Media Event - What Is News?
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 5 May 2005, p. 373-393

Greenspon, Edward; Burman, Tony; Hurst, Robert, Speaker
Media Type:
Item Type:
The luncheon was emceed by Ken Shaw.
Edward Greenspon:
The key function of any editor. Selection. Preparation. News that sneaks up on you. Things that aren't in the plan. Two basic questions to ask oneself with regard to front-page selection. Captivated by the drama in Ottawa. Front pages. Values as part of the prism through which news judgments are made.
Robert Hurst:
Bias in the news. The flip question: "Who really influences th enews and what are the largest influences on the news?" And a discussion of the question - "Are they relaly media biases or are they external factors?" Politics and politicians and how they influence they try to influence the news. An illustrative example.
Tony Burman:
Ethical issues that journalists face. The assessment of the speaker's profession by Canadians and others. Controversies that have really defined the journalistic debate. The credibility of the public broadcaster.
Ken Shaw then introduced a question-and-answer period.
Date of Original:
5 May 2005
Language of Item:
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Full Text
Edward Greenspon
Editor-in-Chief, The Globe and Mail
Tony Burman
Editor-in-Chief, CBC English Services Division-"CBC News," "Current Affairs" and "Newsworld"
Robert Hurst
President, CTV News
Chairman: Bart J. Mindszenthy
President, The Empire Club of Canada
Head Table Guests

John Wright, Senior Vice-President, Public Affairs, Ipsos-Reid and Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Veiko Parming, Grade 11 Student, North Toronto Collegiate Institute; Grant Kerr, Pastoral Staff, St. Paul's United Church, Brampton; Chief William Blair, Toronto Police Service; The Hon. Barbara McDougall, Advisor, Aird & Berlis LLP, Former MP and Cabinet Minister; David Milliken, Senior Vice-President, CNW Group; Anne Fotheringham, Owner, Fotheringham Fine Art and Director, The Empire Club of Canada; and Darrell Bricker, President, Ipsos-Reid Public Affairs.

Introduction by Bart Mindszenthy

What is news?

Let me tell you what I learned so long ago.

I earned a double major at university. One of them was in journalism. In the very first class on the very first day of my experience in J-school, in walked a man whom I would come to adore and respect until the day he died not too many years later. Frank Gill was his name. Serious journalism was his game. He strode into the classroom with a cigarette in one hand, a fedora on his head, clutching a batch of newspapers under an arm that he dramatically slammed down on the desk at the front of the room. He stood there for a few moments, examining us with piercing if somewhat bloodshot eyes, and growled, "So can anyone tell me: what is news?"

We all said things, I have no recollection what, except that he kept shaking his head, "No," and repeating, "so tell me, what is news?" Finally, he growled ever louder: "Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, let me tell you the right answer, and never forget it. News is not when the dog bites the mailman, news is when the mailman bites the dog." And that's all I remember from three glorious, irreverent years of journalism school.

Well, today we are going to take what I believe will be a much deeper look than Frank Gill gave me. And that is a good thing. Because professional journalists today must shoulder a huge responsibility and bear serious accountability for what we're told, when and how.

I don't know how you feel, but I want to know I'm getting a balanced story, that I get the correct facts, that I'm being told the truth and not someone's slanted, biased view driven by some personal agenda or vendetta.

I want to know that what I'm reading or hearing or seeing is real, set before me by a team of people guided by sound ethics and values and actually caring about the quality of the news and information they pass on to me.

And that is a very good segue to get me to introducing the moderator of today's panel discussion: the affable, talented and ever-focused Ken Shaw.

Mr. Shaw has been a valued Director of the Empire Club for several years. But I suspect he's even more valued as the National Editor and Anchor of "CTV News at Six."

He joined CTV Toronto as a reporter in 1979 while also reporting for such U.S. programs as "Good Morning America" and "Nightline."

But you should know that Mr. Shaw gives amply of his time to many worthy causes from Variety Village to Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children.

So now, it's a pleasure to ask my favourite news anchor, Ken Shaw, to introduce our distinguished panel, explain the proceedings, and also outline and guide the question-and-answer session that will follow the presentations.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Ken Shaw.

Ken Shaw

Thank you very much Bart especially for the fact that I'm your favourite news anchor because Peter Mansbridge is now getting ready to throw buns. Peter, of course, is a very familiar face who we have all welcomed into our homes for many years from CBC. Ladies and gentlemen please say "Hi" to Peter Mansbridge.

As we draw back the curtain today to reveal some of the rationale that goes into compiling the nightly newscast and putting together the daily newspaper, we are honoured to have with us three of Canada's not only most experienced and most influential, but apparently three of Canada's most ethical journalists. These are the guys who make the decisions.

Now I must at the same time declare a certain bias here. Not only are two of these gentlemen with the same company as I am and one of them is in fact my boss (you will know which one as I will be giving him the standing ovation) but also at the same time these are really the cream of the crop. The media are not going to be judged uniformly. It is just like when we go out to buy a car and you kick the tyres and there are used cars and there are new cars. There are expensive cars and there are not-so-expensive cars. These fellows are the top of the industry so you are getting the chance today to hear about how the newscast is being put together by three who are at the top end of that ladder.

So what is news? Who decides and on what basis? Who ensures that coverage is fair and balanced? First up today we're going to hear from Ed Greenspon, who is Editor and Chief of the Globe and Mail and who's held that post since July 2002. Ed is going to be speaking on the first of three areas that we divided this into.

Ed has an honours degree in journalism and political science from Carlton University. He was a Commonwealth Scholar at the London School of Economics, earning a master's degree in politics and government with distinction in 1985. He joined the Globe in 1986 as a business reporter and has held various positions over the years, among them European Business Correspondent, Deputy Managing Editor, Executive News Editor, Founding Editor, and Ottawa Bureau Chief.

He has also written a number of books and won numerous awards making him well qualified to attack our first topic today--the process of deciding what is news and what stories get priority.

Please welcome Edward Greenspon.

Edward Greenspon

Thank you, Ken. Thank you ladies and gentlemen and the Empire Club for the opportunity to be here with you today.

It is my pleasure to be here with two great broadcasters, one of whom I as a taxpayer like to think I control and the other who is a fellow shareholder and likes to think he controls me. You sort it out. I'm also happy to see that Peter Mansbridge is here.

On my right and your left, I see a table from CTV and I can't make everybody out but I see Lisa LaFlamme and Dan Matheson and several others, which leads me to the fact that you are here at the rarest of Canadian media events. This is the first time in my experience where CTV outnumbers CBC in a room at an event.

Bart, I want to thank you for the invitation. I know we have been discussing this in one way or another for about three years. Each year that I held out I was cut fractionally in terms of my presence on the panel. I was going to be doing this alone; I was going to be sharing it with somebody; now I'm a one-third panelist which is good. But having spoken to my other panelists they don't mind at all if I use up all the time so I think that's fair too.

In fact print folks do have a little habit of rambling and I hope the broadcast guys will reel me in. Our story meetings are scheduled to go from 10:30 to 11:15, but they tend to go from 10:40 to about 11:40 every day. This morning I didn't take the story meeting because I was preparing my remarks and our deputy editor, Sylvia, did the story meeting. They were out in about 20 minutes. I asked her how she could do the whole meeting in 20 minutes. She said: "Well you weren't there," which was a real vote of confidence. Thank you Sylvia.

I'm going to do my best to address some of these questions very quickly and then leave a lot of time for questions and answers afterwards.

The key function of any editor is that of selection. Every day we are confronted with hundreds indeed thousands of choices from which to choose which stories we want to pursue and how we want to deploy our forces. We have to decide what's going to make it in the paper, what's going to make it in the newscast, and in our case we are a newspaper and a Web site, that's visited by 250,000 people every day. That is an important part of our decision making as well and has changed our culture dramatically. We are not just once a day. We are on 24/7 like radio or all-news television. Not only do you have to select what you are going to cover, you have to select what you want to play big, what you want to play small, what you want to put on the front page, what you want to put a team of reporters on and where you want to send your photographers. There are all sorts of decisions like that to make.

Now there is no science to this. Academics for years and years have tried to reduce this to a science. It is an art. It's in your gut; it's in your experience. It's a craft, not a profession. Having said that, there's some kind of commonality that we seem to come to so there must be some form of science that we haven't completely deciphered, because at the end of every afternoon, about five in the afternoon, about half a dozen editors sit down either in my office or Sylvia's office and we decide what the front page of the paper will be the next day.

Editors normally agree on about half the choices of the paper. On a normal day we will have five stories on the front page and they basically see eye to eye on three of the five and then they will certainly discuss the others.

Now we do some preparation but the news sneaks up on you. Even when you know it, it sneaks up on you. One of the most enjoyable parts of my job is participating in these discussions. One of the most enjoyable nights for me in recent times was the U.S. election night because we had it all figured out. We had plan A-deadlock. Plan B-Bush wins four more years. Plan A worked for a while; it worked until about midnight or so and then we had the situation where it was just clear to everybody that Bush had won. However, Ohio wasn't quite in the bag officially and Kerry wasn't conceding and most of the U.S. networks and the wire services having been burned in 2000 were afraid to declare a victory. We were all sitting there and our next deadline, because we have rolling deadlines through the night for different editions, was about 1 a.m. and before 1 a.m. the front page editor and myself and a couple of other editors sat down and we discussed what we had, what was the story now and how had the story changed.

We were amazed by the series of plebiscites on same-sex marriage in the States and we decided to put that story on the front page, which had not been in our plan. Then our front-page editor and I after everyone left decided that it was not "deadlock" and it was not "Bush for four more years." So our front-page editor scratched his head a couple of times and came up with what I thought was a great headline. Indeed it was cited by the Society of Newspaper Design as one of the best six headlines in the world the following day. It was: "It's Bush (probably)," which was actually for once being really honest with your readers.

The next day at our story meeting, Kerry having been defeated, the front-page editor was doodling in the corner and other people were discussing stories and he said: "Well I know the front-page headline already." It has got to be "It's Bush (definitely). And that's what it was. What you don't know is that the next night, Yasser Arafat looked like he was dying and there was a brief discussion until cooler heads prevailed that it would be "Arafat's death (probably)." Now in fact the Chairman hung on for another six days so we were pleased that we didn't do that.

The two most basic questions we ask ourselves about front-page selection are: "Is it significant?" and "Is it interesting?" I've always liked this line from the late great CBC broadcaster Barbara Frum, which went something along the lines: "Tell me something new about something I care about. Tell me something I don't know about something I care about." And I think that's a pretty good standard to apply to whether a news story really matters.

At the moment we are all captivated by the drama in Ottawa and it's easy, in a sense, to decide your front page. You don't want predictability so you're almost bending over backwards to find something else that's not a political story. Has the story gone down enough so that we can get something else in there? Now it is a great story. It affects everyone, which is important for a national newspaper. It occurs in this ready-built theatre-Parliament- and possesses all those great qualities of conflict and drama on which we thrive. The main players have what they call in politics good recognition factor. We have reporters already on site and we don't have to pay extra money to get them out there and the story is evolving because there is nothing worse in journalism than a static story. And most importantly the story matters because who governs you is important. Now not everybody will buy that in your readership. There are many people who find politics very boring. Many people find it a cruel and unusual practice and cruel and unusual punishment when it is inflicted upon them. I'm always reminded of the definition of politics by a comedy team who said it came from two Greek roots--poly for many and tics for a blood-sucking insect. But that's part of what makes it so fascinating of course.

I just want to say one other thing about front pages, which is what I was mostly asked to concentrate on and then I'll be happy to answer some of the questions that Ken reads during the question-and-answer period. We are in a bit of a visual revolution in the newspaper business. Our visual revolution is arriving decades after other people's visual revolutions perhaps, but it is very profound. There is a culture that came with colour into newspapers, a design culture that allows you to do some very special things that wouldn't have been possible beforehand. It makes some very grand statements and in a very crowded newspaper market sometimes you want to make these grand statements that say that this is not just an ordinary day. This thing is extremely, extremely special and we are able to that now and we at the Globe are experimenting with that as are I think others. And for us the experiments have been good.

I don't think you want to draw from that well too frequently or else you lose the uniqueness of those days, but when we did our China special edition last fall we drew from that well. We had Chinese characters on the front page of the Globe and Mail along with the English words: "If you can't read these words you better start brushing up. A profound global shift has begun--the kind that occurs once every few lifetimes. Don't be left behind."

More recently, we did a very special front page around the Air India verdict. We had the two accused with a not-guilty pronouncement next to them on the top quarter of the front page and then on the bottom three-quarters of the front page we had in large letters "Innocent." Then we had a roll call of the deceased from that tragedy in order of age, which was very profound to look at because you got about a third of the way down the list before you hit anybody who was 18 or over. And that was a statement we were making, not about the verdict (in fact our editorial thought the judge had come to the correct verdict with the evidence before the judge), but about the nature of the tragedy itself.

I will end with this final point. We are very careful and very cognizant, that we don't want to be a partisan. We are not a political party; we're a newspaper. But it would be very unfair I think of us to pretend that values aren't part of the prism through which news judgments are made, because they are and with that Ken I'll turn it over to everybody else. Thank you.

Ken Shaw

We are now going to hear from Robert Hurst, President of CTV News. Robert has held that post since September 2002. Robert is responsible for all CTV news operations including "CTV News" with Lloyd Robertson, "Canada AM," "W5," "CTV News Net" and the local newscast at CTV's 11 major market stations.

For more than 20 years Robert covered Canadian and international news as CTV's resident correspondent in Edmonton, Halifax, Ottawa, Beijing, Washington and Moscow. You have watched reports from Robert covering seal hunts, the shooting down of Korean Airlines flight 007, and the downfall of the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines. As Washington Bureau Chief, he covered the end of the Cold War, the Gulf War and reported extensively on the civil wars in Haiti, Nicaragua and El Salvador. His last foreign posting by the way was Moscow in the early 1990s where he reported on the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the new Russian State. Robert has also been an author and has won several prestigious awards.

Please welcome Robert Hurst.

Robert Hurst

Thank you, Ken. Your standing ovation can begin any minute.

We were each given eight minutes so what am I now down to? I love Ed, my colleague at the Globe and Mail. We used to use him on CTV's question period on Sunday afternoons, but in television we have time restraints. We don't use him any more.

This actually is an uncomfortable position for all three of us to be in today, especially for Mr. Burman at the CBC, whom you will hear next, and me, because we all compete head to head every day trying to knock the other person flat on their ass on the canvas. It has often been said that the greatest competition in this country every day is not between airlines or telephone companies, but between CBC and CTV national newscasts. This is kind of an uncomfortable situation for us. I would actually like to thank the Empire Club for putting the CBC table over here and the CTV table over there.

So we compete hard, head to head, every night. Tony Burman has spies because they are trying to find out what we are doing as we are aggressively pursuing the news every day. I have spies--all of our reporters and our producers. "What are they doing? Where are they going? What do you hear?" A few weeks ago, we couldn't understand why the CBC was doing matchers to some of our exclusives that we had spent so much time developing. It turned out, because we did a little bit of internal investigation, that somebody from the CBC was on one of our e-mail distribution lists. That's actually true. It was by mistake--we believe.

The CBC did a big news study about a year ago. It spent a lot of money to find what people think of the CBC Canadian news in general and as Tony was going through his news study, we got a brown envelope at the door with the CBC news study two or three days before he could even show it to his staff.

I'm not sure what you people came here today to see. Three ink-stained wretches, the head of the news organizations, who are really in an uncomfortable position here because we compete head to head with each other. If you were looking for the three amigos, that's not us. I suppose we are urban cowboys, but we are not the three amigos. If you were looking for the three tenors up here today, I'm not sure that any of us if given a song sheet could sing to the same tune. I asked my assignment desk earlier today what they would suggest. I said: "I'm going out to lunch with these other two people who we compete with all the time, and we are the three something; what do you think we should be called?"

They said: "The three stooges."

I'm going to be short and I have just one brief thing to say because we want to take your questions. Ken said to me that my topic was bias in the news. Indeed every reporter and editor goes to a story with biases, because that's where they came from, where they grew up, what affects them and we as editors and as news organizations tell those reporters to leave their biases at the door. They do most of the time to the best of their ability and conform to the best of their ability and our editorial oversight to our policy goals, which is fair and balanced. I just wanted to make the comment that maybe we should flip this around in terms of our own media bias and ask the question: "Who really influences the news and what are the largest influences on the news?" The question is: "Are they really media biases or are they external factors?"

I would suggest to you that in large measure external factors, external organizations and individuals attempt to influence the news. I would suggest that the more you or your company or your organization or your political party is in the news, the more that you or your company or your political party tries to influence the news. And the biggest organization or group, that tries to influence the news, are politicians and political parties.

On Parliament Hill in the parliamentary press gallery there are about 110 reporters. Those are journalists, reporters. They are not camera crews or sound individuals or technical editors. They are reporters. There are today more than 5,000 registered lobbyists. On top of that there are speech writers for cabinet ministers, communications departments for every ministry and every government, every opposition group, every thinktank, every lobby group in Ottawa to the tune of about 15,000 people all trying to influence the daily news. And if you put those all together, that's about 20,000 people on Parliament Hill at the political level of the political establishment who are trying to influence the news against say 100 reporters.

I say it is uncomfortable to be up here, because Mr. Burman and I compete head to head every single night and we are really not allowed to talk among the networks. There is the odd time that we do talk and such a thing happened about three weeks ago, when there was an effort from the Prime Minister's office at the political level to directly influence the news and broadcasting. You will remember the story; it was about three weeks ago. I was sitting in our national newsroom at about 3:30 in the afternoon and we got a flash from our parliamentary bureau in Ottawa. The Prime Minister has announced that he wishes to address the Canadian people tomorrow night at 7:45.

This was somewhat of a surprise to CTV because at 7:45 we are in the middle of "Jeopardy" and at eight o'clock we were going to have "The Amazing Race" live. We knew what the other programmers had planned. The CBC had a science special with David Suzuki, an original, and our friends over at Global at eight o'clock had the number-one show that week which was "Survivor." We had not received any request at all or a consultation from the Prime Minister of Canada or his officials who were all trying to influence the news.

We really didn't know what to do. We scratched our heads and through that evening each of the networks had internal discussions. And quite frankly if it was at 7:45 we were all probably not going to carry it even though the Prime Minister's office wanted his message to be spread far and wide to the people of Canada.

So early the next morning, Mr. Burman and I and the guy from Global had a phone conversation even though we know we are knocking each other out every day. That phone conversation was "How's the wife and kids? Been on vacation recently? I see your ratings are up or down or whatever," because usually when I am sending a telephone message to Mr. Burman it's about some material that they have stolen from my newscast the night before. And then he calls me and makes the same accusation (we never steal any television pictures from the CBC). So we are having this tentative discussion and finally we talk about the request from the Prime Minister's office. It then emerged that if we engaged the Prime Minister's office maybe they could do it at seven o'clock eastern time. So we all got back to the Prime Minister's office. The Prime Minister's office in trying to influence the news didn't want to formally request national air time and we asked whether it was a political speech. "Oh a very important speech," said the Prime Minister's office, "newsworthy, very important." Well we thought it was going to be a political speech, which of course was what it was. So the end result was it was on at seven o'clock and we got the opposition leaders to come out. You saw the ratings yesterday in terms of the Prime Minister's ability to go directly over the heads of journalists and speak to the Canadian people; 3.8 million Canadians saw that broadcast with the Prime Minister and the opposition leaders. That was a direct influence on the news and we probably still wonder if we did the right thing. I will leave it here to take questions.

Ken Shaw

By the way I should mention that while they do operate separately the networks do talk about things, for example, the fact that we have an election around the corner. All three English networks got together and formed a group to go to the political parties and suggest a change in the debate forum. In previous years they have felt that there was too much interruption, too much argument. They wanted to change the format so that they have more genuine interaction there. Also they are asking the parties to agree to two debates in French and two debates in English, the second debate in English to be held in Western Canada and to recognize some of the regionalist issues that exist in this country.

Now the next thing we are going to speak about are the ethical issues that journalists face. Sometimes you may look at your nightly newscast and wonder why they show dead bodies in Iraq but they don't show them in Canada. Is it because they are Iraqis and not Canadians? How do journalists cover trials of those with extremist and/or offensive opinions? John Robin Sharp out in Vancouver or Ernst Zündel. What about the pack mentality? Robert mentioned that there are 110 journalists in the parliamentary press gallery. What about the way they move in a pack and/or sense blood in the water?

To look at some of those issues we are going to ask Tony Burman, the Editor and Chief of "CBC News," "Current Affairs" and "Newsworld" to come up here. Tony is responsible for all of CBC's information programming on CBC radio, TV and Tony is one of the most experienced journalists in Canada. He started his career with the Montreal Star, he has produced many award-winning news and documentary programs for CBC television and radio and has worked in more than 30 countries covering such stories as the release of Nelson Mandela in South Africa, the Ethiopian famine and the civil war in Lebanon. He has experienced many of the ethical issues that journalists face.

Please welcome Tony Burman.

Tony Burman

Thank you Ken and distinguished guests and ladies and gentlemen. Ethics means always telling the truth so I love the ritual of clubs like the Empire Club. I must confess that I did confide in my CBC colleagues that I kind of like the idea that when I walk in the room they stand up. I think it is something that I hope they emulate when we return.

As Ken indicated, I started my professional career in the early '70s in Montreal as a young reporter and my big first story with hundreds of other reporters was the FLQ crisis. I would say that the story that really had the most impact on me at that stage of my career was Watergate--the whole break-in, the incredibly gutsy efforts by the Washington Post, by the reporters Woodward and Burnstein to kind of break the case--and I remember thinking that this was a great example of a news organization holding a government accountable on behalf of the public. There was also a time when the Post and these two reporters blew it. They got something wrong and immediately Ben Bradlee had the Post apologize the next day and move on. It occurred to me then that this was also a marvellous example of an organization holding its own journalists and its own journalism accountable.

I think that was for a lot of people, certainly not the public at large, but particularly young journalists, a very inspiring event coming at that stage in our lives. I remember thinking after many, many glasses of wine with my buddies, that the world was lucky to have such an impatient idealistic public-spirited generation of young journalists about to improve their lives.

Looking back a little more than 30 years, I'm struck by the incredible arrogance of that comment back then, but I'm also struck by how things have changed. Things really have changed. In some ways they probably haven't changed at the governmental level. I think we in Canada have been reminded about the ethical challenges of governments and of public officials but contrary to the report referred to earlier I think the credibility of all institutions including the media really has been taking a battering lately. I think the assessment of our job and credibility is being made by people, by Canadians and others, in a climate of distrust about all institutions.

A recent study in the United States indicated that nearly two-thirds of Americans think that news reports are basically inaccurate. The good news in Canada is that the figure in a similar study is not two-thirds of Canadians but one-third of Canadians. Also 80 per cent of Canadians, according to a recent study, think that reporters' biases affects news coverage.

There have been controversies that have really defined the journalistic debate--the whole BBC incident, the New York Times controversy over Jayson Blair, the CBS and Dan Rather affair and the plagiarism cases involving a lot of American newspapers including USA Today. What's notable about that list is that none of these rather famous and now fable examples are Canadian examples.

There is less skepticism so far among Canadians towards Canadian journalism and Canadian journalists but there is a reason for that. There really has been, and we're thankful about it, no incidents in recent years, of the scale that I referred to and I think the reason for that is not an accident. There really has been an aggressive effort on the part of Canadian journalists to learn lessons.

Within the CBC some of us were reflecting a little while ago that we spent much time examining the BBC incident and what lessons we should extract from it that would apply to the CBC; almost as much time as I think a lot of the BBC journalists. There are lessons for newspapers as well as broadcasters--the lessons of the New York Times and the lessons of the USA Today. I think there has been a really proactive aggressive effort on the part of all new organizations. I'm not only talking about the CBC. I'm talking about quality papers like the Globe. I'm talking about some of our commercial networks. I'm even on this rather gentle moment including CTV for the sake of this discussion.

In this period where all institutions seem to be under examination there still is a basic recognition on the part of Canada that the media are important in the sense of reaffirming why we have this country north of the 49th parallel and that has been reflected in surveys.

At the CBC we have always been aggressively concerned about that for obvious reasons. The credibility of the public broadcaster is really at the heart of why we exist. (Bob made reference to the CBC news study. I'm glad that he did get the doctored copy that we sent to him. That has really helped us.) Canadians in this study told us that they really want a kind of radical re-definition of what news is. They want a broadening of that definition. They want us to include far more sides to the story than this black-white polarity that the media have created. I think we've tried to implement a lot of the changes in the past three or four months, but many of the changes will be really quite evident this fall.

So my sum-up is that ethics as it applies to journalism is not only at the heart of why the CBC exists but is really at the heart of what motivates journalists like Bob, journalists like Ed and I think journalists across the country in Canada. I really do think that one of the advantages of the catastrophes that have affected large organizations in Britain and France and the United States is that it is a kind of a warning to us all that there but for the grace of God go we.

Thank you.

Ken Shaw

Thank you Tony. Now questions and answers. Tony, I suppose this one is addressed to you. Why do you think so many Canadians have the perception that the CBC favours Liberal governments?

Tony Burman

I would challenge the premise. I think in a variety of studies done independently of us, it is actually untrue, factually untrue to say that Canadians feel that way. The relationship that the CBC has had with the current government and as it existed with the Mulroney government, you can go right back to the Trudeau years, has essentially been the same. I don't think there is any evidence to suggest that Canadians feel that way. I think that many Canadians do feel the CBC has a "small l" liberal bias. We are very conscious that the CBC in its kind of aggressive way to hold the powers that be accountable doesn't make the airwaves uncomfortable for people who hold socially conservative views and I think that's an issue that we take very seriously. On the issue of whether or not we are partisan there is no evidence in any study that's been brought to my attention that Canadians in any significant numbers feel that.

Ken Shaw

Robert or Ed would you rather like to come on the attack or to Tony's defence?

Edward Greenspon

I agree with the aspects Tony said. When I listened to the question I thought the question was going to be small l liberal as Tony has alluded to. If there is any accusation, it would be about "small l" liberalism. If anybody listens to cross-country check-up on Sunday one would think that the political centre of the country is not where the political centre of the country already is. I guess you can't control your listeners and I think certain listeners are probably attracted more to it but I was in Ottawa for years and years and I wouldn't for a moment think there is anything less than a professional attitude in the CBC's reporting and the CBC anchoring vis-à-vis the parties. I see them as even-handed and I'm sure that the Liberal Party of Canada wouldn't agree with the proposition that the CBC favours the Liberal party.

Robert Hurst

I noticed off microphone that the former conservative cabinet minister Barbara McDougall when the question was asked about perceptions of liberal bias of the CBC shouted out: "Because they are." Did I quote you correctly Ms. McDougall?

Barbara McDougall


Robert Hurst

You know that the CBC does a very good job. We think it is a quality newscast most nights. And just because they're using your material Barbara I think that when it comes to the political level, all of us be it in broadcasting or in print are under criticism from those who do not like to be criticized especially at the political level. Speaking on behalf of CTV we are never happier when all political parties are constantly in one day calling to me to complain about the coverage and that happens pretty regularly.

Ken Shaw

Thank you. The next question. How are media especially print addressing the growing authoritativeness of blogs and bloggers? Now if I can ask you again Ed as it addresses print?

Edward Greenspon

Well let me answer it in two ways. First of all the Web is a remarkable historical invention in terms of a means of communication. It's an important medium that we don't yet fully understand. At the Globe and Mail as in other organizations we're experimenting with it; we're trying new things. I don't think any of us have figured out the full power of the Web. I don't think that blogging necessarily speaks to what will be the best of the Web. In one sense it does and that's the way it liberates consumers of news to take charge and control themselves. We no longer have just this top-down hierarchy of editor to reader or user. That's an important historical development. But blogs don't have authority. There is no measure of control there. There's a great difficulty for consumers to screen between what is true and what is not true and that is one of the advantages for organizations like ours that spend their time trying to be authoritative and not wanting to ruin our good names.

Tony Burman

Just very quickly. I don't think bloggers have that much of an impact in Canada so far. It may evolve into that but so far it hasn't. It's an American phenomenon. I don't think it is a burgeoning Canadian issue yet. Certainly for us.

The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by John Wright, Senior Vice-President, Public Affairs, Ipsos-Reid and Director, The Empire Club of Canada.

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Media Event - What Is News?

The luncheon was emceed by Ken Shaw.
Edward Greenspon:
The key function of any editor. Selection. Preparation. News that sneaks up on you. Things that aren't in the plan. Two basic questions to ask oneself with regard to front-page selection. Captivated by the drama in Ottawa. Front pages. Values as part of the prism through which news judgments are made.
Robert Hurst:
Bias in the news. The flip question: "Who really influences th enews and what are the largest influences on the news?" And a discussion of the question - "Are they relaly media biases or are they external factors?" Politics and politicians and how they influence they try to influence the news. An illustrative example.
Tony Burman:
Ethical issues that journalists face. The assessment of the speaker's profession by Canadians and others. Controversies that have really defined the journalistic debate. The credibility of the public broadcaster.
Ken Shaw then introduced a question-and-answer period.