In the good old days of serious journalism, would-be reporters used to be taught at school that they should not delve into private lives of individuals, and especially stay away from anybody’s bedroom, and this basic tenet used to be respected by editors, too.
Now, I don’t know what is taught at journalism schools, but it is very clear that the deeper a reporter can intrude into bedrooms, the more successful s/he is regarded by managers of their media outlet.
Last Wednesday, the full first 25 minutes of CBC evening newscast focused on two items: The first appearance of Jian Ghomeshi in court and statements by his lawyer; and then the statements of the unidentified NDP MP who had sex with Liberal MP Massimo Pacetti “without saying no but also without saying yes.”
Then the matter was brought to further ridicule when Tory MP Peter Goldring has announced that he had been wearing a camera against any possible accusations of sexual harassment and advised other colleagues to do the same, but then retracted his statement concerning the advice part.
At the provincial level, politicians must have realized that another matter, which should ideally remain within the bounds of personal privacy, is generously opportune to produce political capital: Liberals have revived their Bill 202 purportedly to defend the rights of gays against discrimination; not to be outdone by a small opposition party, the newly installed Premier Jim Prentice declared Liberals’ legislative initiative “divisive” and quickly had a PC draft bill on the same matter introduced at the Legislature. In his turn, Len Skowronski, the leader of the Alberta Social Credit Party accused Jim Prentice’s draft of “encouraging homosexuality”.
It is obvious that as a mostly urbanized society, there is quite a bit of dirty linen in the cabinet of our private lives; disturbing issues, seriously troubled relationships, unhealthy tendencies and practices. Clearly, being problems affecting individuals, these matters should be properly resolved and resolutions to some of those issues do necessitate public discussion.
But it is one thing to discuss a social ill in a proper format and try to generate workable solutions to address the problem, and quite another to adopt a paparazzi approach by hiding issues behind the name and fame of the individuals involved in order to prop up ratings and/or increase readership.
Just last week, a report on the findings of a nationwide survey showed that domestic violence was widespread in Canada. The survey, conducted with the cooperation of a labour organization and Faculty of Education of Western University, had a sample of more than 8,200 individuals and it concluded that more than one third of all the survey subjects suffered from domestic violence at varying degrees. It received no publicity.
Similarly, while our national media have been busy running after Jian Gomeshi and women who disclosed having been maltreated by the radio show host, a study about the serious proportions that homelessness in Canada has reached was just touched upon in passing, without any serious discussion about the causes and implications of the phenomenon.
Celebrity focused news is betraying the spirit and principles of journalism and stealing time and focus from much more important issues like widening income gap, growing poverty, social injustice and environmental degradation, among others.
It was a few years back when the BBC, the broadcaster renown around the world for its impeccable journalistic standards, reported singer Beyoncé’s pregnancy as “breaking news” on its website that I thought it was a big nail in the coffin of the journalism that once was.
It now seems there is no more space left in the coffin to clobber more nails, but nobody is burying the dead.