ideas, and values.
According to the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission Act, The CRTC consists of a maximum of thirteen members named by the government for a term of five years with a possibility of re-appointment. Members have to work on the committee full time and cannot become a member of the CRTC if they are not Canadian citizens or ordinary residents of Canada.
They also cannot be named to the CRTC if they have a conflict of interest because they are involved in a telecommunications firm directly or indirectly as an owner, shareholder, director, officer, or partner OR if they have any financial interest in a telecommunications company or are involved in the sale or manufacture of telecommunications apparatus. The law does provide for an exception to the latter rule if the telecommunications stuff being sold is an incidental aspect of a retail or wholesale business which a potential member is involved in. Where a potential Commission member has a forbidden financial stake they can still be named to the CRTC provided they get rid of said stake within three months.
The current chairman of the CRTC is former Montreal lawyer Jean-Pierre Blais whose term ends in 2017.
In order for the CRTC to enforce Canada’s broadcasting policy, it has been granted various powers by the Broadcasting Act.
The main powers are control over who gets a broadcasting license and the ability to make regulations regarding everything from ensuring that Canadian programs and ads get a certain amount of airtime to setting what constitutes a Canadian program.
It’s their discretion over what constitutes a Canadian program that is now coming under fire. Canadian programs and co-productions are eligible for federal government money which by extension comes from Canadian taxpayers.
A production that does not qualify as Canadian as per the definition set out by the CRTC is not eligible for federal funds.
The current eligibility requirements for a production to count as Canadian are high, resulting in more Canadian screenwriters, actors, and directors hired for Canadian television shows. The CRTC’s proposal is to lower those requirements, opening the door to more non-Canadian talent at the expense of Canadian artists.
The obvious counter argument is that it should be the best person for the job, but if the law says that the goal of the Canadian broadcasting system is to work for the benefit of the Canadian people and present their point of view, government funds should go to productions that employ a lot of Canadians.
To do otherwise would result in the CRTC violating the very law that empowers it.
From French commentators calling Japanese gymnasts “little pikachus” to media systematically crediting male coaches for female athletes’ achievements, the coverage of the 2016 Olympics is accumulating mishaps. Not that it’s anything new.
Once every two years, sport journalists are thrust in a spotlight of epic proportions. Every media tries to make the most of it, scrambling to find a commentator who has the faintest idea about the rules of slalom canoeing. Not only are mistakes bound to happen, but they are bound to be heard by a greater audience than ever.
One of the most disturbing effect of all this live, unfiltered, commentary are some shockingly racist comments appearing on national television. France Télévisions’ Thomas Bouhail kept comparing Japanese gymnasts to pokemons and mangas. CBC’s Byron MacDonald had to apologize after saying a Chinese swimmer “died like a pig.”
The lack of technical knowledge is forgivable. As a gymnastics fan, hearing nonsense like “piked salto with straddled legs” about a bar release certainly makes me wince, but I have to appreciate the challenge of commenting on sports – especially ones you only have a passable knowledge of – in real time.
What I take offence to is commentators who palliate their lack of knowledge with relentless remarks about every competitor’s age, appearance or nationality that are redundant, irrelevant and bordering on prejudice.
Take young Chinese gymnast Wan Yang. She was wonderfully consistent in Rio, qualified for two of the four event finals and came sixth all-around. Listening to Radio-Canada’s announcers, though, you would think that the most interesting thing about her is that she is 4’6″.
I swear more than half of their commentary about Chinese women’s gymnastics was an extended exercise in variations of the terms small or tiny. The rest of it was mostly preconceived notions about what China was good or bad at with little regard to what was actually happening at the moment.
I particularly resent one commentator discoursing on the lack of artistic delivery, amplitude and good connections in Chinese floor while Yang delivered a brilliant performance that presented none of these problems. The same commentator, in a remarkable impression of a well-meaning but obnoxious uncle, exclaimed that Yang “looks 12 or 13, ahahahah.”
Radio-Canada is not a lone sinner. It’s amazing how much of the coverage of women’s artistic gymnastics is still a long-exhausted running commentary on how young and tiny gymnasts are.
Not only is it annoying and besides the point, it’s deeply rooted in racial and gender bias.
How often have you heard about the height of male gymnasts, this year (yes, male gymnasts too are notably short)? Which brings us to Olympic coverage’s other most enraging aspect:
Well, let’s take a look at a couple of things that actually happened in the last two weeks:
Canadian swimmer Penny Oleksiak breaks an Olympic record and wins four medals: Toronto Sun’s cover gives her the nickname “Pretty Penny.”
American Corey Cogdell wins a bronze medal in trapshooting (her second one in three Olympics): Chicago Tribune refers to her as “wife of a Bears’ lineman” in a tweet, omitting her name.
Majlinda Kelmendi wins the first Olympic medal for Kosovo, in 52Kg Judo: A BBC commentator calls the final a catfight.
Women’s rugby sevens make their debut at the Olympics: France TV’s commentary includes a consultant calling the French players “little darlings” and saying they are cuter and more feminine than the Americans.
I recommend you devote four minutes of your time to have a look at this spot from Vox’s Wide World of Sexism (I promise you it’s worth it).
Why are Olympic commentators so bad at commenting on women’s sports? Probably because they never do it.
A Canadian study published this year highlighted how little attention women’s sports usually get. In 2014, National newspapers only devoted 5,1% of their sports coverage to women’s sports. National sports channels had similar performances.
This is despite the fact that Canadian female athletes have excelled more than ever on the international scene in the past couple of years. As of this morning, women have won 14 of Canada’s 18 medals in Rio. Nonetheless, according to the same study, 99,5% of sponsorship sums are still awarded to male athletes.
Female athletes who actually make it to the news don’t have it that much easier. Another recent study by Cambridge University Press analyzed 20 years and seven billion words of media coverage of male and female athletes. They found striking differences in the vocabulary used to describe them.
Male athletes were found to be often described with words like strong, fastest or great. Words often associated with their female counterparts included married, unmarried and pregnant.
Women in sports were likely to be referred to as ladies or girls, whereas the terms boys and gentlemen were rarely used.
The researchers also observed a particularity in the usage of the word women. We talk about Women’s football, women’s golf, women’s cycling. But we never see men’s football or men’s golf, do we? Usain Bolt won the 100 meter dash. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce won the women’s 100 meter dash.
BBC’s John Inverdale gave a prime example of the mentality this is linked to when he asked Andy Murray how it felt to be the first person ever to win two Olympic golds in tennis. Because Serena and Venus Williams won about four each… in Women’s tennis.
Women are a huge part of sports. They should be a huge part of the coverage of sports too.
*Featured image from the Nirvana News Youtube Channel
Yesterday, the infamous Rob Ford Crack Video hit the web. From the click-baitiest tabloid sites to established media, they all had it.
There he was, the late mayor of Toronto Rob Ford, in all his former glory, drunk and puffing on a crack pipe while wearing a track suit. Or at least that’s what I think the video showed. I don’t know, I didn’t watch it, and I don’t plan to.
It’s not news, or at least it’s not news right now. When Ford was still alive, still Mayor of Toronto and still denying what were then only allegations that he smoked crack while in office, it was in the public interest to publish such a video. Even after he admitted to smoking crack, when he was alive and running for re-election, you could make the argument that it was valid news content.
Now, there is no need to prove something which was already admitted to and the argument of reminding voters what someone who is asking for their votes did the last time he was in office is no longer valid as Rob Ford won’t be running for anything ever again. If you think it’s important to remind people that Ford was a mess as a mayor so they don’t vote for similar politicians, there are plenty of other videos of things he did in public that serve the same purpose.
I can’t really think of why someone would want to watch the video now. Maybe it’s a desire to laugh at the failings and addictions of someone they didn’t like or hated. Why some outlet would want to publish it is a little easier to figure out: clicks, ratings and money. While you can argue that reporting on the video being available is newsworthy, and you’d probably be right, but then just report that, you don’t need to actually host or embed it yourself to do that.
I think media outlets shouldn’t publish the video out of respect. No, not out of respect for Ford, his family, or even the abstract concept of respect for the dead. I’m a firm believer that if someone didn’t earn your respect in life, then they don’t automatically inherit it upon death.
While I did think his ‘never give up’ attitude was commendable, I despised everything Ford stood for politically and truly hope no one as blatantly anti-progress as him ever comes to power again (yeah, I know that’s a pipe dream). I’ve also heard that he was quite abusive to those around him and, in general, wasn’t that great a guy.
That still doesn’t mean people should be promoting a voyeuristic video of a dead man feeding his addiction. It won’t change how anyone views him or his politics at all.
Media outlets shouldn’t publish the video out of respect for themselves and their audience.
Hey, did you hear that Melania Trump plagiarized her RNC speech from Michelle Obama? You’re not the only one.
Actually, whoever wrote her Melania Trump’s speech stole from whoever wrote Michelle Obama’s speech and got caught. The Trump campaign, though, is saying that no one will be fired. Of course they won’t. It was, after all, a job well done.
Even getting caught. Especially getting caught.
Think about it. They didn’t choose a speech from decades ago that most people on the internet today probably never heard, they picked one from 2008. They knew someone would find it and share their findings.
The Trump team wanted to get caught. The question is why. I can think of two reasons:
The Perfect Audition
If you see politics through the lens of showbiz and reality TV as the Trump Campaign clearly does, this speech was Melania’s audition for the role of First Lady. And now, thanks to the plagiarism, everyone gets to see her audition reel juxtaposed with that of the woman who currently has the role.
They’re using the same script, as many performers do in an audition. Only the delivery can be judged. If you think that Donald Trump thinks substance is important, especially when it comes to women, then you really haven’t been paying attention to the Trump Campaign.
Sure, there will be Trump plagiarism jokes, but they will fade. Everyone knows about speechwriters, so there won’t be any lasting repercussions for Melania’s credibility. The result of the media’s inadvertent and subliminal elevation of Melania Trump to Michelle Obama’s level, on the other hand, could be long lasting.
Burying the Ugliness of the Night
Until Donald introduced Melania, night one of the Republican National Convention was a prime time play to the extreme right of the GOP base. The speakers hit all the right bigot sweetspots.
There was fear of the Mexican other, fear of the Muslim other and fear that Hillary Clinton somehow colluded with the others in Benghazi. There was praise of the militarized state and, of course, Blue Lives Matter.
It was a display of middle American white pride and fear that was as sure to rally the Republican troops as it was to infuriate the left and alienate more than a handful of centrists. But that’s not what we’re talking about now, is it?
While the far right most likely now feels that Donald Trump’s Republican Party really speaks to them, the rest of us have been focused on video of a would-be first lady played opposite a video of an actual one. Donald didn’t even screw it up by saying something inflammatory himself.
After using We Are the Champions as intro music (something, fortunately, we are calling him out for), Trump said: “Oh, we’re gonna win. We’re gonna win so big!”
He sounded like someone unable to contain the fact that he thought his plan was working. Now, it’s clear what his plan for the night was.
The most frightening takeaway from RNC Night One wasn’t that most of the GOP base are bigots, we already knew that. It’s the horrific realization that Donald Trump may actually be smart enough to pull this off.
“Growing up, people were always telling me that I was the ‘whitest Black kid’ they knew because I loved ‘white rock music’ like Radiohead and Dead Kennedys,” says Fredua of Bad Rabbits. He laughs, and quickly responds to them: “But you can’t ‘act a colour,’ and Rock & Roll culture isn’t reserved for X race. But I will say this until my dying day: Rock & Roll was created by a Black Queer woman named Rosetta Tharpe.”
Fredua is the frontman of Bad Rabbits, and I had the honour to speak with him about race, rock, and his thoughts on being a Black American in 2016.
Fredua tells me that conversations of race and belonging within his scene have always been a part of his consciousness, explaining the common lamentation among young men of colour that he was never “Black enough” for the Black kids, and “too Black” for the white kids.
“I considered myself a hybrid from the jump because nobody on either side liked me… The only kids who accepted me in school were the punk rock kids.” For Fredua, this embrace of the punk scene of the late 80s led to an early and profound appreciation for bands like Bad Brains, Dead Kennedys, and Public Enemy.
The moment of clarity that gave Fredua a real understanding of how he could fit into the Rock scene came when he saw Fishbone and Living Colour music videos, with Black musicians like Kendall Jones and Vernon Reid “not rapping, not singing, just jamming with guitars. When people said I was the ‘whitest Black guy’… There was nothing ‘white’ about what I was doing. Period. I was doing what I saw, and that was a Black person playing this music.”
When I asked Fredua about conversations of race in his current role as the frontman of a multi-ethnic band in a scene dominated by white dudes, he emphatically affirmed that there has never been racial tension at a Bad Rabbits show, as people are too busy having a good time. It’s when he stops making music for people to dance to, and starts talking about things that make him angry and upset – like the ability for police to routinely kill Black people with impunity – that tempers begin to flare.
Fredua explains, “There are probably a bunch of my fans that are inherently racist, and I know this because I’ve argued with them. They’re the types that grew up thinking Black people are supposed to only be entertainers or basketball players. When they see me speaking my mind it’s suddenly ‘Fredua, you’re an entertainer, you shouldn’t be talking like that!’ People are angry at the fact that I have the nerve to talk about things going on instead of making a song for them to dance to.”
In response to the recent spate of highly-publicized killings of Black people by police, Fredua posted a video to his personal Facebook page in support of the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
Fredua tells me that the response from most friends and fans was positive, but one fan came out of the woodwork to leave the following comment: “I follow you because I think your old band was awesome, but let’s be honest, this militant black guy thing isn’t working out for anyone.”
Fredua explains it’s no skin off his nose – people who see him not as a Black human being, but strictly an entertainer aren’t real fans anyway. The reluctance of white peers and fans to see him as anything but a stage presence has bothered Fredua since he first started singing: “I look back at school, and I mean, I did chorus for the girls. Don’t get me wrong,” he says with a laugh, “The girls loved my voice. But they didn’t love me. Because I didn’t look like them.”
I asked Fredua if these reactions to his showmanship bother him when he looks back on them, and he is quick to point out that he’s one of the lucky ones. “I lived out my dream. That dream was to make music and act like a damn fool for the rest of my natural life, and I don’t have to worry about aging because I found the fountain of youth through music. I have a beautiful house and a beautiful wife and a beautiful dog and I get to do something I love all the time.”
Fredua mentioned that Bad Rabbits has a new album one year in the making that will have more anger in it than previous records. He describes some of the album’s lyrical content as “two year’s worth of anger,” much of it directed toward the issues that we spoke about.
The new album, American Nightmare, is planned to drop in September, but will likely end up coming sooner. When I naively asked if the early release was due to the urgency of the message, Fredua’s voice dropped to that sacred place where the spirit meets the bone:
“This is the thing that kills me about this issue of police brutality,” Fredua says calmly, but with palpable fury. Cops are always gonna kill people. As long as there’s a justice system that lets these people kill someone and go about their day, there is never gonna be any type of change. This country is hell bent on keeping things the way it is – to keep the haves and the have-nots, the white and the Black, the Us and the Them, separate.”
The footage of the recent shootings and lack of legal action against the officers involved has made it abundantly clear to the public that it is possible to kill a Black person with little to no consequence. Black activists like Fredua, understandably furious that their lives are proven to be worth less than white victims of similar violence, are routinely portrayed by mainstream media as “armed-and-dangerous Black Power rebels,” seconds away from violence.
In an interview with The New Yorker, Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza explained that this image is “a battle that we are consistently having to fight. Standing up for the rights of black people as human beings and standing against police violence and police brutality makes you get characterized as being anti-police or it has you being characterized as cop killers, neither of which we are.”
Fredua expressed a similar frustration, explaining that “it’s easier for news channels like CNN, MSNBC, and FOX to show footage of angry Black people on TV than it is for them to show smart Black people with an idea. Nobody is listening to the solutions we’re trying to offer. And the picture they put up of the shooter in Dallas? A pissed-off black man with a dashiki and a fist up? That puts a target on my fucking back!”
Despite all of the difficult topics that came up in our conversation, Fredua’s determination to keep performing and thriving as a Black man in America in 2016 shines through. His concluding statement was one of hope:
“I was raised by two West African immigrants that came to this country on an American dream…I’m gonna make sure that I achieve it through them with my voice. That dream was to have a prosperous, peaceful, God-fearing life. I will die for that. I’m not afraid for a shooter coming to my show, I’ll jump in front of any bullet to protect a fan. I’m gonna do what I do until I die. I will literally die for this.”