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Amateur hour hits a new low at Global News BC

I have a very different view of what “news” on television is supposed to look like than (apparently) many people, and I have criticised TV news anchors and reporters for calling their news broadcasts a “show”. I’m sorry, a “show” is something that is supposed to entertain me. I do not watch television news to be “entertained”; I watch to see who has been bombed, blasted or burgled in the last 24 hours. OK, that’s not really my motivation, but I certainly don’t watch to see dog-and-pony shows between the glorified teleprompter readers (“anchors”) and the sports and weather talking heads. I appreciate that people at the Global BC TV station like Kristi Gordon, Chris Gailus and Robin Stickley look pretty and (as far as I can tell) have senses of humour, but really? Do we really have to watch them and Squire Barnes (whom, you will notice, I did not include in the list of people who “look pretty”) tell inside jokes to one another, live on air? Give me a break.

At Global BC my heroine on the news desk is Samantha Falk. She just delivers the news … just the facts, ma’am. No emoting (just a slight lowering of tone when delivering news of a death or deaths), no hand gestures, no sad faces, no big smiles, no snide or under-the-breath-type editorial remarks after a news story. She may or may not be the most fun at a party but, as far as I’m concerned, she is the consummate professional journalist on air. Bravo to you, Samantha. Please don’t give in to anyone who might tell you that you need to project more feeling when you’re reporting. Don’t even get me started on her diametrical opposite: Randene Neill (who seems to have taken on the heart-tugging role of the now-departed Deborra Hope). How is this woman higher in the pecking order at Global than Samantha Falk? It boggles the mind.

But back to the point of this post. Anyone who watches the News Hour at 18:00 on Global BC (and probably their other news broadcasts too, considering this is their “flagship” news programme … er, “news show”) is aware of the fact that first year journalism students at BCIT could do a better job of producing the programme than the jokers at Global BC. You know, I hate to be gratuitously critical — and lord knows I am not in the business and wouldn’t do a better job myself — but come on, there are some days it’s a complete gong show. However, the gong show doesn’t usually extend to the actual journalism. I’m not saying that the journalism at Global BC is top notch, that’s for sure — the aforementioned little editorial comments by the teleprompter reader … sorry, “anchor” … at the end of a story really irk me — but on 19 January 2015 there was a particularly puzzling incident.

Watch for yourself and note the second story (which comes after the first weather interlude) which starts at 3:51. At the very end of the story, at 5:19, the reporter (John Daly) concludes his report (presumably filed sometime before the start of the broadcast) by saying that the subject of the story (a man wanted for failing to return to a Vancouver halfway house) has been arrested in Parksville. At that point I reflexively asked out loud, “So, what was the point of the big build up? In fact, was this really news if they got the guy?” I suppose I answered my own question above: this is a “show” (after all), and it’s all about the suspense, which was broken in the final seconds by revealing that this guy isn’t, at this very moment, roaming the streets of Vancouver looking for his next victim. This should have been several reports down the list on this broadcast.

But that’s not the bizarre part. About twenty minutes later the teleprompter reader (Chris Gailus) interrupts the broadcast with “breaking news”! Seems that the missing con has been located and has been arrested in Parksville! Stands back in amazement!

Now, either this is utter incompetence on the part of the journalism staff and the teleprompter reader, or it’s a blatant attempt at misleading sensationalism. Leave the sensationalism to the American news stations, Chris; they have more helicopters buzzing the city chasing every emergency vehicle than Global BC has. Oddly, that “breaking news” is not in the online version of the News Hour, but then they have managed to compress an hour of “news” into less than sixteen minutes. Imagine how much less time we could waste in front of the boob tube if they could just get it over and done with (minus the advertising and dog-and-pony nonsense) in sixteen minutes! (I usually turn it off after the first half hour anyway.)

But one more complaint about “news” that doesn’t (at this point) merit a separate post. Read my lips: Weather is not news! The fact that it rained hard, or snowed heavily, or blew strongly in some part of the world today is not news. It is if a state of emergency has been declared as a result in the area where the news is being broadcast, but if some other part of the world is having weather, it’s just not news. At the very least, please don’t lead with a weather story, for god’s sake!

This has been an editorial. It is not an attempt at journalism!

But I will admit that I find this kind of stuff highly amusing, even entertaining!:

“Comply or Die”

Yet again we have Canadian police killing civilians, acting as judge, jury and — most importantly — executioner. While we wait for a thorough and impartial investigation — in our dreams — of the shooting of Sammy Yatim in Toronto, as with the killing of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver Airport in 2007 it’s certainly telling to note that the cops had apparently killed him within 39 seconds of arriving on the scene, even as he stood alone inside a tram car! Do the cops not learn anything from their past behaviour?!

Unlike the Dziekanski case though, this cop clearly shot to kill. You don’t fire nine shots into someone expecting that they’ll be providing fingerprints and a mug shot down at the cop shop later. Oh, and just for good measure (kind of a “fuck you, punk”), one of the 23 cops on the scene (because apparently all the thugs in town wanted a piece of the action) then tasered Yatim’s lifeless body, before ironic first aid was performed on him. (Actually, one can’t help but wonder if the taser was deployed only so that the cops could say that they tried to subdue Yatim with it. A little fudging of the time line in the cops’ notes would have been required of course, but that’s OK, as long as the bad guy dies.)

Part of the report on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s The National on 28 July 2013 included an interview with a former Toronto cop who, while being critical of the speed with which Yatim was executed, used the term “Comply or die.” I’d never heard the term before, but it so poetically and succinctly seems to sum up what appears to be the motto of most police forces these days.

Rather than engage the population they’re supposed to protect in order to use “minimum force” and avoid violence — yes, even apparent bad guys with knives need to be engaged unless loss of life is imminent — cops these days seem to be on a rampage, killing, tasering or pepper-spraying anybody that even dares to look at them sideways. It doesn’t even matter that you’ve managed to live for a half century or more without so much as stealing a penny candy as a kid or getting a parking ticket, you too can find yourself on the wrong end of a weapon held by a mentally unstable cop who is miffed at you for not immediately getting down and kissing his jackboots the moment he (or she in the case of “Constable 728”, aka Stefanie Trudeau) barks a command in your direction, even when you hadn’t heretofore even had a reason to note the cop’s presence.

And that last point is important to note. All sorts of people come to the defence of the cops in cases like this for all sorts of reasons, many of whom probably fit into my penny candy / parking ticket description. Based on their life experiences, it’s obvious to them that anyone who incurs the wrath — or even just the attention — of the police is obviously guilty of something. It doesn’t really matter what that “something” is; for these people you’re guilty until proven innocent, and “you must have done something to deserve being shot, tasered or pepper-sprayed.” Or, in the case of completely blameless Buddy Tavares and his assailant RCMP Constable Geoff Mantler, you must have done something to deserve having said jackboot forcibly applied to your lips to assist you in planting the kiss.

That old adage about walking a mile in someone’s shoes comes to mind.

Related to this story but with reference to my previous post about the Canadian media, I found it odd how CBC television news showed pictures of Yatim looking like something of a gangster but had a former Toronto cop on who questioned the speed of the use of force, while Global television news showed pictures of a clean-cut young kid, but had on their own “expert” who said that cops had no choice but to shoot to kill.

Criticisms of the Press: Canadian Edition

We, the public, need a free and professional press. Fortunately, in Canada, the “free” part is not usually an issue. But recently the “professional” part certainly took a beating, in my opinion, certainly on the television.

First up is the rail tragedy in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec. I never thought I’d say this about the Milquetoast Peter Mansbridge, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s chief correspondent and anchor of The National news programme, but where is the guy? In his place we’ve had Mark Kelley anchoring the “show” (as he himself called it) nightly from the dark streets of Lac-Mégantic, giving us hand-wringing man-on-the-street interview after hand-wringing man-on-the-street interview with grieving survivors and residents, done by him and his team of reporters, some seemingly reeled in from other parts of the country in an attempt to leave no grieving resident unturned.

Then the hue and cry started to arise about the conspicuous absence of the chairman of The Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, Inc. (owners of the runaway train), Edward Burkhardt. Mark Kelley set the tone the night before Burkhardt was scheduled to show up in Lac-Mégantic, four days after the derailment, by seeming to discount anything Burkhardt might say on his arrival. And so it was that Burkhardt arrived in Lac-Mégantic and promptly made a fool of himself. However, he was aided and abetted in that endeavour by so-called journalists, whose weighty questions included, “How much are you worth?” and “Did you sleep last night?” What the hell?! What the fuck does that have to do with anything?! If we’re going to hang everyone in Lac-Mégantic who has slept since the disaster on 6 July, we’re going to run out of lamp posts! The press displayed a pack mentality, savaging Burkhardt in a most tawdry and unprofessional manner like sharks in a blood-fuelled frenzy.

On a side note, Edward Burkhardt really does need to fire himself as the public face of his company until he gets some professional help in handling the press. That, some help with showing a little more empathy (he has the words figured out; he needs help with the delivery) and a kick in the arse for hanging his employee and a volunteer fire department out to dry before a full investigation, will help him and his companies immensely after future accidents. But he doesn’t deserve death threats.

And another side note is this use of the term “show” to describe a news programme. As I’ve pointed out, Mark Kelley of the CBC used this term, and I’ve heard Dawna Friesen of Global News refer to her news programme as a “show” too. My Concise Oxford Dictionary defines a “show” as, among other things:

· n.
1 a spectacle or display.
2 a play or other stage performance, especially a musical. > a light entertainment programme on television or radio.

Sadly, the use of the term “show” is actually accurate these days, especially with respect to the “light entertainment” part, as I’ll demonstrate in a moment. However, it shouldn’t be. I don’t watch, listen to or read the news to be entertained. (It’s mostly about death and destruction anyway. How is that entertaining?!) I’m not interested in the weather reporter with a joke a minute, or the (not so) witty repartee between the news reader and the sports guy. Sadly, I think I’m in the minority.

The other news item that sickens me is the treatment of the death of some Hollywood actor. Umm, what’s his name again? (Do web search for “dead actor”.) Oh yeah, some guy named Cory Monteith. I guess he was on some popular TV show or another, actually, so maybe he’s not actually a “Hollywood actor”.

Any death is a tragedy for someone, usually that person’s family and friends, not to mention the deceased him- or herself. Sorry, but Cory and I didn’t know each other, therefore I am not a friend of his and I’m pretty sure he’s also not a member of my extended family. (If either were true, I wouldn’t be getting my news about him off the TV.) So, as a human being, I extend my condolences to the Monteith family and Cory’s friends. However, I’m not going to grieve for him, and the “news shows” should not expect that I will. Nor should they pander to and perpetuate the cult of celebrity worship.

But what is truly sickening to me is that Monteith’s death was the lead item, getting a full five or six minutes of coverage on the six o’ clock news on Global News on 14 July (and a similar amount of time on CBC’s national news, although at least a predicted federal cabinet shuffle got top billing), while the deaths of two nameless “nobodies” on the following two news stories were accorded thirty seconds each. Where is the sense of proportion?!

Again, I’m probably in the minority with respect to the “light entertainment” that news has become; these days, it seems, if it’s not entertaining and keeping our short attention spans occupied, it’s apparently not worth paying attention to. After all, there’s probably a competitor with a shinier, more entertaining “show” on another channel. However, I don’t think it’s too much to expect a modicum of professionalism and at least an attempt at a veneer of impartiality from journalists when it comes to thinking of questions to ask stunned officials on the scene of a deadly disaster.