Challenging the media shouldn’t stop with debate
Elizabeth May has made it into the debates. The media consortium running the debates changed their tune after Jack Layton and Stpehen Harper, one after the other, backed down in their opposition to May participating. While political hay will be made that it was the party leaders’ fault that May was originally blocked from the debate, it points to a deeper issue that pervades our elections no matter who is running, and that’s the complicity of the media in maintaining the political status quo.
As details came out about how the decision to not invite May to the debates was made, it became clear that this was a pretty clear cut case of blackmail (as Joe Clarke puts it in today’s Globe): Stephen Harper essentially told the debate consortium that if May shows up, I’m taking my ball, or speaking points, or whatever, and going home. Layton then chimed in that since he is only running against Stephen Harper, that if the outgoing prime minister wouldn’t be there neither would he.
Now a debate with only three of five leaders wouldn’t be that great a debate, to be sure. But if the media had said they would go ahead anyway, we could be almost certain that the hold-outs would have caved in. Former CBC news chief and past head honcho of the consortium Tony Burman acknowledges this in a sideways glance kind of way in the Globe today too, but is still content to mostly blame this whole debacle on Harper rather than a media that is two worried about access than about broadening election coverage.
It was heartening to see that this debate about a debate brought up questions over the role of the media in setting the election agenda, but it shouldn’t stop there. As Dru Oja Jay points out over at the Dominion Blog, the media creates the news of the day in the morning and then reports on it as the news of the day in their evening wrap ups.
So when they claim that the major issue in the election is leadership, we have to wonder if that is what the gatekeepers have simply decided will be the major issue. And when they say that campaigns were thrown off track or got negative because of certain campaign ads or candidate missteps, we need to wonder if it’s simply easier to talk about that than whether cutting the tax on diesel or if we should be staying in Afghanistan until 2011.
We need campaigns to be held accountable over going negative or making a campaign about attacks instead of issues, but we need a media that will go beyond that and actually dig into the issues that matter.