Mainstream media failures highlighted by Ottawa protests

Commentary, Politics, Lee Harding

The failures of mainstream Canadian media and proof of public thirst for alternatives was never more apparent than in February. The best chance for people to use their own eyes and ears to take in the trucker protests in Ottawa came from the alternative press. Should those alternatives get muted, it will be bad for public understanding and for democracy.

Two press conferences by the trucker convoy in Ottawa have been viewed more than 1.2 million times. Were they on CBC, CTV, or Global? No. They were on the YouTube channel of Marcel Irnie. “Babes, bikes, news & moto” are the usual content for the superbike racer, but lately his content has been all about the protests. And he’s getting more views than ever.

On February 6, two hours after more than 100 Ottawa police officers confiscated the truckers’ fuel supply, organizers held a press conference. Thanks to Irnie, a 14-minute segment of the “Freedom Convoy Address to the Nation” has been watched more than 1.5 million times.

The February 7 “Freedom Convoy Preemptive SOS Press Conference” was viewed by almost as many and may have succeeded in changing the police response. Organizer Tom Marazzo did most of the talking and warned they had reason to believe a more sweeping police crackdown was in the works. They announced that they would be peaceful but told their audience that if communication went down, it was a sign the crackdown was also on, and the best thing everyone could do is come to Ottawa themselves.

As the press conference ended, the camera gave a brief glimpse of the media in attendance. It was people holding cell phones, save for one camera on a tripod that had no corporate logo. Each one of them had scooped the legacy media.

The next day, CBC National showed five seconds of the press conference muted to silence as a reporter said, “Some organizers have called for an overthrow of the federal government while it has been standing firm on its approach.” Seconds viewers heard, “Public support is in short supply” for the protests and quoted an apparent bystander who complained, “You’re almost getting run over, you’re getting yelled at.”

Anyone who saw the press conference would have known no insurrection was being contemplated, and protest leadership had tried repeatedly to work with police and city hall and national politicians for a solution. They would also hear how they had 100 affidavits from Ottawa residents who said they were glad the protesters were there. Crime was down 90 percent and Ottawa never looked cleaner as the protesters picked up garbage and shovelled streets and sidewalks.

The late Russian political dissident and novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn complained, “Bolshevism committed the greatest human slaughter of all time. The fact that most of the world is ignorant and uncaring about this enormous crime is proof that the global media is in the hands of the perpetrators.”

Solzhenitsyn also said, “The press has become the greatest power within the Western World…One would like to ask; by whom has it been elected and to whom is it responsible?”

Like many of the greatest questions, this one does not have a clear answer. Ostensibly, the CBC has a clearer path of responsibility to the people via its status as a government agency, but what of the rest? Part of the answer lies in an even playing field for media. If the federal government refrains from throwing tax dollars at its favorite media (as it has) and censoring unwanted expression (as it intends to), then some answers are possible. One form of media can counterbalance another, much as in a properly functioning democracy an opposing political force can counter a destructive one.

The undercover journalism of Project Veritas has done effective exposes on Big Tech and mainstream media in the U.S., but another video on Irnie’s channel shows this can happen in Canada too. A February 9 video called “CBC Workers In Ottawa ‘Must Watch’” is also headed for one million views. Here, Canadian Frontline Nurse Kristen Nagle confronted CBC employees right after a live hit.

“Now that your work is done, do you actually believe the stuff that you say out of curiosity or do you just kind of do the script that you’re told to repeat? I’m just curious because you have destroyed my life, CBC. You write a lot of hit pieces about me. My family has been doxed. I’ve received death threats,” said Nagle, who said she and her husband had also lost their jobs.

Whether Nagle’s assessment is fair or unfair is up to the reader, but the confrontation was a rare example of media accountability Solzhenitsyn called for. Government and Big Tech want to severely undermine the voices they don’t like, but a monolith of approved opinion and coverage will chill democracy like nothing else. Hopefully Canadians will rise to defend and use free speech while they still can.

Lee Harding is a research associate for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.