What is ‘news’ anyways? (Hint: It’s not Rob Ford)

Rob_Ford_September_2012
Photo: http://www.shot7.com

News media owned by individuals or corporations are strange entities.  On one hand, there is the obvious incentive to filter news according to the business interests of the owner.  On the other hand, if people are buying infotainment, news media, being businesses, will sell infotainment.

Then there is the very notion of “news;” literally the plural of “new.”  Thousands of people starve to death every day while wasted food is the third largest global source of greenhouse gases.  But grinding human misery and ecocide are not news.  They are commonplace.  They are “olds.”  When a video of Rob Ford allegedly smoking crack cocaine surfaced, the news cycle could not find enough hours in the day to cover it.  Now that was news.

Even at that, new events have to penetrate the consciousness of editors, producers, and reporters before they become part of our mainstream discourse.  Reporters chased Rob Ford relentlessly because of that video.  When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report concluding we can burn at most 20% of our proven fossil fuel reserves, no reporters at all chased Stephen Harper because of his tar sands policies.

Moreover, the concept of a carbon budget is seemingly never raised by reporters under any circumstances.  I have never known a policy maker to be asked to contextualize his or her policy positions within the constraints of this budget.  Policy is routinely contextualized within politics, the economy, and foreign relations, but never the environment.  Incredibly, the environment remains an issue of “environmentalists.”

We need the CBC to be better than this.  They are our publicly funded, national broadcaster.  They should not have to conform to an infotainment business model.  They should have a duty to cover issues that transcend the magpie-like fascination with shiny, new things.  This is especially so for a show like “Power and Politics” that has unparalleled access to policy makers and significant actors.

press_conferenceYesterday, “Power and Politics” aired a segment on new recommendations from the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) to lower the reporting threshold for spills of hazardous materials transported by rail.  One of the TSB’s recommendations was that, barring certain criteria, spills of less than 200 litres no longer need to be reported.

Finding fault with this lower reporting threshold, a member of the “Power Panel,” pundits who appear regularly on the show, commented there is a cumulative impact from “small” spills of hazardous materials.  But all hazardous materials are ultimately “spilled” into the ecosphere after we use them.  When do we discuss the cumulative impacts of that?  When do we even raise the question?  We acknowledge that these materials are poisonous when they spill from a tanker car.  But these materials are just as poisonous when we pour them down our drains, burn them, transform them into leachate seeping from our landfills, and otherwise use them for their intended purpose as directed by their manufacturers.

Inexorably, we are filling the ecosphere with persistent pollution in the form of carcinogens, neurotoxins, heavy metals, and other substances inimical to living organisms.  If this steady accumulation of poisons is never news, then either we will never talk about it at all or it might finally penetrate our public discourse only as news of an irremediable catastrophe.  The same is true for the daily march of global warming, species extinction, and ocean acidification.

Environmentally, we need to focus on the olds instead of waiting for the news.  When considering the olds, we need to acknowledge the inescapable truth that all human activity takes place within a finite ecosphere.

Even as I write, tonight’s episode of “Power and Politics” closed by airing a clip of Rob and Doug Ford complaining that Kevin Spacey allegedly would not pose for a picture with them when they were all guests on the Jimmy Kimmel show.  Truly, CBC, the Rob Ford saga is getting old.

(For those who have been paying attention to the revelations that Peter Mansbridge and Rex Murphy of the CBC have been accepting exorbitant speaking fees from the carbon lobby, the CBC ombudsman has just released her opinion on the matter.  Andrew Mitrovica has been following this story from the beginning.  Here is his most recent article on iPolitics: http://www.ipolitics.ca/2014/03/14/you-cant-have-the-cash-and-keep-the-credibility/)

– Kevin Farmer (AKA Dr. Doom)
Green Majority Radio Co-host

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