28 May 2012

Media and Life

There is nothing quite so revealing of the superficiality of much of our media than watching a report about something you either witnessed or know about through some other means.

Before I get to the demonstrations in Montréal, let me start with that gut reaction I get every time the mainstream media reports on developments in HIV treatment. I swear it's like they are reading from the press release of the pharmaceutical company: everything is a new miracle, well-tolerated and might just be the breakthrough we have all been waiting for. Even when it's something that has been around and even on the market for several years. Bad reporting.

Now, we have been having nightly demonstrations in Montréal for over a month regarding the government's plan to raise tuition fees and against the restrictive law the government brought in in a failed attempt to limit protests (all they did was popularize and expand them). The media inside and outside Québec are painting a story of a city in chaos, dangerous for the unaware. Let me tell you this is anything but that.

Most of the demonstrations have been many-hours-long processions through a number of neighbourhoods, starting and ending at a public square downtown. There has been some breaking of windows, yes, and that can never be condoned or thought acceptable (project yourself on the receiving end of it), but that has been rare, and certainly not every time. There's little media coverage of the hours and hours of thousands of people walking around the city peacefully, only some looped footage of that time someone broke a window. I would laugh out loud at the reports of ongoing "violent" demonstrations in my city if I didn't find myself so enraged by the distortion.

Concrete example? On Sunday, 20 May, I saw a report on the local news that included film of a police truck on fire. Now, I have become a Twitterphile and follow the progress of the demonstrations nightly, including the tweet from Saturday night where people asked the police what had happened to the truck and the police, who have been very actively communicating on social media, assured their audience that the truck had had an electrical problem, that no one had set it alight. The local news drew their own conclusion and showed the footage twice, with the newsreader telling us that protesters had set it alight.

I went to the Facebook page of the news outlet. I posted screen caps of the English and French exchanges from Twitter where the police had tweeted about the electrical problem and denied the arson speculation. It took the news outlet FIVE DAYS to correct themselves. No apology or prominent retraction, just removing the clip from their web site. No independent confirmation of the facts is necessary, just look at the video and apply your own bias to it.

The special aspect of the coverage of these protests has been the live streaming reporting by community media. I value them for the images, but no so much for the commentary. The images will show you the hours of peaceful marching and, from time to time, some scary looking police action. But mostly long hours of walking with impressive numbers of people all over the city. They fill the space with commentary that is quite often over the top, but also with interviews with participants who are more or less able to explain why they are there (some very eloquent, some not).

I would challenge anyone who derides the participants for not being able to uniformly enunciate the bases of the protests to produce for me a random sample of voters who supported the governing party: we'll see how many are able to explain the party's platform from the last election. But I digress.

I live about four or five blocks from that public square where the demonstrations start and finish each night. Most of the sounds that reach my house are police sirens and police helicopters, not demonstrators. I do hear them more now that everyone seems to be carrying a pot and a spoon to clank together, but they really have to be within a block or two before you can hear that. And outside of those times that the police decide to corral or charge the demonstrators,

I have seen nothing scary in the giant crowds, just a lot of inventive slogans and people seemingly enjoying themselves as they march on the streets to demand the respect of their rights. You might want to take public transit, especially the metro which remains unaffected by crowds blocking streets temporarily. Don't avoid Montréal because of this. Rather, come and appreciate the spectacle of people saying "no" to their government. I find it inspiring.


Louis Rondeau said...

Amazing piece. Thanks for writing this!

Anonymous said...

Avoid Montreal. The disruptions when they come are sporadic but no less inconvenient. The students do not keep to routes given to police which means misinformation is given to emergency vehicles trying to get around the demonstrations - hope you don't have an emergency. If you happen to be at a B&B in a neighbourhood with pot clanging good luck getting the kids to sleep. There are plenty of places without these issues to visit - go there and enjoy your vacation. In the meantime we will come to terms with the students who yesterday said of the new negotiations that they have an open mind but that tuition freezes and Law 78 are non negotiable issues which leaves only the temperature of the milk and nap time to negotiate.

Ken Monteith said...

It's always delightful to see people hurling insults from behind the veil of anonymity.

I have seen the largest demonstrations part in such a manner as to let fire trucks and other emergency vehicles pass without even having to brake, which is more than I see daily from all of those individuals in their cars clogging the streets.

The mobile demonstrations pass by, generally in a matter of minutes and the noise from them fades. What remains is the spectacle of people standing up and making themselves heard in a society that bets on inertia and having people just roll over and take what's given to them until they face slick marketing machines every four or five years in an election spectacle. Our society and its prominent commentators decry the apathy of youth; here they are engaging, including a lot of others and looking beyond their own issues to recognize the issues raised by others. That is the mobilisation and engagement we all wanted (well, those of us without an interest in dividing and conquering).

Student negotiators reiterating their positions? What has the government been doing? Exactly the same thing, and without the prerequisite of denouncing those intances of police violence toward peaceful protesters.

I'm just waiting for the next time the wealthy and the corporation demand tax breaks and public subsidies (Plan Nord). Those are the real bébés gatés in our society.

And if you feel the need to respond with more insults, sign it or be deleted.