With the federal election campaign in full swing, it was only a matter of time before the issue of media bias bobbed up.
On Saturday last, the Globe and Mail published a column by its "public editor" (remember when they were called ombudsmen?) Sylvia Stead which was titled: "Who complains about campaign coverage – and why".
The newspaper, said Sylvia, has an editorial code that "requires that The Globe maintain a reputation for “honesty, accuracy, objectivity and balance."
Whiners aside, the Globe has lived up to its code, she said, and she, personally, is monitoring the balance of "overall coverage, where it plays within the paper" and even "the number of photos."
So there. Case closed.
Welllll ... readers of The Black Rod know that we like to check assertions out for ourselves, so we went through Saturday's Globe cover to cover to see how Sylvia defines "fair and balanced" news coverage.
The paper had four news stories, two columns, one editorial and, believe it or not, one book review, that could be seen as reporting or discussing the federal election.
* The top story would be "Harper lauds report of quarterly surplus".
The leading issue of the election has become who can manage the economy best, and here was the Prime Minister announcing that the country was registering a surplus of $5 billion in the first quarter of the year, not quite the basket case the Opposition parties were painting the economy.
The Globe and Mail dismissed the good economic news by snidely stressing that the Conservatives were "quick to issue (a) self-congratulatory statement" while Finance Canada cautioned against reading too much into the numbers.
* Next was "Kenney 'not made aware' of air strike allegations."
It was about how Defence Minister Jason Kenney "says" the military never told him Canadian fighter pilots had been accused of killing civilians in an air strike in Iraq.
The use of quotation marks is a trick in news circles, an editorial comment indicating "he's lying."
* A third story was "Rights group decried federal survey on doctor-assisted death."
A group that nobody has heard of called Dying With Dignity is upset at an online questionnaire the federal government is using to sample public opinion.
The story isn't about the questions in the questionnaire (which would be information), but about the group's opinion of it (negative.)
* The last news story was "Public servant put on leave over anti-Harper song." It's about an employee of Environment Canada who put a song on YouTube attacking the Prime Minister and calling for his defeat in the election. The story aligns with the media narrative that the federal government is muzzling scientists who disagree with government policy.
** The Globe on Saturday carried two columns related to the election.
One, by Adam Radwanski, discusses the Liberal Party's embrace of budget deficits. It's a lukewarm endorsement of the Party for taking a position that differentiates itself from the other political parties in the running.
The other, by Jeffrey Simpson, is a frothing attack on Conservative Party supporters who refuse to adopt the media's indignation at witnesses at the Duffy trial.
*** The Globe's editorial that day was also on the Liberal Party's deficit plans, and was another lukewarm pat on the back.
**** And finally, there was that glowing review by former Toronto mayor David Miller of a new book by Bob Rae, What’s Happened to Politics? wherein Miller declares that:
"(b)ased on what I heard in a week in Newfoundland, I’d be shocked if Stephen Harper’s Conservatives win even a single seat here."
So, how balanced was the Globe's election coverage? Four news stories, two columns, one editorial and one book review. All four news stories, one column and one book review were anti-Conservative, either blatantly (Simpson and Miller) or editorially through the use of subheads and italics to denote lying on the part of the government. One column and the editorial were mildly pro-Liberal.
That's what passes as balanced in the eyes of the public editor of the Globe and Mail.
Just to be fair, we also scanned Monday's Globe. We got as far as the Page One story "Economists cut Canada’s growth projection, casting cloud on election pledges".
Another story intended to support the Opposition line that the economy is tottering on the brink, it opens with:
"Economists are shaving their growth forecasts for 2015 ahead of a Statistics Canada report this week that is widely expected to confirm that Canada slipped into recession earlier this year."
It wasn't until we got to paragraph 8, on the jump page, that we read the real news:
"While there has been a considerable drop in the forecast for 2015, the consensus projection for economic growth in 2016 is still roughly in line with the assumptions in the budget."
In other words, the government anticipated a downturn in the world economy, and made allowances for it in this spring's budget. So the private economists' forecasts are only bringing their views in line with the federal government.
Oh, and it wasn't until paragraph 17 that we read:
"For a government that brings in more than $270-billion a year in revenue, even the latest forecasts show a federal budget that is very close to balance at the moment."
Isn't the entire Opposition position that Canada is in recession and only the NDP or Liberals can pull it out? It is, if you don't bother reading 17 paragraphs deep in a dull economics story.
Bias? What bias?