COLUMN: Good journalism and a healthy society

David Suzuki
By David Suzuki
February 21st, 2024

As someone who has enjoyed a long media career, including 44 years hosting CBC TV’s The Nature of Things, I understand how important robust media is to a thriving democracy. An informed public makes better decisions about everything from health care to voting.

Some, unfortunately, see an informed public as a threat to their agendas. Consider that one of the first things authoritarian regimes do is crack down on journalists and independent news outlets.

Outright crackdowns are often preceded by campaigns to discredit news media, calling them “fake news,” for example — as we’ve seen in the United States. This exacerbates the spread of misinformation (incorrect or false information), disinformation (deliberately misleading or false information) and propaganda.

This has become especially dangerous in a changing media landscape — and as threats within our power to resolve continue to increase, from pandemics to climate disruption to a worrying shift toward authoritarianism in many parts of the world, including the U.S.

Traditional media outlets have always reflected to some extent their owners’ (and advertisers’) biases, but journalistic standards, reader preferences, strong public broadcasting and a range of outlets ensured that reliable information was relatively easy to find and assess. Even the amount of climate science denial in mainstream outlets diminished over time as journalists and readers challenged false information.

The range of news sources has shrunk considerably as traditional media outlets have increasingly been bought by a few large companies.

Internet growth has profoundly affected news and information media, for better and worse. In a world of online media outlets and streaming services, as well as social media platforms, the traditional model of selling ad space around articles is no longer viable. Advertising still supports TV and radio broadcasting and, to a lesser degree, online journalism. But companies must come up with creative ways to survive in a capitalist system and engage readers, viewers and listeners.

As newer online outlets emerge, traditional outlets are disappearing, only in part because of the internet. Many newspaper and broadcasting companies have been bought up by hedge fund companies and other corporate entities that strip the assets, take the money and close outlets. Community newspapers — incredibly important to areas not covered by big city media — have been especially hard hit.

Recently, Bell Media decided to sell many of its radio stations, lay off thousands of workers and end much of its news programming — including its groundbreaking, long-running investigative program W5. Although parent company BCE had net earnings of $3 billion last year, executives claimed the move was economically necessary.

British Columbia Premier David Eby argued that monopolistic media companies’ “encrapification” of local news is partly responsible for audience loss. “Bell and corporations like Bell have overseen the assembly of local media assets that are treasures to local communities,” he said. “Like corporate vampires, they sucked the life out of them, laying off journalists.”

With so much information now available online, it’s often difficult to separate fact from fiction, truth from disinformation. But traditional outlets that adhere to journalistic standards and provide credible coverage on a wide range of topics still exist. The Guardian has led the way in reporting on climate change and other environmental issues, and sources such as the Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, Washington Post and Reuters still offer credible reporting.

The growth in new media outlets, often with a focus on critical environmental issues, also gives hope. In Canada, sources such as The Tyee, National Observer, The Narwhal, Rabble, The Energy Mix, Aboriginal Peoples Television Network and others offer a wide range of investigative reporting, news stories and opinion. There are also many good online community news outlets.

Public broadcasting is also crucial, as its coverage is not dictated to as great an extent by the priorities of owners and advertisers. But we’ve recently seen increasing attacks against, and threats by politicians to cut funding for, broadcasters such as the CBC in Canada and PBS in the U.S. The CBC has already suffered from cutbacks and should be given more support.

Good public discourse contributes to healthier, functioning societies with greater equality and less exploitation. We can all do our part to help journalism thrive by supporting public broadcasting and donating or subscribing to the many new, credible outlets and dependable traditional outlets.

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with David Suzuki Foundation Senior Writer and Editor Ian Hanington.

Learn more at davidsuzuki.org.

This post was syndicated from https://rosslandtelegraph.com
Categories: GeneralOp/Ed


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