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Fabienne Vinet April 24, 2012
The movement against the increase in tuition fees has lasted over two months. One day after the first meeting between the government and student associations, what thread can we trace about media coverage of the conflict? Has it been fair?
This was the question asked last Thursday (April 19, 2012) by Mike Finnerty, host of the Montreal radio show Daybreak on CBC, during the opening round table of the Strategies for Journalism forum.
To begin, Judy Rebick, a writer and founder of the online magazine Rabble.ca, emphasized that the student strike in Quebec received very little coverage in English Canada until there started to be acts of violence. This shortcoming was also addressed by Kai Nagata, a past host of Radio Canada who is today a resident of British Colombia and a journalist for the online magazine The Tyee. According to him, the debate about tuition fees is presented as a duel, whereas the question is much more complex. “The media present the strike as a generational conflict, as a fight between right and left, which polarizes peoples’ thoughts. But there are other ways to present it.”
Dominique Payette, a professor and contributor to the Workgroup on Journalism and on the future of Information in Quebec, also believes that debate in newspaper has been polarized, as has the talk on the street. In the end, the public has had a hard time getting the big picture because one would have to consult many kinds of media to get a non-partisan view. “It is difficult for citizens to construct a critical picture of a polarized debate because, unless you’re a journalist, you generally read just one newspaper, one that you like.”
Taking questions at the edge of the forum, Jean-Jacques Streliski, associate professor at the HEC Montreal (Business School) and a training and public relations (French: “stratégie creative”) consultant, said likewise: “I find that the media are doing a very partisan job of covering the student strike. I don’t see much objectivity in the coverage of certain media. They take a position immediately rather than giving their readers the freedom to come to an opinion.” The preference given to the word “boycott” – a word used by the government – in English newspapers is proof of their bias, according to Judy Rebick.
Kai Nagata also blames traditional media for abandoning their responsibility to contribute to positive social dialog. Similarly, Jean-Jacques Streliski says that, “the media play a role in this kind of conflict, for they are part of what creates tension or balance between the parties.
New Media vs. Traditional Media
One day after the big demonstration of March 22, Jean-Jacques Streliski named the students the winners in the battle of public image. Jean-Francois Dumas, of Influence Communication, argued there was a change of tone – towards the positive – in media coverage as of March 22. What can this be attributed to?
Jean-Jacques Streliski believes that social media played a role in mediatizing the strike. By using alternative channels, the student movements allowed their message to get out to the mass media.
“The students short-circuited the traditional media with social networks, which the big players in Quebec control very badly. The students did a very admirable job because, in spite of the media heavyweights being against them, they managed to win the battle for hearts and minds,” he concluded.
Translated from the original French by Translating the printemps érable.
*Translating the printemps érable is a volunteer collective attempting to balance the English media’s extremely poor coverage of the student conflict in Québec by translating media that has been published in French into English. These are amateur translations; we have done our best to translate these pieces fairly and coherently, but the final texts may still leave something to be desired. If you find any important errors in any of these texts, we would be very grateful if you would share them with us at email@example.com. Please read and distribute these texts in the spirit in which they were intended; that of solidarity and the sharing of information.