The Myth of Media Objectivity


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Kevin Potvin’s piece yesterday in The Vancouver Courier [see below] is a welcome summary of the annoyance and offensiveness of The Province newspaper in particular and corporate media in general as they perpetuate the myth of their objectivity.

It is offensive to our democracy that is supposed to be enhanced by a “free” press for such a paper to actively promote the stadium development, collect mountains of ad revenue from its proponents, hold an online poll to guage public opinion, then remove the poll when the untampered results do not support their political/marketing position.

I, however, enjoy the irony that the CanWest monster that owns The Province also owns the The Vancouver Courier where Potvin and others often take valid shots at the legitimacy of CanWest’s major propaganda dailies.

A friend once mentioned to me that this proves that CanWest actually supports fairness and balance in the media because they own one paper that frequently criticizes the validity of its other papers. But with just over 250,000 copies distributed for free each week throughout the city, The Vancouver Courier does not quite have the readership or budget to authentically counter the mind-numbing propaganda of The Province, The Vancouver Sun, or The National Post, the first two with a circulation of 2,500,000 each week.

And in the end, even if allowing this criticism in a small community paper [that is incidentally outweighed each delivery day by the fliers contained within, making the paper ultimately possibly just a convenient delivery mechanism for advertising] proves CanWest actually listens to or respects its own internal criticism, they certainly do not change their illegitimate operations at their propaganda dailies. So it actually looks worse for them: CanWest owns a paper that legitimately criticizes its major dailies, yet it ignores the criticism and continues subverting the role the free press ought to play in a democracy.

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Whitecaps owe public a thank you

By Kevin Potvin

In the week before public speakers were scheduled to appear before council last fall to express their views on the waterfront stadium proposal, the Province newspaper staged an online poll asking what readers thought about it.

The Whitecaps sent an alert to everyone on its email lists urging them to go to the Province website and vote in favour. A link was conveniently provided. The results, which one could monitor as they were coming in, showed early support reaching up to 70 per cent.

But as the day wore on and other people besides those on the Whitecaps’ lists were alerted, the tide began to shift. By 5 p.m., the vote was nearing 70 per cent opposed. That’s when the poll disappeared from the Province website, replaced by a note apologizing for technical difficulties. Final results were never revealed.

I made phone calls and confirmed that Whitecaps president John LaRocca was in touch with a Province sports editor when the decision was made to pull the poll. When I talked to the Province the next day, the paper confirmed it had pulled it because the results did not look right to them, though their technicians could provide no evidence hacking had occurred. The Province is an official “sponsor” of the Whitecaps, and the Whitecaps buy substantial advertising in that paper. Editorials in the Province heavily endorsed the Whitecaps’ waterfront stadium proposal.

It was the public that drew council’s attention to the myriad problems the stadium proposal contained, and not just problems for the public but also for soccer fans and the proposed stadium’s owners as well. Chief among public concerns was the obvious safety hazard involved in packing in 30,000 people above an inaccessible storage area for train cars carrying such things as propane, bauxite and chlorine-the three ingredients in a train derailment in Mississauga that caused the biggest evacuation in Canadian history.

There was also the matter of there being only two exits from the proposed building, with no marshalling area outside the doors, meaning 30,000 fans would plug the streets of the Downtown Eastside, a neighbourhood with few people who could afford to go to events at the proposed stadium. And then there was the sheer ugliness of a massive stadium wall blocking the neighbourhood from any hint of the waterfront.

I spoke with the head designer of the project who reacted with indignation at my suggestion that it would be a blot on the landscape. He dismissed my safety concerns as those of someone who knows nothing about architecture.

Council voted unanimously to back the proposal.

Well, looks like the public was right. Last week, the Whitecaps, citing the same safety and public access issues the public speakers brought to their attention, abandoned the original waterfront stadium proposal-the same one the leading papers in the city, the leading councillors, the biggest of billionaires, the huffiest of architects and the most defensive of company presidents all assured me was not only the brightest idea in a decade, but the last possible chance we had to be blessed by the largesse of so wonderful a philanthropist as Whitecaps owner Greg Kerfoot.

The new proposal, to be built over the Seabus terminal, looks a lot better, better for the Whitecaps, for their customers, and for the neighbourhood. I’ll be checking the Whitecaps website daily for the “thank yous” to the public.

published on 02/07/2007

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Stephen Elliott-Buckley

Post-partisan eco-socialist. at Politics, Re-Spun
Stephen Elliott-Buckley is a husband, father, professor, speaker, consultant, former suburban Vancouver high school English and Social Studies teacher who changed careers because the BC Liberal Party has been working hard to ruin public education. He has various English and Political Science degrees and has been writing political, social and economic editorials since November 2002. Stephen is in Twitter, Miro and iTunes, and the email thing, and at his website, dgiVista.org.

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5 thoughts on “The Myth of Media Objectivity”

  1. “then remove the poll when the untampered results do not support their political/marketing position”

    And what evidence do you have that the poll was not tampered with?

    Web polls such as the ones run in The Province are not scientific and can be manipulated easily.

    “The Vancouver Province is investigating how the online poll on their website was compromised on Friday. An online question asking whether readers support a 15,000 seat stadium in Gastown was enjoying almost 75% support until 2:45 PM. By the time the poll had closed at 4PM, the numbers had dramatically reversed to 71% opposed & 29% in support. For the result to switch that quickly, three times the number of people would have had to vote against the stadium in the final hour than had voted in the previous 11 hours the poll had been available on the site.”

    http://friendsofsoccer.blogspot.com/2006/05/vancouver-province-investigating.html

    The fact is that most Vancouverites support the stadium.

    http://www.stadiumnow.org/Stadium%20NOW%21/Stadium%20NOW%21%20News%20Blog/EBC8AD68-DCCA-46DC-9E12-0E7587DAA8DE.html

  2. thank you, anonymous, for your question.

    the evidence i use to say the poll was not tampered with is here, in the article i was responding to and included in my post:

    “I made phone calls and confirmed that Whitecaps president John LaRocca was in touch with a Province sports editor when the decision was made to pull the poll. When I talked to the Province the next day, the paper confirmed it had pulled it because the results did not look right to them, though their technicians could provide no evidence hacking had occurred. “

    when the paper admits to pulling the poll without evidence of tampering, it does not encourage a great deal of trust in their side of the story. and i’ll easily admit that i doubt i’d trust the paper 9 times out of 10, but for them to not have any evidence of tampering looks pretty bad for them.

    and while it may be statistically unlikely for the poll to swing that much in a short time, there have been some moderately well organized networks opposing that stadium that could have been mobilized.

    i receive an email every few months from someone in some network i’m in that says there’s a poll at some media site right now that needs to be responded to. this is not unheard of.

    and not to be statistically petty, but as an over-simplification to prove my point, if 100 people voted, 75 in favour, to later swing that around to 71% opposed does not take tens of thousands of people to vote no. i don’t recall as i was watching this unfold in the days/weeks following the event if i ever saw a raw number of the total votes. perhaps it’s out there.

    and i just cannot accept your claim that most Vancouverites support the stadium. the link you provide lists 453 people contacted in a poll. the poll has many flaws:

    – 301 residents out of 500,000 population of the city is a rather small sample.

    – 301 residents of the area do not reflect the will of the whole city, though they definitely reflect the will of some of the locals

    – many many residents of the area are too poor to have phones, so i think we can assume they were not in the poll

    – business could be expected to support a mega-project that would undoubtably bring spin-off business to them as well as help gentrify their marginal neighbourhood.

    and with the other information on that webpage claiming support for the stadium [was it for a stadium in general or one perched above a working rail line with hazmat risks?], emails and letters to the city are self-selecting and inherently not representative. the previous Mustel survey in October 2005 did not provide details of the poll that led to 71% support among lower mainland residents. and the omnibus poll by definition spends a short amount of time on each of a wide variety of public opinion issues, often without very much context for any individual issue.

    in the end, when the Whitecaps bailed on the project because of the same issues the public [which you claim supported the stadium], i think your argument, anonymous, became moot.

    there was a project goal. a great deal of money went into it. media and politicians in a self-serving orgy of gleeful support promoted the project. there was some dissent. nevertheless, all sorts of bodies supported it. then the originators of the project said they’re done with it.

    i would love for there to be a meaningful replacement for Swangard to improve our community’s appreciation of the most popular sport in the world. dangling the stadium over a high risk rail line is just stupid. and now that i see even more years of virtual uselessness of the Empire Stadium site, i can’t help but think that there would be a better location somewhere for a valuable stadium.

    and while i have no facts to support this, i believe most people in BC would support a better stadium for soccer, especially now that Becks is on our continent. perhaps just not one that is vulnerable to massive chemical accident deaths. perhaps also one that isn’t part of a project where Kerfoot purchased a great deal more space for development rights than would be required for a stadium, making us wonder if his plan wasn’t to build condos all the way down the rail line to main street as part of his philanthropy of building a stadium for us all.

  3. Of course, my opposition stems primarily from my belief that I can think of few things less interesting than sitting in a stadium watching soccer…..zzzzz.zzzzz…..huh?….whatz that?

    Oops! Can’t even mention the game without nodding off. : )

  4. 1. First of all it’s Rocha, not LaRocca.

    2. The Gastown Business Improvement Society (GBIS) is the one promoting condos and extensive development for the railyards – perhaps you did not see the plan they commissioned last year with taxpayer money?

  5. well, thanks again anonymous…if you are the same anonymous.

    1. i’m not Kevin Potvin. i didn’t write his piece that i included. so i have no comment on the spelling of that name.

    2. i don’t know much about the GBIS, but i do know this: “Then it was revealed that Greg Kerfoot, the billionaire owner of the Whitecaps and the man behind the stadium pitch, purchased rights to four times as much property as the stadium required, in a piece of land stretching all the way down the last undeveloped waterfront in the city to Main Street.”

    and i learned something new, that a private non-governmental organization comprised of regional business owners could use taxpayer money to commission a plan about building condos that would block the view of all those people who’ve been buying gastown lofts, etc. for at least a couple decades now. interesting.

    finally, i forgot about this tidbit. i’m glad i went back and stumbled upon it. it’s from the same article as just above: “The Whitecaps have even been caught offering prizes for those willing to sign its petitions of support.”

    i don’t think i need to actually comment on that. 🙂

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