Kids used to play a game, which they probably don’t anymore because it’s hard to do on an iPad, called telephone or some variant, where a message was started by one kid/teacher, then whispered from ear to ear until the last person on the chain announced what the message was, which was the compared to the original. The fun part of the game was how the message was so severely distorted through interpretation. In most grade 3 classes, or wherever this happened, the game worked best if there was at least half a dozen players, because even at that age playing the game with two or three was pretty anticlimactic.
It is therefore bizarre to see, in this modern age of instant communication and technology that is brutally efficient in helping shape news, how many media sources voluntarily play telephone and rewrite messages as they see fit. Sometimes it makes one wonder how far back these editorialized news headlines set us.
Two interesting examples happened in the past few weeks. First, Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced that the federal government would consider backstopping the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. The Canadian Press (CP) wrote a story about his announcement entitled “Morneau’s pledge to backstop pipeline expansion draws criticism.” Which it did, and the article was eager to show it.
The CP article, to prove the point of the headline they’d chosen, quoted a number of sources (11 in all): Two were from politicians opposed to the pipeline, 4 were from the most dogged anti-pipeline groups, two were from political parties that are not Morneau’s and one was from a native group that has been at the head of the protest groups. Of the handful that were not openly opposed to the pipeline, one was from the president of Kinder Morgan Canada who emphasized that talks were ongoing, and only one was outright positive, from the Calgary Chamber of Commerce president.
The media, in other words, created a story out of thin air that was not really a story at all. That Elizabeth May (Green Party), John Horgan (BC anti-pipeline premier), and five of the loudest opponents to the pipeline wouldn’t support a government bailout is not news. Would it be news to poll those groups and ask if they’d like the Kinder Morgan president to get a raise, and they voiced criticism? The story was nothing more than fodder for the news media to perpetuate the kind of battles they require for their survival. This was evident from the very title: Morneau’s announcement didn’t ‘draw criticism,’ the CP actually sought it out until it had enough muck to fill its bucket.
What makes that comparison so appropriate is the way the same major media outlet dealt with the story that the Alberta government was creating the world’s largest protected boreal forest reserve. The CP also duly reported on the fantastic story. It is a fantastic story not only because environmental reserves are awesome, but also because the project was in the spirit of what we should be striving for – a collaborative effort between industry and indigenous groups, with the government helping and not hindering.
So where was the corresponding article where the CP ran back to the same environmental groups from which it sought quotes for the Trans Mountain story? Surely that would be interesting to hear, wouldn’t it?
The silence was deafening. The CP Trans Mountain piece sought out 4 environmental groups for their views on the Trans Mountain expansion: Greenpeace, Environmental Defence, 350.org, and Stand.Earth. None of these four, not one of them, acknowledged the new boreal forest reserve on their websites. They simply refused to acknowledge it. They’re not all deaf; the Pembina Institute and the National Resources Defense Council both acknowledged the reserve in an appropriately positive manner. One wonders then, what are these other groups about then if not environmental progress? No, in reality, one doesn’t wonder that at all.
Out of the group that ignored the boreal forest announcement, one occupies a particularly high perch on the hierarchy of who should have mentioned it, and what should therefore be an embarrassing omission for them – Stand.Earth. This group is not newly formed to fight energy, though it is their new love; the group was initially formed to fight for forest preservation and management. Their website, the very title of the website, includes the words “formerly forest ethics.” Under their “what we do section” the first object of their actions is “Challenging the fossil fuel industry” and the second is “Protecting healthy forests.” Hmmm…and the group refused to acknowledge the creation of the world’s largest boreal forest reserve. And look who provided the quote to the original CP article on behalf of Stand.Earth, none other than the inescapable Tzeporah Berman, a name I’d be happy to forget but there it is, even in the beloved BOE Report. As a Canadian and a spokesman of a site formerly called ForestEthics, you would think she’d have something to say about the new reserve. If their group was sincere, it would be celebrating this achievement. Or maybe as a Canadian one could, heaven forbid, brag a bit, and point out that Canada’s total protected areas now total 1 million square kilometres, or, in more user-friendly terms, an area larger than that of France and Germany combined. And those are protected areas, not wilderness areas, which would include the majority of Canada and of which most is as wild and natural as anywhere.
Whatever, they do what they do and we should do what we do. We should make as much noise as we can about the creation of this boreal forest reserve. We should set aside the politics of who specifically made this happen, if that’s bothering us; the creation of the reserve has been a multi-year effort on behalf of many parties. We should celebrate and promote that this is the result of industry and native groups coming together to create an environmental landmark that no one anywhere should ignore.
Of all the environmental activism happening anywhere, this is as significant as it gets. The fact is that it isn’t controversial, and it doesn’t fit the mainstream narrative of industry/environment/fossil fuels conflict, so they won’t talk about it. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t.