By Claudia De Simone
A comment by Globe and Mail journalist Ray Conlogue turned a Media Democracy Day panel discussion into a heated debate about the undemocratic nature of the mainstream media last Friday.
The panel, presented by RyeSAC and CKLN was part of the second annual Media Democracy Day. About 100 people — mostly activists, journalists and students — convened in a Jorgenson Hall lecture theatre for what an organizer called an :Earth day for the mental environment.”
The panel began with a calm debate about how the mainstream media fails to present world and local events in a balanced, accurate and analytical way.
The Conlogue, the only white man on the panel, spoke his piece: “In some cases, what is often called racism is actually fatigue.” He said that journalists can’t possibly know what to do about the nearly 120 different ethnic communities in the city without over-simplifying them in their writing.
His comment sparked a discussion that prompted many audience members to get up and experience the democracy the day was promoting.
Niliema Karkhanis, of the anti-racist group Heads Up Collective, grabbed the microphone to express her frustration. “I feel like [I’m] being hijacked again by the mainstream media,” she said.
Conlogue fended off the ensuing attacks from the audience by saying that he was attempting to explain how the system of the mainstream media looks from the inside. “[We] are members of a racist species,” he said.
“The media is perceived as a form of entertainment,” said the journalist of 25 years. “People who used to be citizens have become consumers.”
According to Conlogue, the post-World War II climate created a consumer society. As a result, even people who read international papers and analytical articles expect to be entertained by the media, not only by the arts section, but by the politics.
Not everyone in the audience agreed.
“There’s blood on the hands of everyone who covers [injustice in the world] and hides it,” an audience member said. “[Coverage] is fast and quick. Make it look like a video game and get out.”
Issam Shurkri, part of the Committee to Lift the Economic Sanctions on Iraq, said that even mainstream journalists have a role to play in shedding light on injustice. He said journalists need to be in countries like Iraq instead of getting their information from press releases or the Internet.
“If you are there, then there is a possibility for a dream,” said Shurkri. “If you’re dreaming about justice [and] you’re not there, there is no possibility.”
Speaking generally, Conlogue asked how journalists can move forward when readers don’t want to read views that conflict with their own.
“[The] space to do analysis has been squeezed by columnists who talk about boyfriends,” he said.
Media Democracy Day was created in response to all the issues Conlogue raised.
“Mainstream media is a complex and highly refined machine that is centrally focused on providing a return on investment,” said organizer Jason Diceman. “The idea is to replace the hierarchy of decision-making structures and to give everyday citizens the opportunity to participate in the media.”
Diceman wants to see more non-commercial media outlets such as independent charities, co-ops and publicly funded organizations.
“The more diverse the people that approve a message, the less sceptical we need to be of it,” he said.
He believes media democracy is about giving equal access to the transmission, control and reception of public messages.
“[Media Democracy Day] is just a bunch of people who think that media should be for everyone, by everyone, and so we work hard to promote that,” said Diceman. “I want to stress the non-institutional and organic nature of this campaign. We literally have no formal plan, resources or structure.”
The event was conceived in a media and democracy class at Transformative Learning Centre at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.
Students wanted to take direct action, conceived MDD and, using the Internet, spread word of the event to Montreal, Vancouver and 16 countries around the world.
The inaugural MDD was held on one night last year at a packed Ted’s Wrecking Yard on College St. West.
This year’s events included video screenings, The Toronto Public space Committee’s Art Attack!, where artists and activists made paper banners to tape on bus shelters and OMG garbage bins in protest to reclaim public space and the first Toronto Anarchist Bookfair.
Brian Wright-McLeod, who hosts a First Nations show on CKLN, moderated the panel discussion. He opened with a video featuring a First Nations musician commenting on media democracy through the lyrics of Bob Marley.
For many, the lyrics of Marley’s “Redemption Song” encompassed the essence of what organizers wanted people to take from the day: “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery none but ourselves can free our minds … How long shall they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look?”