Category Archives: Opinion

Review: Municipal election night on English-language TV

I was busy last Sunday night, helping the Montreal Gazette put together its coverage of the Montreal municipal election. But my PVR recorded the broadcasts of three English-language television stations in the city to see how they covered the evening. Below, I offer some thoughts on how well they did, based primarily on the actual information they provided.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m watching an election results show, I’m looking for election results. Analysts are great for filling time, but the more data you can show me, the more races you can announce, the better.

So below, you’ll see me focus less on the in-studio analysts, who were all fine, and more on what someone would have actually learned watching the broadcast.

CBC Montreal

11:00-11:30pm (9:45-11:30pm on Facebook)

Anchor: Debra Arbec

In-studio analysts:

  • Reporter Jonathan Montpetit
  • Social media editor Molly Kohli
  • Reporter Sean Henry with results

Reporters:

  • Simon Nakonechny at Plante HQ
  • Ainslie MacLellan at Coderre HQ
  • Sabrina Marandola in Westmount
  • Kate McKenna in Pointe-Claire (Facebook broadcast only)
  • Marika Wheeler in Quebec City (Facebook broadcast only)

Reported results — ticker (top three candidates, party, vote count, polls reporting):

  • Montreal mayor
  • All Montreal borough mayors
  • All Montreal city councillors

Reported results — graphic (top 2-4 candidates, party, vote count, lead):

  • Dollard-des-Ormeaux mayor
  • Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce mayor
  • Ahuntsic-Cartierville mayor
  • Lachine mayor
  • Sud-Ouest mayor
  • Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension mayor
  • Plateau-Mont-Royal mayor
  • Montreal city council standings (leading, elected, total)
  • Dorval mayor
  • Côte-Saint-Luc mayor
  • Pointe-Claire mayor
  • Westmount mayor

The public broadcaster clearly won in the graphics department, and was the only English-language network with a lower-third ticker with live results. The ticker showed only results from the city of Montreal, but it did not only the city mayor but also borough mayors and all borough councillor races. It took about nine minutes for the top of the ticker to do the rounds of all 64 elected city council seats, so viewers got to see each race about three times.

While CBC was the only station to include Montreal city council results, it failed to include anything off the island of Montreal — no mention of Quebec City, Saguenay, or even Longueuil or Laval.

CBC was also the only one to include a live speech in their broadcast, carrying 10 uninterrupted (and untranslated) minutes of Valérie Plante’s acceptance speech to lead off the half-hour show (which had no commercial interruption).

The broadcast actually started on Facebook, where it went for an hour and 45 minutes, but still didn’t start early enough to get the Plante victory call on live. It did mention the Laval, Longueuil, Quebec City and Sherbrooke races, which didn’t get into the TV broadcast, and had live hits from Kate McKenna in Pointe-Claire and Marika Wheeler in Quebec City. And it carried Denis Coderre’s speech in full. My review here is based mainly on the television broadcast, but I’m adding this for the record.

For an election night broadcast with so many races to deal with, there was a lot of time devoted to analysis. And as much as I like listening to the soothing voice of Jonathan Montpetit, I didn’t learn much from him and Arbec repeating stuff that happened during the campaign, promises that were made and stuff that the candidates said in their speeches. Fortunately, they still managed to get a bunch of results into the broadcast, both on Facebook and TV.

Overall score: B+

CTV Montreal

11:30pm-12:04am

Anchor: Tarah Schwartz

In-studio analyst:

  • Former Westmount mayor Peter Trent

Reporters:

  • Cindy Sherwin at Plante HQ
  • Rob Lurie at Coderre HQ
  • Kelly Greig in Westmount (also reporting on Côte-St-Luc race)

Reported results (winner only unless otherwise noted):

  • Montreal mayor (with popular vote of top two)
  • Laval mayor
  • Westmount mayor
  • Côte-St-Luc mayor
  • Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce mayor
  • Pointe-Claire mayor
  • Montreal city council makeup by party
  • Beaconsfield mayor
  • Brossard mayor
  • Dollard-des-Ormeaux mayor
  • Quebec City mayor
  • Dorval mayor
  • Longueuil mayor

CTV Montreal is the market leader. It has the most journalists, the largest audience, the most history. So it should be expected that they would slay election night coverage.

Which makes it all the more disappointing how little actual data was provided to viewers. Not only was there no ticker, but the individual race graphics didn’t even provide vote totals or party names. Instead, they just had names and photos and a checkmark next to the winner.

Only for the Montreal mayor’s race was any vote total given in an on-screen graphic. For the rest, well you’ll just have to guess.

This is the reason people tune in to election night broadcasts, and CTV’s viewers were left horribly underserved when it came to actual data.

It was the shortest of the three broadcasts, since it had four commercial breaks, and the last to start at 11:30pm. And CTV didn’t even think it was worth bringing in one of the two main anchors on a weekend shift, leaving the duties to regular weekend anchor Tarah Schwartz.

It had the fewest live reporters, which is surprising, and just about everything about this seemed like it was phoned in.

Still, CTV’s prestige meant it got the first live interview with the mayor-elect, right at the beginning at 11:30. And its reporters were more experienced and seemed to provide more useful information.

But overall, it should be embarrassing for CTV how poorly it did compared to its competitors.

Overall score: C-

Global Montreal

11:00pm-11:57pm

Anchor: Jamie Orchard

In-studio analysts:

  • Montreal Gazette columnist Celine Cooper
  • Former city councillor Karim Boulos

Reporters:

  • Amanda Jelowicki at Plante HQ
  • Tim Sargeant at Coderre HQ (also reporting on Pointe-Claire and Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue mayor’s races)
  • Elysia Bryan-Baynes in Westmount
  • Felicia Parillo in Côte-St-Luc

Reported results (vote totals for top 2-4 candidates, percentage of vote for each, percentage of polls reporting, and indication of incumbent):

  • Montreal mayor (x4)
  • Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce mayor (x2)
  • Pierrefonds-Roxboro mayor (x2)
  • Westmount mayor (x5)
  • Beaconsfield mayor (x2)
  • Dollard-des-Ormeaux mayor (x2)
  • Côte-St-Luc mayor (x4)
  • Dorval mayor (x2)
  • Pointe-Claire mayor (x2)
  • Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue mayor
  • Senneville mayor (x2)
  • Vaudreuil-Dorion mayor (x2)
  • Montreal-West mayor (x2)
  • Brossard mayor (x2)
  • Longueuil mayor (x2)
  • Saint-Lambert mayor (x2)
  • Saint-Lazare mayor
  • Laval mayor
  • Anjou mayor

There are always two ways to judge Global Montreal when compared to its competitors: judge the quality alone, as a viewer probably would, or judge how well Global did with its limited resources.

By either measure, the station did well on this night. It extended its TV broadcast to a full hour, had informative graphics, and updated results through the night, though like its competitors it focused a lot on the island of Montreal and areas immediately adjacent.

The graphics weren’t as flashy as CBC, and there was no ticker, but you got vote totals, percentages, and an indication of who the incumbent was and the amount of polls reporting. Just missing the party affiliations.

Global also conducted an interview with Plante (just after CTV’s), and made good use of analysts and reporters.

They get extra points for being the longest broadcast, having a special “Decision 2017” opening theme, and putting in the extra effort. But it would have been nice for the only station that still has transmitters in Quebec City and Sherbrooke to actually mention the mayor’s races in those cities. I know it’s not Global Quebec anymore, but I’m sure viewers there would have appreciated it.

Overall score: B+

City Montreal

No election night special. We’ll see if that changes when they start having local newscast next year. They have four years to prepare for the next municipal election (and one year to prepare for the next provincial one).

Overall score: F

Some thoughts about the municipal election

Coderre’s party switchers all lost

The day before voting day I said I’d be watching races involving people who switched parties since the last election. Of the 11 who switched to Coderre’s party (most from Projet but others from borough parties), all 11 lost their bid for re-election, either as a councillor or trying to upgrade to borough mayor:

  • Richard Bergeron (Ville-Marie councillor) from Projet to Coderre
  • Michelle Di Genova Zammit (Anjou borough councillor) from Équipe Anjou to Coderre
  • Éric Dugas (Ste-Geneviève borough councillor) from Équipe Richard Bélanger to Coderre
  • Marc-André Gadoury (Rosemont city councillor) from Projet to Coderre
  • Érika Duchesne (Rosemont city councillor) from Projet to Coderre (now running in Villeray)
  • Jean-François Cloutier (Lachine city councillor) from Équipe Dauphin to Coderre
  • Lorraine Pagé (Ahuntsic city councillor) from Vrai changement to Coderre
  • Russell Copeman (CDN-NDG borough mayor) from Coalition to Coderre
  • Réal Ménard (Mercier mayor) from Coalition to Coderre
  • Kymberley Simonyik (Lachine borough councillor) from Équipe Dauphin to Coderre
  • Elsie Lefebvre (Villeray city councillor) from Coalition to Coderre

Those who switched to Projet and were running again were all re-elected.

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How would you schedule Hockey Night in Canada?

Hockey Night in Canada begins its 2017-18 season tonight. And that means another 26 Saturday nights where fans complain about what channel their team’s game is being shown on.

When Rogers acquired national rights to the NHL in 2014, the plan was to give Canadians more choice on Saturday nights, to make use of the multiple Sportsnet channels as well as CBC and City to let a Canadiens fan in Moose Jaw, a Leafs fan in Corner Brook and a Flames fan in Sarnia watch their team’s games. This differed from the previous system, where CBC split its network geographically and decided for each station which NHL team it wanted viewers to see.

The downside to this new system is that not all games are free. With as many as seven Canadian teams playing on a Saturday night (though the HNIC schedule never has more than five games on any night this season), only three broadcasts are on free over-the-air channels: early games on CBC and City, and a late game on CBC. And generally Rogers respects a pecking order: Leafs almost always get priority on CBC, and the Canucks generally get the 10pm game if they’re playing then.

Though it has in the past put Habs games on Sportsnet to try to drive subscriptions, so far this season it looks like the Canadiens are headed to City on Saturdays, except when they’re playing the Leafs. Mind you, Sportsnet is busy with baseball playoffs, so it may not be an entirely altruistic move. But even if it stays that way, that means the Senators and Jets get moved to Sportsnet channels, along with the Oilers and Flames.

Scheduling Saturday nights is so delicate that Rogers doesn’t pick channel assignments before the season except for the first month. Instead, the assignments are chosen a week or two in advance. That way, a team that is getting popular later in the season, or faces a highly anticipated matchup, might get a more prominent channel than one that’s fading.

So, confident in the knowledge that you know better than they do, how would you schedule Hockey Night in Canada? Give it a shot below.

The rules

Create your own procedure for scheduling Hockey Night in Canada games. The rules have to involve all seven Canadian teams, and should be applicable to as many as three early games (7pm) and two late games (10pm).

The rules are subject to the following technical abilities and limitations:

  • The CBC network can be split geographically, but only with 14 stations: Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Regina, Winnipeg, Windsor, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Fredericton, Charlottetown Halifax, St. John’s and Yellowknife. If you split the network, assign a game to each station.
  • The City network can also be split geographically, with stations in each Canadian NHL market except Ottawa, which is a retransmitter of City Toronto and can’t carry a different game.
  • OMNI, which carries Hockey Night in Punjabi, has stations in Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. If you ask nicely maybe you can convince Montreal’s ICI to join.
  • Most people don’t get out-of-market CBC, City and OMNI stations, or if they do, it’s not in high definition.
  • Sportsnet can be split up between East (Montreal, Ottawa), Ontario (Toronto), West (Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton) and Pacific (Vancouver). Most people now do get the four channels, but some still only have their local one, or just the local one in HD.
  • Sportsnet can’t always be monopolized for hockey. The baseball playoffs are on right now, and the main Sportsnet channels are showing that tonight, so they’re not usable for HNIC. There are also Toronto Raptors games to consider.
  • Sportsnet 360 and Sportsnet One are also available, but can’t be split geographically. They have fewer subscribers than the main Sportsnet channels.
  • The Sportsnet One overflow channels, Sportsnet Vancouver Hockey, Sportsnet Flames and Sportsnet Oilers are also available, though they’re not distributed outside their teams’ regions and not everyone gets them inside their regions either.
  • FX Canada is available (Rogers’s original plan was to use it for a U.S. team matchup), but it doesn’t have many subscribers and its audience doesn’t overlap with sports lovers very much.
  • Any channel with both an early game and a late game has to have a plan in case the early game goes past 10pm. Do you stick with the early game and join the late in progress? Do you start the late game on a backup channel?

There are also economic considerations to take into account:

  • Like it or not, the Maple Leafs are the biggest draw on English TV. Your biggest ad revenue will come from the Leafs game.
  • As someone who spent $5.2 billion on NHL rights, you want to drive subscriptions to Sportsnet, particularly for teams like Ottawa, Winnipeg and Montreal where you don’t have the regional rights to those teams’ games.

And finally, you need to keep it relatively simple. If you split the CBC, City and Sportsnet networks and what channel a team’s game is on varies by city, you risk making it so complicated for people to watch that they just give up.

So how would you make it work?

My suggestion

Here’s one plan I would offer for consideration:

  • Go back to splitting the CBC network geographically. All seven NHL markets get their local NHL team. The other seven stations could have viewers decide which team they want. (Windsor getting the Red Wings would be great if possible.) Markets where the local team plays at 10pm ET get an early Leafs or Canadiens game but cut to the local team when their game begins.
  • Put the Canadiens on City coast to coast. Just cuz. Consider putting a late game on City, too, if there’s more than one that night.
  • Split Sportsnet: Senators on Sportsnet East, Leafs on Sportsnet Ontario, Flames, Oilers or Jets on Sportsnet West and Canucks on Sportsnet Pacific. Offer local pregame and postgame shows on those channels.
  • Sorry, Jets, you get bumped to Sportsnet One if there aren’t any free channels up the food chain.
  • If you don’t need it to show a full game, turn Sportsnet 360 into an on-the-fly channel checking in on various games at key moments. Maybe even do split-screen. See what works. It can also be used for pregame and postgame shows while the other channels are showing early and late games.
  • Use the Canucks/Flames/Oilers SN1 channels for alternative feeds of some sort when those teams are in action. Star cam, goalie cam, shaky ref cam? Go nuts.
  • Keep HNIC Punjabi going, but don’t limit it to Leafs and Canucks games. Mix it up a bit. Consider translating into other languages (Mandarin, Italian, Arabic) through partnerships with Canadian broadcasters in those languages.

So for tonight, it would work out like this:

  • CBC 7pm: Leafs, Canadiens or Senators, split regionally. 10pm: Oilers/Canucks or Jets/Flames, split regionally.
  • City 7pm: Canadiens. 10pm: Jets/Flames.
  • OMNI 7pm: Leafs. 10pm: Oilers/Canucks.
  • Sportsnet: MLB playoffs.
  • Sportsnet One: Leafs, followed by Oilers/Canucks.
  • Sportsnet 360: Senators, followed by combined Sens/Leafs/Habs postgame show.

If Sportsnet were available, it would be this:

  • CBC 7pm: Leafs, Canadiens or Senators, split regionally. 10pm: Oilers/Canucks or Jets/Flames, split regionally.
  • City 7pm: Canadiens. 10pm: Jets/Flames.
  • Sportsnet East: Senators, followed by Senators postgame
  • Sportsnet Ontario: Leafs, followed by Leafs postgame
  • Sportsnet West: Jets/Flames pregame, game and postgame
  • Sportsnet Pacific: Oilers/Canucks pregame, game and postgame
  • Sportsnet One: Other programming until 9:30pm, followed by Montreal postgame
  • Sportsnet 360: Live look-ins across the league

The big advantage is that every market gets their local team. The big disadvantage is that it’s more complex, and there’s duplication. (Montreal gets the Habs on both CBC and City, for example.) I’m not sure it’s much better than Rogers’s current system for anyone living outside their local team’s market.

But maybe you have a better solution. Go ahead and try. Offer your suggestions in the comments below.

Luc Lavoie and the old boys club

Dec. 18, 2011: North Korean state television announces the death of its dear leader, Kim Jong-Il. On a Sunday evening past 10pm, LCN anchor Melissa François announces the news on air, but (probably in part because of how much a lowercase L looks like an uppercase I) she pronounces his name as “Kim Jong Deux”. A clip of this is posted online and spreads around the French-speaking world, much to LCN’s ridicule.

François was pulled off the air and reassigned to a desk job. Her union defended her and asked TVA to put her back on the job, which in turn caused the president of the union to be suspended. She eventually left and got another job at Radio-Canada.

Oct. 3, 2017: On the LCN politics show La Joute, the three hosts are discussing a less serious story than most: Petitions to the National Assembly about the hunting of squirrels. One petition calls for it to be banned, the other for it to be protected.

Luc Lavoie tries to add a joke about legalizing such hunting (with firearms) in urban areas, because they’re a nuisance. He adds:

In fact, I would have liked to be able to hunt separatists, but it seems it’s not possible.

His cohosts, Paul Laroque and Bernard Drainville, immediately tell him he shouldn’t joke about that, as Lavoie lets out a laugh, apparently amused by his own joke.

It’s too late. A few of the people watching hit rewind on their PVRs, record the exchange and post it to social media, where it goes viral.

Lavoie later posts an apology on Facebook (saying he did so without being asked), and the 11pm rebroadcast of the show is spiked, replaced by a rebroadcast of the 10pm newscast.

The next day, the statement becomes even bigger news. La Presse reports the SQ is investigating. Politicians issue statements condemning the remarks.

Groupe TVA issues a statement that says the comments are unacceptable and Lavoie has apologized. But it mentions no sanction, despite calls from various directions that Lavoie be fired. Three hours later, it issues another statement, saying Lavoie is being removed from the air because of the SQ investigation. The existence of a complaint to the SQ seems like less of a triggering factor than TVA perhaps realizing that people are reacting negatively to their earlier non-firing of him.

Deux poids, deux mesures

So what’s the difference between these two cases? Well, a lot. One was an honest mistake that resulted in mockery. The other was a bad joke that resulted in condemnation. Both were mistakes made by people who should have known better.

But the difference in reaction doesn’t have to do as much with what happened or the amount of reaction to it. Rather, it’s who they are. François was a junior anchor, hired only the previous year, doing a weekend shift. Lavoie is one of the faces of LCN, a former executive vice-president of Quebecor, a deputy chief of staff to Brian Mulroney when he was prime minister, and a friend and sometimes spokesperson for Pierre Karl Péladeau.

One is an expendable employee (who couldn’t be dismissed outright because she was in a union). The other is one of the boys-will-be-boys boys, who gets the benefit of the doubt when he jokingly suggests shooting separatists two days after the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

(And, as has been pointed out, this isn’t the first time Lavoie has had to apologize for putting his foot in his mouth on the air. Or the first time he’s said something stupid.)

So it’s entirely understandable in this context to expect that Lavoie’s suspension will be temporary. Maybe he’ll need to find another job, lay low for a while and do something less in the public eye, but his friend PKP won’t abandon him unless he has no other choice.

I generally don’t believe in firing people for single mistakes like this. I find the punishment over-the-top, and ineffective as a deterrent. I’d rather people be required to make some form of restitution and learn from the experience.

So I don’t necessarily want Lavoie to lose his job. But he owes people a more serious explanation than what he posted on his (since-deleted) Facebook page. He needs to explain what he could have been thinking that would lead him to believe that hunting separatists with guns was funny.

And maybe the producers of La Joute can consider that having three well-paid middle-age-or-older white guys hosting a political discussion show comes with an inherent lack of perspective that leads to people being comfortable with speaking before they think.

UPDATE: Lavoie is back on the air.

First look: CTV News Montreal at 5

For the past two weeks, CTV Montreal has had an additional hour of local news on weekdays. First announced in June, the new newscasts precede the usual 6pm news on most CTV stations, including Montreal’s.

Two weeks after they launched on Aug. 28, I’ve watched several of them and can start to piece together a picture of what they generally look like, and the strengths and weaknesses of the format.

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The magic of Just For Laughs and the Goddamn Comedy Jam

It’s the height of the Just For Laughs comedy festival, and I’m having a great time burning two weeks of vacation from work. Not to humblebrag, but I got to sit in an aisle seat in row F for the Colin Jost and Michael Che gala last night, laughing enthusiastically as the audience-reaction camera guy pointed his camera at seemingly everyone just above, below and across from me in the aisle. (Note to self: Next time bring pretty lady to sit next to me.) The best seat I’ve ever had for a JFL gala, and probably ever will until I start making Anne-France Goldwater money.

But the highlight of the night for me didn’t come from the gala seat, which would have cost about $100 had I not gotten them on the JFL pass (insane value, folks). No, it came from an under-attended Off-JFL show that I only went to because there was nothing else available at that hour.

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You have a responsibility to help stop fake news: 12 things you should be doing

Happy April Fool’s Day, everybody.

We’re two months into the administration of President Donald J. Trump, and already it’s clear that the president and his chief spokesperson have no qualms about uttering bald-faced lies on easily verifiable things to satisfy their perverted need for political victory on petty issues.

The so-called mainstream media is waking up to this and calling out the government on its falsehoods. But that hasn’t stopped or even slowed down the proliferation of incorrect information through mainstream, alternative and social media.

And it’s not just Trump supporters pushing fake news. This hyper-partisan mistaken belief that you’re right and it’s the other side that’s trying to manipulate you is the main driver of this phenomenon, and it’s the first thing that needs to stop.

Living in Quebec, my social network skews left. But more importantly my social network also skews toward journalists. And it’s upsetting when people who consider themselves critical thinkers pass along poorly sourced garbage just because it agrees with their world view and sounds like it could probably be true. Often it’s things that don’t really matter — inspirational quotes falsely attributed to famous historical figures, too-good-to-be-true news stories about stupid people or that feature an ironic twist, or wildly exaggerated stories of government incompetence or corporate evil. But often it’s things that, if enough people believed them, could lead to society making poor decisions.

It’s not up to the media to fix this. Journalists have already lost the war of credibility to the hyper-partisans. And much of the way people get news bypasses journalists anyway. You’re the ones shaping the opinions of your friends through social media, which is now how more and more people get their news.

If fake news is going to be brought under control, if facts are going to matter again, it’s up to you to do something about it.

Here are some of those things you can do:

1. Fact check social media and your friends, especially those you agree with

It’s easy to call out fake news and point out inconsistencies when it’s your political opponent making the claims. But people live in ideological bubbles these days, and have taught themselves to dismiss all criticism of those they disagree with. It’s up to each side to call out their friends when false information is being spread, even if they may agree with the conclusion those made-up facts might lead to. You might agree that Donald Trump is not going to advance LGBT rights as much as Hillary Clinton would, but the LGBT page being “deleted” from the White House website doesn’t mean anything more than the State of the Union page being deleted. It’s a new administration, and it gets a new website, which it hasn’t put much on yet. That’s all.

If you’re sharing stories about the White House Photoshopping Donald Trump’s hands, or Trump being remote diagnosed with a mental illness, or any of these stories, you need to understand that you’re part of the problem. Fake news isn’t just an alt-right thing, it’s a problem facing the political left as well.

If you see some viral unsourced story, do a Google search. You’ll probably find a page about it on Snopes.com, or another fact-check somewhere else. If you discover that it’s fake or misleading, reply with a link to it.

2. Share original sources

It’s frustrating to see how often videos are stolen on Facebook, downloaded and reposted with some stupid caption to a “viral” page designed to profit off other people’s work. The original creator gets no revenue and not even credit or recognition for what they created. But because we’re too lazy to find out where the video comes from, we just like and share.

This has implications for fake news. The number of sources out there has exploded, and the rush to compete for clicks has meant many of those sources copying, citing or “aggregating” others’ reporting in order to steal away traffic. It’s not unusual to find a news article online about an interesting story that cites another source, which in turn cites another source, which in turn cites another. It can take several minutes to find out whoever originally reported something, and learn that through this game of broken telephone, facts have been exaggerated, assumed or selectively chosen to make a story more sensational than it is.

Instead of sharing the churned-out sensationalizing of a possibly misinterpreted fact from a news story, share the original news story. Give credit (and ad revenue) to the person who did the actual journalism, and who has a real interest in getting the facts right.

3. Ask questions

Sometimes, the most important question you can ask as a journalist is “how do you know that?” If someone says something that sounds like an outrageous fact, ask for their sources. Often you’ll get a vague answer about reading something online. Often it’ll be “Facebook”. We mock Trump for repeating stuff he heard from partisans on Facebook, but many of us are just as guilty as he is.

If you’re getting your news from your friends, you should be critical of them. If you read something that makes assumptions, ask about those assumptions. If there seems to be a perfectly reasonable explanation for something outrageous, ask if that was considered and why it was dismissed.

4. Learn before speaking

It’s infuriating when your read comments on Facebook posts that make it clear the person has not read the story being linked to. Don’t be that person. Don’t assume you know what a story is because you read the headline. If you don’t have time to read it, don’t comment.

Similarly, don’t pretend to be an expert on something you know nothing about. If you want to opine about something, read up on it first from an objective source, or preferably multiple sources, and cite those sources so people can check your facts.

5. Care when you get stuff wrong

If you share a story and someone responds with a Snopes.com or other link proving it’s false, don’t reply with “I don’t care” or “it doesn’t matter” or “but that’s not the point” or “lol whatever”. Apologize and delete it. It’s not okay just because it sounds like it could probably be true, or because it makes you feel good to believe comforting lies about your political opponent, or because you’re sure similar things have happened that are true, or because it’s an interesting fictional story.

6. Resist the urge to dismiss a big story because of a minor issue

Journalism should be all true. Not mostly true, not truthy, but true. Errors, no matter how minor, should be corrected. But a minor error does not make a story false. Don’t think that nitpicking is a proper way to discredit something you disagree with.

7. Stop listening to hyper-partisans driven by hate

There are those in every political camp who cater to the “red meat” base, those who are loyal beyond question, who care more about winning than they do about advancing society in any way. These people never admit they’re wrong, they never consider the other side of the argument, they always exaggerate arguments in their favour and ignore those that work against them. Stop being an audience for these people.

If someone is sharing news from a partisan source like “The Other 99%” or “Occupy Democrats” or The Rebel, be very skeptical. Check what other news sources not driven by agendas are reporting about it, or even what their political opponents say. Read original source material whenever possible. And consider sharing less biased sources that offer up the facts and let their audience draw their own conclusions.

If you get your information from a source that never corrects its errors, stop using that source.

8. Stop dehumanizing political opponents

Your hate for Donald Trump is driven mainly by his sexism and misogyny? Then why are you making degrading sexist comments about Melania Trump? You don’t like him because he’s vulgar? Then why are you using vulgar terms to describe him? You don’t like him because he’s superficial and rates women by their appearance? Then why are you making fun of his skin and hair?

Donald Trump is a grown man with lots of privilege and is now the most powerful person in the world (insert Vladimir Putin joke here). You don’t have to go easy on him. But if you’re going to criticize him, do it on issues that matter. The same goes for anyone you disagree with.

There are very few people in the world who are pure evil. Most people who do bad things believe they’re doing good. But there are far too many people who have let hate and frustration drive them, who believe the ends justify the means, who ignore that the person they disagree with is a human being with emotions and life experiences and morals.

Forgetting that people are human leads to the belief in a lot of insane stories. Be skeptical of any story that would require someone or a group of people to be pure evil for it to be true.

9. Don’t trust your memory

Remember that woman who won millions of dollars in a lawsuit against McDonald’s because she spilled coffee in her lap while driving? Yeah, that didn’t happen that way. Remember that 90s movie where Sinbad plays a genie? Didn’t exist.

Memory is unreliable, especially about things that happened long ago. Conventional wisdom about past events, or even current ones, is often wrong or exaggerated by people pushing agendas. Facts are often remembered based on what emotional impact they had, and this can skew people’s impressions of what really happened. Check your facts.

10. Don’t get emotional

Someone disagreed with you on Twitter? Block them! Someone dislikes political correctness on Facebook? Unfriend them! Someone questions the factual basis for something you said or wrote? Mercilessly mock and insult them!

Or you could not. Try breaking your bubble instead of reinforcing it. Read stories that make you uncomfortable. Listen to opinions that are different from yours. Open your mind to the idea that you, and the people you generally agree with, might be wrong about something. Don’t feed the trolls with your hate. Don’t make yourself feel better by bringing your opponents down.

Michelle Obama said “When they go low, we go high.” Consider actually following that advice rather than repeating it as a way of belittling your opponents.

11. Be the better person

Changes in the balance of power in politics usually result in dramatic reversals of position in terms of what’s acceptable behaviour. Questioning or disrespecting a sitting president is only unacceptable when it’s your guy in the office. Filibusters are obstructionist when it’s your policies they’re blocking, but a necessary check on abuse of power when it’s the other guy’s. Refusal to accept election results is shameful when they lose, but a moral duty when we do.

Two wrongs don’t make a right. And “they started it” is the argument of a five-year-old. Show by example that you’re better than that.

The ends justify the means is never an acceptable reason for spreading lies.

Even the most partisan hardliner will use facts from mainstream media, even if they don’t agree with their conclusions.

12. Stop treating “mainstream media” as if it’s a monolith with an agenda

There are legitimate criticisms to be made about newspapers, television stations, radio stations and online media, whether they’re corporately owned or independent. There are legitimate criticisms of individual columnists or journalists. There are real biases to point out across the industry (the bias that causes interesting outliers to get much more attention than the boring majority, for example).

But when you start dismissing the “mainstream media” as garbage because of a few stories you didn’t like, or when you call a newspaper “fake news” because you disagreed with a columnist, you’re part of the problem. So-called “mainstream media” is more likely to be professional, more likely to have a reputation to uphold, more likely to be accountable.

And when the president of the United States watches Fox News and his administration gives Breitbart preferential treatment in press briefings, well congratulations you’re mainstream now.

I’m not asking you to bite your tongue and avoid criticism. But rather, be specific. If you think a story is one-sided, call it out. If you think a journalist is biased, call that out (but expect to be asked to produce a lot of supporting material). And stop throwing “fake news” at things unless you’re sure that what their producing is something they know is wrong.

It won’t be easy, but together we can help fight back the wave of misinformation. If we can keep our hypocrisies at bay, and value knowledge over anger, we might begin to make some headway.

The Rebel’s reporting on the Quebec mosque shooting, annotated

The Rebel, the website started by former Sun News personality Ezra Levant after the all-news network was shut down, likes to ask a lot of questions.

It’s good to ask questions. Journalism is about questions. Unfortunately too many of The Rebel’s questions are directed at its audience, rather than the people who would actually know the answers to its questions. The result is that the audience is left to guess at answers, and that doesn’t always lead to the truth.

Within hours of the Quebec City mosque shooting that left six Muslim men dead and more than a dozen injured, The Rebel had registered the domain quebecterror.com (Levant loves to register domain names) and was asking questions. Many of them were directed at the so-called mainstream media.

Since I happen to work for a daily newspaper, the most mainstream of mainstream media, perhaps I can offer some insight. So here is The Rebel’s reporting on the “Quebec terror” attack, annotated with notes from myself.

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Be careful what you wish for from all-news channels

“C’est le terrorisme à l’envers.”

Those were words that Pierre Bruneau would have liked to have had back (he apologized for them on Monday). He said them during a live telephone interview with Montreal mayor Denis Coderre just before midnight Sunday on TVA, hours after a shooting at a mosque in Quebec City left six people dead.

Bruneau was thinking out loud about how this was an apparent terrorist attack against Muslims, when we normally think of terrorism committed by Muslims (even though, with one major exception, such attacks are extremely rare in North America). He didn’t mean to say something ignorant or racist, but it kind of came out that way, at least for many of the now hundreds of thousands who have seen a video of the exchange on Facebook.

Bruneau is a veteran and a professional. He’s been dealing with breaking news for decades. And when even he starts mouthing off about n’importe quoi, it’s because there’s something wrong with the situation he’s been put in.

On Sunday evening, as news spread about the attack, people were hungry for information. Many of them lashed out on Twitter about the lack of live coverage on all-news channels. While LCN and RDI went live with special programming, CTV News Channel and CBC News Network did not at first. Critics tied the lack of live coverage to budget cuts, laziness and ignorance of anything happening outside of Toronto. John Doyle at the Globe and Mail made a column out of it. Even Le Soleil’s Richard Therrien blasted Radio-Canada for not more aggressively cutting into its main network programming, and then only doing so locally.

There are legitimate reasons to criticize CTV, CBC or other broadcasters. They’ve all had to undergo cuts to their newsrooms (mainly because their revenue has decreased as the market for TV advertising goes down). They tend to have minimal or even no staffing on weekends and overnight, and in a place like Quebec City where there’s no local English TV station, merely a bureau at the National Assembly, your immediate coverage is dependent on a single journalist and her cameraman.

The English networks could have gone live from Toronto, as the French ones did from Montreal, after the news broke around 9pm. But with the Quebec City reporter still rushing to the scene, and few details to go on, they’d be stuck spending 30 seconds recapping what they know (there was a shooting at a mosque, several people are dead and more injured, police have made arrests) and then filling the rest of every hour with their imaginations.

I’m one of those people who think 24-hour news networks should be focused on breaking news. After all, that’s what they’re there for, right? But I’m not sure special programming right off the bat is necessarily the way to go for an incident that is not a safety threat to the public. If they’d done that, we’d probably be roasting them over the coals for all the stupid ignorant stuff they said over the air to fill time, like we’re doing to Bruneau.

So let me propose a different solution to breaking news on all-news channels (and their related over-the-air networks):

  1. On the news channel, break into programming to announce what happened once it’s confirmed something actually did happen. Explain what you know and what you don’t know, and promise regular updates. Go back to regular or filler programming.
  2. Add a banner, ticker or other permanent on-screen element to whatever programming is airing explaining the news and giving the latest details. (This is standard on RDI when major news breaks but they can’t go live yet.)
  3. If your network has an over-the-air station in the affected market, and there’s a possible public safety issue, put that banner or ticker on top of programming there, include whatever public safety information needs to be communicated, and direct people to the news channel for more information. When the news channel has special programming ready, duplicate that channel’s feed on the local station.
  4. For the rest of the network, air a 30-second report instead of the first commercial at the next commercial break, directing people to the all-news channel (or if you don’t have one, your website) for more information.
  5. On the news channel, every half hour, give a 30-second (or however long it takes) update from the anchor desk, again being as transparent as possible about what you know, what you don’t know, and what you’re working on and cautioning that early information (even from official sources) can be wrong.
  6. When enough resources are mobilized that you’re confident you can have enough real information to air without having to resort to speculation to fill airtime, begin full-time special programming.
  7. Find things that can be cued or cut to when your anchor has run out of information to give. Maybe a two-minute roundup of the other headlines of the day. Even something simple like a graphic wall of text summarizing the known information so far. Do everything you can to resist the urge to start speculating, or asking other people to speculate, about breaking news.
  8. Once the influx of news has died down, especially if it’s now late at night, sign off from special programming and go back to updates every half-hour or hour.

Networks that run news channels need to do better jobs when news breaks late at night. So many major stories — the killing of Osama Bin Laden, the disaster in Lac-Mégantic and this — broke at night on the weekend, limiting the networks’ ability to cover them.

But like with those stories, there was plenty of coverage eventually. Every network and all the major newspapers sent reporters to Quebec City, either Sunday night or Monday morning. In fact, all three English-language national newscasts were anchored from Quebec City on Monday night (what journalistic use there is sending the anchors to Quebec City so they could deliver a newscast outside in the cold is still beyond my comprehension).

Plus, most of the information people were getting on Twitter or online came from the same journalists that were covering the incident for the major networks or newspapers. And yet people say stupid things like how they don’t need mainstream news because they have Twitter.

So the issue wasn’t a lack of interest, it was a lack of information early on, combined with difficulty mobilizing journalistic resources in an area that has few English-language journalists and at a time when most journalists in general aren’t working.

There are things that can be worked on there (though, of course, no consumer wants to pay for it) that may speed up the process a bit. But there is no circumstance in which you can produce a journalistically solid hour-long newscast about a breaking news event on a half-hour’s notice. You can’t make the authorities work faster, nor can you do their job for them. So in the first few hours of any breaking news story, you’re still left with some bad choices: wait before going live and continue with regular programming (pissing off the John Doyles of the world), produce live programming that repeats little information ad nauseam, have a lot of dead air, or ask your journalists to start doing what people on social media were doing on Sunday night: Repeating rumours, speculation and poorly-informed hot takes and emotional reactions rather than facts.

Which would you choose? My proposal above is the closest thing I can come to a compromise, but even the best-laid plans can easily fail when something big happens without warning.

20 bogus arguments about the CRTC and Super Bowl ads

With less than three weeks to go until Super Bowl LI, the rhetoric is heating up about a decision made by the CRTC two years ago to end simultaneous substitution during the Super Bowl, now that it’s about to finally come into effect.

There’s good reason for this. Simultaneous substitution is worth $250 million to the Canadian television industry, according to one estimate, and substitution for the Super Bowl alone — the most watched program on Canadian TV every year with an average around 7 million (plus another 1 million on RDS) — is worth $18 million a year to Bell Media, which owns the Canadian rights through 2019. There’s a huge financial interest for Bell to keep fighting this.

And so the decision is facing an appeal by Bell Media, though the court declined to stay the decision in the meantime, so it remains in force pending a decision.

Ever more desperate, Bell Media, the NFL and other allies in the fight appealed to the government directly, lobbying them to engage in creative manoeuvres to overrule the CRTC. The government appears disinterested in stepping in to overturn a populist decision by a supposedly arm’s-length regulator.

In the arguments for and against the decision, from interest groups, newspaper columnists and others, there have been a lot of good points and a lot of poor ones made. Those who want to oversimplify this issue have taken plenty of logical short cuts that can lead casual observers to incorrect conclusions.

Here are some of the arguments used by both sides that I’ve heard over the past few weeks (in some cases I’ve included links to those who have used them or implied them), and why I think those arguments are invalid.

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“Are you happy?”

It was a simple question, posed to me by a woman in a bar recently. It’s something I’ve occasionally thought about in the what’s-the-meaning-of-life way. I’m in my 30s, an age when you’re unquestionably an adult, but still young enough that more of your working-age life is ahead of you than behind. It’s an age when, if you’re single and/or childless, you can hear your biological clock ticking.

But mostly, it’s an age when you have lived enough that you can make an informed decision about what parts of your life you can see yourself maintaining for another decade or four, and which ones you want to change, assuming you have the freedom to do so.

The year that’s ending has been described in Internet memes and on television as a negative one, mainly because of celebrity deaths (David Bowie, Prince) and the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. (Some people also throw in a mention of Syria.) A confirmation bias is setting in as people compile more reasons to dislike the artificial construct of time that began on Jan. 1, 2016 and will end in a week.

But celebrity deaths and awful politicians were not invented this year, and they won’t disappear next year. And despite all the doom and gloom, the world continues to improve statistically, with fewer people in poverty, less disease, less war and more technological development.

Personally, I look at happiness in terms of my daily life. I could, like others I see on Facebook, focus on my crises of the moment. On the minor inconveniences and frustrations that I have to deal with regularly. But the truth is I have it pretty good right now.

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It shouldn’t be this hard to watch the hockey games you want

Ever since the fall of 2014, when Rogers began a 12-year broadcasting rights deal with the National Hockey League, hockey fans (and Montreal Canadiens fans in particular) have been scratching their heads, pulling their hair out and engaging in other clichés trying to figure out how to watch their games.

There were several changes that took place all at the same time:

  • Rogers acquired national rights to NHL games, which includes Saturday night games (formerly CBC), Wednesday night games (formerly TSN) and Sunday night games (a new national window)
  • Rogers changed the way Hockey Night in Canada worked. Rather than split the CBC TV network and assign different stations different games, it used its multiple channels to make every broadcast national. On the plus side, it made it easier for people in Vancouver or Toronto to watch a Canadiens game, but on the minus side, it made it harder for the sometimes fan to catch their local team if that team wasn’t the Toronto Maple Leafs.
  • Rogers sub-licensed French-language national rights to TVA Sports, taking those rights away from RDS. For the first time in a decade, RDS did not have a monopoly on French-language NHL rights and would not broadcast all 82 Canadiens games.
  • Rather than let TVA Sports broadcast all Canadiens games, the team signed a separate regional rights deal with RDS, which meant the network would have to be blacked out outside the team’s region. Similarly for the Senators, which RDS also picked up regional rights to.
  • Some teams signed new regional rights deals. The Canadiens signed an English deal with Sportsnet, whereas before TSN had some regional games. The Senators went from Sportsnet to TSN for its regional rights. And the Maple Leafs had its regional rights split between TSN and Sportsnet, leaving Leafs TV without any games.
  • TSN went to five channels, ending part-time special regional channels for the Jets and Canadiens and making TSN3, TSN4 and TSN5 the main channel for regions served by the Jets, Leafs and Senators, respectively.
  • Rogers took control of NHL GameCentre Live, and made changes to that service.

To help people out, I wrote a story for the Montreal Gazette explaining the changes as best I could and included a full-page chart of every Canadiens game and what channels it would be available on.

A year later, there were enough demands from readers for another one that the sports editor asked me to repeat it.

And once again this year. Despite the situation being very similar to last year, the Gazette devoted another full page to the TV schedule and a story explaining what’s different. (I’ve also updated a story from last year for fans outside the Canadiens’ broadcast region.)

Don’t blame Rogers

Because these changes happened after Rogers took over as the national broadcaster, many fans blame the company for every blackout, complication or lack of availability of broadcasts. Some of that is earned, but most of it is not. It’s the National Hockey League, not Rogers, that sets the rules.

The anger is particularly high for Montreal Canadiens fans, who are used to seeing every game on RDS. The sub-licensing with TVA Sports meant that not only would Saturday night games move to the competing network, but RDS’s remaining games would have to be blacked out in most of Ontario and western Canada. The fact that Rogers made all 82 games available in English for the first time ever wasn’t enough to counteract that.

The NHL lets its teams sell rights to most of their games on a regional basis, meant to protect teams’ markets from competition for viewers. There are also games, usually on specific nights, where the league sells the rights on a national basis and there are no blackouts. It’s the same in Canada and the United States, and it also exists in other leagues (you think it’s complicated up here, look at the mess that is regional sports networks in the U.S.)

So I find myself spending a lot of time explaining to people how it works, that broadcasters don’t want to black out their channels, that it’s not just a money grab by Rogers, that it has nothing to do with the CRTC or whether a team has sold out a home game (that’s an NFL rule).

But knowing all that I do, there are some things that even I don’t understand, and that I think could be changed.

Do we need regional rights anymore?

The idea behind regional rights blackouts, whether it’s the NHL, MLB or the NFL, is to protect a sports team’s home market. If you’re starting a new Major League Baseball team in, say, Vermont or Connecticut, you want people in that area to be fans of your team. So you carve out an exclusive territory, and you make sure that other teams can’t broadcast all their games in that territory. You don’t want to make it as easy for people in your area to become Yankees fans.

But as fans here continually complain, that kind of thing won’t make them change allegiances, it’ll just frustrate them. A Habs fan in Toronto is going to stay a Habs fan, regardless of how many games are available to them on TV. And the regional rights blackouts don’t help when teams are close enough together that they can’t really have separate regions. (The Oilers and Flames share identical regions, as do the Canadiens and Senators, and many teams of different leagues in the New York area and southern California.)

What if we just eliminated them? Keep the split between rights sold by the league and those sold by individual teams, but end out-of-region blackouts.

The Canadian Football League doesn’t have regional blackouts. All games for all teams are national, and TSN holds the rights. And yet teams serving smaller markets, like the Ottawa Redblacks and Hamilton Tiger-Cats, aren’t complaining about people from their region being able to watch Toronto or Montreal games. And the Saskatchewan Roughriders are still crazy popular in that province.

In Canada, Major League Soccer splits game rights between national and team-sold broadcast deals. That’s why RDS (national) and TVA Sports (team-based) split the rights to Montreal Impact games. But there are no MLS regional blackouts in this country.

It’s too late to renegotiate existing agreements (mainly because too many parties are involved), but when the national deal comes up in 2026, Rogers (or Bell, or whoever) and the NHL should sit down and explore the possibility of lifting these blackouts in Canada.

Let me pay for it

An even more frustrating problem is for people who pay for services set up to watch out-of-market teams: NHL Centre Ice and NHL GameCentre Live. There, we have the reverse problem: Those broadcasts that are available on regular TV are blacked out in these services. (Though Rogers has made national games available in GCL and some in-region regional games as well.)

I get the need to protect regional rights holders. But if I’m paying $200 a year to watch NHL games, I should be able to watch everything. The NHL should either tell regional rights-holders to live with the competition, or come to some agreement whereby some of that $200 goes to compensate the regional rights-holder for the money they would otherwise get from a subscription to their TV channel. (And, of course, making sure that it’s their feed that’s used, ensuring that viewers see their ads.)

There’s progress being made. Making national games available on GCL is a big step forward. Making regional games available for authenticated subscribers is another, but Bell, Rogers and Quebecor need to sit down with each other and finally hammer out an agreement that allows their services to be fully available to each other’s TV subscribers. It only serves to annoy subscribers and alienate fans when Videotron subscribers can’t access Sportsnet Now and Bell subscribers can’t stream TVA Sports.

Other things can also be done, like linking GameCentre Live and NHL Centre Ice so you only have to pay for one of them to get both. Or creating new packages that make it easier and cheaper to follow a single team rather than the entire league.

More and more fans are saying screw it and watching pirated streams online. Some are even paying a few bucks a month for it, because it’s simple and reliable. As a recent Sportsnet Now ad showed, that’s the real competition here.

If people are willing to pay $200 a season to watch hockey, the least you could do is not make them jump through hoops on top of that.

This is your problem, NHL. Fix it before you lose even more fans and even more potential revenue.

The entirely predictable result of Quebec’s gambling-website-blocking law is coming

Only minutes after it was spotted at the very end of Quebec’s 2015 budget document, the proposal to force Internet service providers to block illegal gambling websites was criticized as being unconstitutional.

In the months that followed, the bill to implement the measure was criticized, by opposition parties, by Internet providers, by public interest groups, by Michael Geist, and by anyone with even a basic understanding of constitutional law in Canada. (Though, strangely, not by some actual independent gambling sites.)

And yet, the government kept pushing the legislation along. During parliamentary committee hearings, Finance Minister Carlos Leitão assured everyone that they had their lawyers look into it and it would pass a challenge. This isn’t a telecommunications bill, he argued, it’s about gambling, consumer protection and health, which are provincial jurisdictions.

When Bill 74 was finally adopted at the National Assembly in May 2016, it was with both opposition parties noting the potential issues (which also included worries about the impact this would have on small ISPs).

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre wasted little time, applying to the CRTC to ask it to declare the bill’s website blocking elements unconstitutional. Meanwhile, the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association launched a challenge in Quebec Superior Court.

On Thursday, the CRTC responded to PIAC’s application, arguing that on the one hand the court case should settle the matter of whether the bill is constitutional, while on the other hand saying that blocking websites is against the federal Telecommunications Act and complying with a provincial law is not justification for doing so.

The CRTC has given parties 15 days to respond to its preliminary findings, and if it doesn’t change its mind, it will suspend the PIAC application until the court case is settled.

The law won’t be implemented until probably 2018 at the earliest because it will take a while for Loto-Québec to set up its end of the system. That should be enough time for the court to decide on this issue, assuming it doesn’t end up being appealed.

In the meantime, we can sit here and shake our heads at all the energy, time and money being wasted by the Quebec government, the CRTC, the court system, Internet providers, PIAC, Loto-Québec and others over provisions of a law that is obviously unconstitutional and probably wouldn’t work even if it wasn’t.

The missing nuance of the Mike Ward debate

An unelected quasi-judicial board of PC police with no respect for fundamental freedoms is trying to force a comedian to pay thousands of dollars because someone didn’t like one of his jokes about a public figure.

A bigot who makes a career out of vulgarities and insults is finally being brought to minor justice after bullying a young boy by mocking his disability and expressing a desire for him to be murdered.

Either one of those sentences could describe the much-discussed legal battle between comedian Mike Ward and Jérémy Gabriel, the boy born with Treacher Collins syndrome who made headlines a decade ago when his wish to become a singer led to him singing in front of Céline Dion and the pope.

Just before he began a week of hosting the Nasty Show at Just For Laughs, Ward was ordered by Quebec’s human rights tribunal to pay a total of $42,000 in moral and punitive damages to Gabriel and his mother for comments he made during a one-man comedy show.

If you’re unfamiliar with the case, pat yourself on the back, because it seems like everyone has been talking about it. Even visiting American comedians were asked about the case during JFL.

Since the decision was announced, and even before while we were waiting for it, just about every communications medium that exists has hosted discussions on it. On one side, comedians and free speech absolutists who say this is a slippery slope toward government censorship of comedy. On the other side, social justice warriors who say comedy is no excuse for bullying a disabled child.

I’ve been thinking about the case for the past couple of weeks, trying to decide which side I’m on. I believe in protecting the vulnerable people of society from hate speech and children from bullying, but I also like Ward’s comedy.

And I saw the comedy bit in question, and I laughed. I still do.

So unlike most people who have commented on this case publicly, my position is more nuanced.

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Is it ethical for TV news to shill for the network?

The Rogers Media upfront in Montreal on June 7.

The Rogers Media upfront party in Montreal on June 7.

The beginning of June is a big time for Canadian TV networks. They invite journalists and advertisers to fancy parties and announce what new programming they’re adding to their schedules for the next season. In the case of Canada’s big three English commercial networks, Bell Media (CTV), Shaw/Corus (Global) and Rogers (City), that’s mainly acquired U.S. programming.

They’re called “upfronts”, and their purpose is clear.

But these broadcasters also own news outlets, and it might come as no surprise that the news side, and shows that are news-like in function, tend to cover only their parent company’s upfront presentation, even though they all announce their programming within a week of each other.

CTV’s eTalk has an entire special section on its website devoted to CTV’s upfront, including interviews with Hollywood stars hawking their new shows. CTV Toronto devoted five minutes to a live report. On ctvnews.ca, the network posted a Canadian Press story about Bell’s announcement, but not the CP stories about Shaw/Corus and Rogers.

Global News added plenty of videos to its globalnews.ca website of interviews with big stars during the Corus upfront presentation, but these weren’t journalistic reports. They just dumped raw video from the advertising event on their website. Global News Toronto devoted a bit more than two minutes to a packaged report about Global’s fall lineup (starts at 29:49). ET Canada, of course, focused plenty of attention on Corus’s announcement and none on anyone else. Online, there was a report with a journalist’s byline, but that turned out to be a straight-up copy-paste of Corus’s press release with some light re-wording at the top. It was only after I pointed that out on Twitter that an editor’s note was added to explain that.

Rogers doesn’t have a national news network like CTV and Global, and I couldn’t find anything on CityNews about upfronts. On Rogers’s news radio station websites, there was only Canadian Press stories about the upfront announcements, mostly because those websites republish every Canadian Press story. (An exception was 570 News in Kitchener, which republished a Rogers press release and credited it to “news staff”)

None of this is new, of course. Lots of journalistic outlets downplay or ignore their competitors’ good-news announcements. But the bias is never as stark as it is during upfront week.

We all accept that this happens, but is it ethical?

Last year, Bell Media’s president was fired after he interfered in CTV News’s coverage of a CRTC decision affecting Bell Canada. The message sent was clear: CTV News’s journalistic standards have no exceptions, even when dealing with the parent company.

But are upfronts an exception?

To find out, I asked the heads of CTV News and Global News to comment about their one-sided coverage of upfront announcements.

In both cases, it was noted that the daily entertainment shows (eTalk for CTV and ET Canada for Global) do not fall under the news division, which I find interesting.

Matthew Garrow, Director of News, Local Stations, Sports, Discovery Networks & Community Investment at Bell Media, offered this statement:

We can assure you that at no point does CTV News suspend its journalistic practices under any circumstance. All CTV News staff are trained to follow the strictest editorial guidelines designed to ensure impartiality when making our editorial decisions, which are safeguarded by both the CTV News Policy Handbook and Bell’s Journalistic Independence Policy. These policies are designed to ensure that, at all times, CTV News upholds the highest standard of journalistic independence.

I asked him why, if this is true, did CTV News cover Bell Media’s announcement but not its competitors’. I got no response.

Troy Reeb, Senior Vice President, News, Radio and Station Operations at Corus, was a bit more forthcoming:

Global News was not invited to our competitors’ upfronts which, like the Corus Upfront, were private events by invitation only. That’s not to say we do not provide coverage of competing networks’ programs and events when they are in the broader public interest. We certainly do, and our archives are filled with many stories about CTV, CBC, Rogers and Netflix.

Our commitment to fairness and balance doesn’t translate into an obligation to cover everything that happens. Editorial integrity doesn’t mean you have to do a story on The Bay because you did one on Sears. Every media outlet makes choices daily about what it will cover and what it will not.

That the major networks are announcing their fall schedules is not exactly breaking news, and clearly falls into the category of discretionary coverage. That we would cover Global’s announcements and not CTV’s should surprise no one since we are in the business of serving Global viewers, just as CTV is in the business of serving theirs.

In keeping with our Global News journalistic principles and practices, I can assure you that at no time was our news division or our reporters given any directive on what to cover or how to cover it. Coverage decisions were made by Global News based on audience interest and the accessibility offered to key players in the fall shows.

The point about not being invited to competitors’ upfronts is valid. (Maybe that would change if they covered each other’s announcements more?) But that doesn’t stop news outlets from reporting what’s announced in press releases and posted online.

And while news organizations have been self-promoting since the dawn of time, in an era of vertical integration, it’s not just CTV talking about CTV and Global talking about Global. It’s about CTV News, eTalk and BNN talking about CTV, Space and Discovery Channel, while Global News and ET Canada talk about Global, Showcase and Food Network, and Breakfast Television talks about City, Viceland and Sportsnet.

And those independent broadcasters not owned by the big media companies? Don’t expect to hear about your programming on the evening news, because they’re only in the business of serving their viewers.

It’s nice that no official orders were given from on high to manipulate news coverage. But if you’re a journalist at one of these organizations, how much freedom do you really have to choose not to cover your parent company’s press event, or to cover your competitor’s?

I certainly wouldn’t want to test it.