Without an informed civil society there can be no robust conversations in a renewed democracy. 

Citations from Hackett and Zhao’s useful publication (1998) entitled Sustaining Democracy? Journalism and the Politics of Objectivity 1

The regime of objectivity refers to an “ensemble of ideals, assumptions, practices and institutions” that is tied to concepts of democracy, public responsibility, public life and public good. There is an assumption that interest groups, social movements, politicians and the media operate under a regime of objectivity (Hackett and Zhao 1998:1).

Mass media has become the leading institution of that realm of social life called the public sphere, “where the exchange of information and views on questions of common concern can take place so that public opinion can be formed (Hackett and Zhao 1998:1).”

Liberal-democratic capitalist mode of governance is the dominant mode of governance in Canada.  Quebec has a stronger history of advocacy and participant journalism (Hackett and Zhao 1998:12).

“These recent shifts in media ownership and policy might be seen as the equivalent of a non-violent coup d’etat, a metaphor evoking the inherent link between media power and state power — between the colonization of the popular imagination and the allocation of social resources through public policy and market relations. Communications scholar Herbert Schiller suggests that what is at stake is “packaged consciousness”: the intensified appropriation of the national symbolic environment by a “few corporate juggernauts in the consciousness business.”” (Hackett and Zhao 1998:5)

“The late French social theorists Michel Foucault, during the 1970s, wrote of “discursive regimes” — of how power is imbricated with knowledge, not by directly imposing censorship or coercion from outside, but indirectly and internally, through the criteria and practices that “govern” the production of statements (Hackett and Zhao 1998:6)”

“Scott Lash’s concept of “regimes of significance” is composed of a cultural economy and a specific mode of signification. A cultural economy is comprised “of relations and institutions by which cultural objects are produced and consumed.” Mode of signification is a “typical way by which cultural objects become meaningful to those use them.” “Lash and other theorists make distinctions between discursive and figural, modernist and postmodernist, and cognitive and aesthetic ways of seeing and knowing (Hackett and Zhao 1998:6).”

Foucault collapses all truth claims into power, self-interest and the internal validity rules of particular discourses (Hackett and Zhao 1998:7)

Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms enshrined “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication,” subject to “such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” Legal scholar Harry Glasbeek “predicted that the Charter’s freedom of expression clause could be used “to defend individuals generally and the media in particular from state controls, but not individuals or their defender, the state, from private interests,” thus helping the private press “to retain its sovereignty as a purveyor of information and opinion.47” In effect free speech is interpreted as a property right of corporate entities, not as a human right of individual citizens (Hackett and Zhao 1998:80)”Subsequent court rulings seem to bear out this prediction. Because freedom of the press includes the freedom to be biased, the print media (by contrast with broadcasting) are not legally required to be objective or balanced. Nevertheless, these concepts are often viewed as professionalistic criteria to be respected and relied upon in court decisions protecting media owners’ property rights. Canadian or U.S. citizens have sometimes sought court-ordered access for their opinions or rebuttals in the pages of newspapers or magazines. The courts have consistently refused such a right of reply or access, citing the integrity and responsibility of journalists in producing “balanced” and “objective” reports. ”

Market liberalism describes the right-wing movement that upholds a faith in the market mechanism. “It advocates minimum government, deregulation, privatization of public services, and more economic freedoms for the private sector. It espouses an extreme version of individualism. It displays hostility towards unions, collective bargaining, and the progressive social movements that struggle for economic and social rights for various disadvantaged groups. Market liberalism is also called neoliberal, neoconservative, and the new right. Preston Manning, Ralph Klein, Mike Harris and Newt Gingrich are champions of market liberalism. It is basically a revolt of the rich — the upper middle class — in a crusade against the poor. It is presented as a commonsense revolution. The shift towards market liberalism began in 1980 (Hackett and Zhao 1998:151).

Canadian press has media blind spots. This includes “…tax breaks for the wealthy, Canada’s cosy trade-and-aid relations with regimes, such as Indonesia, that violate human rights and Canada’s substantial participation in the international arm’s trade, contrary to its self-image as a peacekeeper (Hackett and Zhao 1998:182).”

“In 1995, according to Project Censored, the U.S. press underplayed or ignored these stories, among others: the massive deregulation of telecommunications; $167 billion in annual subsidies to business, whose elimination could enable the U.S. government to balance its budget without slashing social programs; lax enforcement of U.S. child labour laws, resulting in thousands of injuries and even death of children in the workplace; $100 billion or more lost annually in medical fraud; ABC’s cancellation of a hard-hitting documentary on the tobacco industry at the same time as a tobacco company filed a $10 billion libel suit against Capital Cities/ABC; the U.S. chemical industry’s fight to prevent the banning of methyl bromide, a toxic zone-killing pesticide; the death through error or negligence of up to 180,000 patients in US hospitals each year (Hackett and Zhao 1998:182).”

Timeline

1700s Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Paine were pioneers of social thought of the Enlightenment. Reason can control nature. All men have natural rights. Rousseau described nature as God’s creation. Rousseau described nature as rational, benign and inherently harmonious.

1700s Thomas Jefferson was one of the early promoters of democracy.

1835 A jury acquitted editor/politician Joseph Howe accused of criticizing the authorities. The law of seditious libel was effectively struck down (Hackett and Zhao 1998:15).

1800s The press was both partisan and sectarian. It did not present the news with honesty or accuracy (Hackett and Zhao 1998:15).

1815 – 1836 The English working class used newspapers as a vital way of contributing to an unfolding class consciousness (Hackett and Zhao 1998:27).

1800s Independent penny press papers were published heralding the age of independent, non-partisan and socially responsible journalism. (Hackett 1998:16) 

British Stamp Duty is a government tax on newspaper sales.

1800s The labour press began to publish. (Hackett and Zhao 1998:16) The labour press described a social landscape in which the rights to justice, equality and property of artisans, mechanics, trades people were impeded (Hackett and Zhao 1998:21).

1800s Utilitarianism advocated the goal of the greatest good of the greatest number instead of democracy based on natural rights and reason. Utilitarianism was better accepted by the ruling order, the middle class. They were concerned that democracy would lead to mob rule (Hackett and Zhao 1998:19) Utilitarianism and democracy are held in a long-standing tension in the United States.

1820s – 1830s Craft unions developed in some Canadian cities (Hackett and Zhao 1998:21).

1830s United States entrepreneurs launched daily newspapers in the 1830s. The popular commercial daily papers took full bloom in the 1870s (Hackett and Zhao 1998:24).

1850 – 1867 “Both the Leader and the Globe in their views of democracy expressed the central position of mid-Victorian liberalism. Both declared for a wide, popular electorate but still wanted a qualified franchise to recognize property and intelligence, and to prevent the rule of ignorance and mere numbers…. There was in this mid-century Canadian press little of the spirit of American Jeffersonian or Jacksonian democracy with their faith in the natural worth of the common man.”

1850s – 1900 The trade union movement developed in Canada.

late 1800s The popular commercial daily papers emerged as the first version of journalistic objectivity (Hackett and Zhao 1998:18).

late 1800s Herbert Spencer’s social Darwinism foreshadowed the competitive, exploitative laissez-faire market economy. (Hackett and Zhao 1998:18).

1872 The Ontario Workman was founded. The labour newspaper expressed Enlightenment sentiments: “Co-operation is a principal that has shone upon the world through the progress of intelligence, and that it will gradually grow with the intelligence of the masses we have no doubt. It, or some like system, will gradually supersede the serf system of the past(Hackett and Zhao 1998:21).”

1880s The US founded Knights of Labor was spreading across Canada (Hackett and Zhao 1998:28).

1891 T. P. Thompson was Canada’s most prominent labour journalist. He was forced to close his newspaper when his readers turned to the commercial dailies. “It is much to be regretted that the wage earners are so stupidly blind to their own interests that they cannot see the advantage of having a live outspoken journal to plead their cause (Hackett and Zhao 1998:28).”

1917 The Russian Revolution

1920 Walter Lippman and Charles Merza accused The New York Times of reporting the Russian Revolution by “seeing not what was, but what men wished to see (Hackett and Zhao 1998:40).”

1930s Great Depression

1935 Leni Riefenstahl’s documentary Triumph of the Will celebrated the Nazi Regime. It is the classic propaganda film.

1935 The American Newspaper Guild’s code of ethics upheld the value of objectivity: “The newspapermen’s first duty is to give the public accurate and unbiased news reports (Hackett and Zhao 1998:40).” 

1937 Quebec’s “authoritarian premier, Maurice Duplessis introduced the Padlock Act to shut down what it considered to be “Bolshevik or communistic” publications. The Supreme Court overturned the Padlock Act in 1957 (Hackett and Zhao 1998:79).”

1950s Alberta’s Conservative Premier Ralph Klein described the 1950s as a Golden Age when Canadians “looked to the newspapers for their information, and … to governments for answers.” Klein and many others were convinced that in the 1950s “The news simply reported on “reality,” and political journalism treated politicians and authority figures with enough respect that they could communicate with their publics without worrying about the distorting lenses of the media (Hackett and Zhao 1998:136).” This cognitive certitude was pervasive. It existed in academia as well.

1960s Conservative think tanks, business, politicians and media scholars describe the 1960s news media as left-liberal and anti-authority. A new breed of journalists was branded as adversarial, “gotcha”, disruptive and cynical (Hackett and Zhao 1998:136).

1960 A French language CBC journalist complained that the CBC reporting was “objective to the point of being virginal (Hackett and Zhao 1998:39).”

1960s Third world national liberation struggle.

1970 Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act during the October Crisis. 450 activists, journalists and writers were arrested under suspicion of being sympathetic to the separatist movement (Hackett and Zhao 1998:79).

1970s “The Royal Canadian Mounted Police placed left-wing groups and periodicals under surveillance (Hackett and Zhao 1998:79).”

1970 “The Davey Commission sparks debate on media ownership vs. freedom of the press (CBC Radio 1970).”

1971 Ben Bagdikian predicted that “more independent channels of communication to each information corporation and into each home will end the homogenizing of news that now occurs because it must be prepared for such a wide spectrum of consumers” (Bagdikian 1971, 20).

1973 A bloody military coup, with U.S. connivance, overthrew Chile’s elected Marxist president Salvador Allende…. The new military regime unleashed a reign of terror that saw thousands of Chileans arrested, tortured, murdered, and/or exiled. Political parties were banned, the press was censored, and freedoms of speech and assembly were restricted. The junta pursued decidedly free-enterprise economic policies, but it took sixteen years for some semblance of liberal democracy to be restored (Hackett and Zhao 1998:166).”

1974 The Fraser Institute was established. The Fraser Institute is a pro-business think tank and lobby group.

1978 The Business Council on National Issues was established. The Business Council on National Issues is a pro-business think tank and lobby group.

1980 Canada’s competition law watchdog sparked a federal enquiry into a corporate takeover of two newspapers companies (Hackett and Zhao 1998:5).

1980 – 1981 The Tom Kent Royal Commission on Newspapers reported that “The great majority [of Canadians] believe that newspapers and the mass media in general, have responsibilities to the public different from those of other businesses.” The mass media is expected to function in public interest, not just economic self-interest. (Hackett 1998:1) “It is those newspapers with a large advertising market to protect and with a readership all social classes of society that have taken the initiative of setting up existing press councils…. The various press councils established in Canada until now are seeking to perpetuate the social consensus which has ensured the success of the so-called omnibus newspapers …. Whose formula is specifically designed towards advertising led consumer patterns and whose basic unit is the traditional family (Hackett and Zhao 1998:92).”

1982 Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms enshrined “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication,” subject to “such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” Legal scholar Harry Glasbeek “predicted that the Charter’s freedom of expression clause could be used “to defend individuals generally and the media in particular from state controls, but not individuals or their defender, the state, from private interests,” thus helping the private press “to retain its sovereignty as a purveyor of information and opinion.” In effect free speech is interpreted as a property right of corporate entities, not as a human right of individual citizens. (Hackett and Zhao 1998:80).

1983 REAL Women organization was created.

1984 Brian Mulroney elected Prime Minister of Canada.

1984 Robert Hackett wrote an article in 1984 on the limitations of using objectivity and bias as evaluative standards for journalism. He worked with Newswatch Canada (then called Project Censored Canada) that covers blind spots in the media. 

1988 Brian Mulroney elected Prime Minister of Canada.

1989 Yuezhi Zhao’s 1989 MA thesis was on the discourse and politics of objectivity in North American journalism. Zhao grew up in a peasant family in rural China.

1992 Barry Mullin’s column criticized his own paper, the Winnipeg Free Press, for its coverage of the Los Angeles riots. The continent’s major news story was carried on the back pages while front page carried soft stories. Mullin had been an ombudsman for the Winnipeg Free Press. But the new Thomson appointed publisher disagreed with Mullin’s level of independence (Hackett and Zhao 1998:93).

1994 The response of the Mexican government to the Chiapas rebellion may have been more moderate because of the Zapatistas’ use of the Internet to communicate with their sympathizers world wide (Hackett and Zhao 1998:191)

1995 Sovereignty Referendum in Quebec

1995 “In 1995, according to Project Censored, the U.S. press underplayed or ignored these stories, among others: “In 1995, according to Project Censored, the U.S. press underplayed or ignored these stories, among others: the massive deregulation of telecommunications; $167 billion in annual subsidies to business, whose elimination could enable the U.S. government to balance its budget without slashing social programs; lax enforcement of U.S. child labour laws, resulting in thousands of injuries and even death of children in the workplace; $100 billion or more lost annually in medical fraud; ABC’s cancellation of a hard-hitting documentary on the tobacco industry at the same time as a tobacco company filed a $10 billion libel suit against Capital Cities/ABC; the U.S. chemical industry’s fight to prevent the banning of methyl bromide, a toxic zone-killing pesticide; the death through error or negligence of up to 180,000 patients in US hospitals each year (Hackett and Zhao 1998;182).”

1995 – 1996 There were unprecedented multibillion-dollar-mergers in North American media.

1996 The US Congress passed The Telecommunications Act that “raised the ceiling on the size of national TV networks and virtually removed restrictions on the ownership of different types of media in the same market (Hackett and Zhao 1998:4).”

1996 Hollinger took over Southam, Canada’s largest newspaper chain.

Late 1990s The Federal Government cut the CBC budget dramatically. CBC cut its workforce by a third.

2000 The Sarejevo Commitment At the beginning of the 21st Century men and women of the media register their commitment to integrity and public service. This document was launched at a World Media Assembly, SARAJEVO 2000, and signed by participants on 30 September 2000.

We, men and women of the media – professionals at all levels, from publishers and producers to cub reporters and students of journalism; from the print and digital media, television and radio, book publishing, cinema and theatre, advertising and public relations, music and the performing and creative arts – met here in the bruised, historic and beautiful city of Sarajevo, pay our homage and respect to the millions of humanity whom we inform, entertain and educate.

2001 In the wake of 9/11 there was a dramatic increase in the number of blogs.

2001 The producers of the series West Wing created a pivotal episode entitled Isaac and Ishmael where real, virtual and everyday embodied real were inextricably linked. The series exists in the liminal space occupied by docudrama, fictionalized journalism, news as fiction, psychodrama, realpolitical analysands, flesh and blood real and the imaginary real. The series reveals behind-the-scenes ethical sell-offs of the fictional (or nearly real) political epicentre of the planet. The Democratic President capable of blinking has a real world Ivy League CV . He is an economist trained in the London School of Economics.

2006 in An Inconvenient Truth, directed by Davis Guggenheim, Al Gore described how the mass media provides misinformation about consensus in the scientific community regarding climate change 2004 showed. He contrasts the findings of 928 Science magazine survey of all peer-reviewed scientific studies of climate change in which there were no articles questioning the fact that global warming caused by increased carbon dioxide in the earth’s environment is occurring at a rate and speed greater than any climate event in the past. Concurrently 53 percent of articles, etc in the mass media articles concluded that there is conflicting and/or inadequate evidence regarding global warming. Until Gore’s film was released consumers of the mass media who relied solely on them for information regarding climate change received deliberate misinformation preventing them from responding democratically to environmental risks.

Webliography and Bibliography

Bagdikian, Ben H. 1971. The Information Machines: Their Impact on Men and the Media. New York: Harper & Row.

Bagdikian, Ben H. 1997. The Media Monopoly. 5th ed. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Barlow, Maude; Winter, James. 1997. The Big Black Book: The Essential Views of Conrad and Barbara Amiel Black. Toronto: Stoddart.

Bird; Roger?; Winter, James. 1998. “The End of News: How the News Is Being Swamped by Information, Manipulation and Entertainment. And How This is a Threat to Open, Democratic Society.” Canadian Journal of Communication [Online], 23(4).  January 1. Available: http://www.cjc-online.ca/viewarticle.php?id=493.

CBC Radio. 1970. “How free is Canada’s press?” March 23, 1970.

CBC. 2007. “Media Ownership in Canada: a timeline.”

Chomsky, Noam. 1989. Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies. Toronto: CBC Enterprises.

Franklin, Ursula. 1990. The Real World of Technology. Concord, ON: Anansi.

Grant, George. 1969. Technology and Empire. Concord, ON: Anansi.

Hackett, Robert. 1991. News and Dissent: The Press and the Politics of Peace in Canada. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Hackett, Robert; Gilsdorf, Bill; Savage; Philip. 1992. “News Balance Rhetoric: The Fraser Institute’s Political Appropriation of Content Analysis.” Canadian Journal of Communication. 17:1: 15-36.

Hackett, Robert A.; Zhao, Yuezhi. 1998. Sustaining Democracy? Journalism and the Politics of Objectivity. Toronto: Garamond Press Inc.

Hackett, Robert A.; Gruneau, Richard. 2000. The Missing News: Filters and Blind Spots in Canada. Ottawa: Centre for Policy Alternatives/Garamond Press Inc.

Hallin, Daniel. 1989. The “Uncensored War”: The Media and Vietnam. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Herman, Edward, and Noam Chomsky. 1988. Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. New York: Pantheon.

Herman, Edward, and Robert McChesney. 1997. The Global Media: The New Missionaries of Global Capitalism. London, UK: Cassell.

Kellner, Douglas. 1992. The Persian Gulf TV War. San Francisco, CA: Westview Press.

Ligaya, Armina. 2007. “Media monopoly: Media consolidation: Can Aussie model stop the moguls? CBC News in Depth. September 19.

McQuaig, Linda. 1995. Shooting the Hippo: Death by Deficit and Other Canadian Myths. Toronto: Viking.

Menzies, Heather. 1996. Whose Brave New World? The Information Highway and the New Economy. Toronto: Between The Lines.

Postman, Neil. 1985. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Showbusiness. New York: Penguin.

Silva, Edward. 1995. More Perishable than Lettuce or Tomatoes: Labour Law Reform and Toronto’s Newspapers. Halifax, NS: Fernwood.

Tichenor, Phil. 1970s.

Winter, James. 1996. Democracy’s Oxygen: How Corporations Control the News. Montreal: Black Rose Books.


Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 2002-. “Media Objectivity: a Timeline of Social Events1.” >> Speechless.

Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 2007. “Media Objectivity: a Timeline of Social Events 1.” >>”Google Docs. November 29. http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=ddp3qxmz_362fxcz5h

[1.] This is a personal teaching learning and research tool using my EndNote 8 and Zotero bibliographic databases compiled over a 14-year period, current events articles from various on-line and print sources. It is available for use under the Creative Commons license which is a license requiring any one who uses copyrighted work to attribute the work to its author, to not use the work commercially, to share any derivative work with the same license as this. For the sake of expediency I am uploading a timeline I developed in 2002. The vast majority of the entries come from a provocative, extremely concise, well-written publication by Hackett and Zhao (1998). For anyone teaching urban studies, critical ethnography, sociology, anthropology, economics, human rights, communications, public policy, history, political science not to mention journalism, this book is a must. It is entirely readable and its logic is impeccable. This has been uploaded in December 2006 to my WordPress blog and it will be updated in slow world time.

I began this particular timeline while teaching First Nations and Inuit adult students in Off-Campus programs. One of the first questions asked of me during an information session on course content was put forward by the grandson of Jessie Oonark. The life and times of Jessie Oonark (1906-1983) Inuit artist, Order of Canada, Royal Canadian Academy member has been a part of my everyday life since the early 1990s I first began to investigate how understanding of her deceptively simple but content-rich work could be enhanced. By the time I met her daughter, a colleague teaching at Nunavut Arctic College in Iqaluit, Nunavut, had dinner at the Frobisher Inn in Iqaluit, NU with her son, cultural activist, father, political worker, William Noah in Iqaluit and her nephew, I was already confused, ashamed and angered by the stories of social injustice that I had collected. Her progeniture asked me, “Will we be examining the way the mass media portrays Inuit?”

One Response to “A Timeline of Media Objectivity”

  1. Jon Burack Says:

    The fraudulence of “Inconvenient Truth” is breathtaking. The falling ice is due to the movement of glaciers, perfectly normal, not warming. The link to storms utterly bogus. The estimates of sea level rise orders of magnitude above what even normal global warming alarmists expect. And THIS is your last entry, for 2006? Laughable. How about an update for 2008: The media’s total lack of attention to the fact that temperatures have plunged this year, wiping out much of the warming of the past three decades, at the end of a ten-year run now in which temperatures have not yet topped 1998 — yet Al Gore dares to tell us doom awaits and like a vulture battens on the cyclone in Burma as due to global warming.


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