Accountability Project File #1: Mainstream media, Shannon Mews rezoning, and Election 2011

CityHallWatch introductory comment: Our first step in the “Vancouver Election 2011 Accountability Project” is to look at the role of mainstream media in our civil society. Are mainstream media serving the public interest adequately? Is media coverage accurate, unbiased, and comprehensive? And does media coverage fail to cover important issues that our society deserves to know about? For this first installment, as a concrete case study, we go back to a review of media behavior relating to the rezoning of Shannon Mews on Granville Street  in July 2011 (related CityHallWatch posts here, here, and here).

The media behavior on Shannon Mews is informative now in the context of the 2011 civic election. Why? The main beneficiary of this rezoning, Wall Financial, is a campaign contributor to the winning party (Vision Vancouver), benefited immensely just days ago from another recent huge rezoning, and an affiliated entity (the Sheraton Wall Centre) even hosted the Vision Vancouver victory party on November 19. In the spirit of sincere inquiry, and as background reading to put election 2011 mainstrem media coverage into context, please read this review of media coverage relating to Shannon Mews. It is consistent with and mirrors our experience with many critical neighbourhood issues, including specific rezonings and the virtual absence of any coverage of Metro Vancouver’s 30-year Regional Growth Strategy (RGS) in the key months before it was adopted by the Metro Vancouver board earlier this year, with Vision Vancouver rejecting our requests to hold an official public meeting on Vancouver soil . 

To: CityHallWatch
Date:  November 18, 2011
From:  John Brimacombe (Vice-President, Shannon Mews Neighbourhood Association, www.smna.ca)

Please note that I write this as an individual, but the SMNA website evidence alone about the quality of coverage may be useful, since all media articles are still linked from it.

The Shannon Mews rezoning, both in the consultation process and subsequent public hearing was strangely absent from certain media streams.

The Shannon Mews Neighbours’ Association (SMNA) which represented the views of the neighbours, developed an extensive media list and issued press releases on a regular and organized basis. Recognizing that Civic issues seldom merit television coverage, the list was weighted toward the print media and radio. Included in the list were CBC radio, CKWX, CKNW, Fairchild Radio, and the Vancouver Courier, Georgia Straight, Ming Pao (Chinese language newspaper), The Province, Vancouver Sun, and the Globe and Mail.

Interviews and other interactive stories or broadcasts occured during the consultation process with all the radio stations, but not at all during the public hearing in late July.

Interviews and subsequent stories were regularly published with high accuracy by the Georgia Straight, and fairly regularly and accurately by the Vancouver Courier. Ming Pao also ran several stories during the process, although the accuracy of reporting was noticeably lower than in the English language publications. To see a complete list of all print media coverage, go to the SMNA website/media reports.

Despite repeated requests, some of them personal, to City Hall correspondent Jeff Lee, there was no coverage of either the consultation process or the public hearing by either the Vancouver Sun or Province. A small summary story was published in The Province after the public hearing had concluded, and the reporter who wrote the story failed to contact SMNA in a meaningful way (ie an unanswered voicemail one hour before press deadline). That story may be viewed our website and it included content from politicians but not from SMNA, ARKS, or other groups.

Let me give my personal perspective to the strange lack of coverage by the Vancouver Sun and Province (as well as by other media) of the public hearing.

Prior to the commencement of the hearing, there was a well attended protest rally (over 100 protestors) on the steps of City Hall, waving signs and giving speeches. The hearing itself had over 180 speakers on the speaker’s list, with the hearings continuing until well after midnight for 3 consecutive nights. There were impassioned speeches by many, including the elderly and disabled, and youth. The rezoning was passed on the third night at 2 am in a rare split decision by council, with little discussion of the views of the 95% of the speakers who had spoken against the rezoning.

This is not far off the magnitude of the Casino public hearing, which garnered extensive coverage from all media. Why did the Shannon Mews hearing not get at least one line of coverage in the Sun or Province until after the fact, and in that instance a very superficial way (ie no contact with major stakeholders)?

To quote the late Izzy Asper (former owner of Canwest Global, including the Sun and Province):

‘ What business do you think you’re in?’ Izzy Asper asked the 200 assembled staff of TV3 in New Zealand, whose cash strapped network he had just bought.

‘I’m in the news department,’ came the reply, ‘and the business we’re in is to make sure our audience gets the most carefully researched news and information possible.’

‘Wrong,’ said Izzy. ‘You’re all wrong and that’s why you’re bankrupt. You’re in the business of selling soap.’

Although Canwest Global went bankrupt iteself, Izzy is long gone, and the papers now owned by Postmedia, the attitude behind this quote may still have relevance today. Perhaps soap has been upgraded to real estate?

On November 17th the Globe and Mail published an interesting article concerning the financial backing for Vision Vancouver and NPA which might have relevance in this context. (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/british-columbia/bc-politics/business-partners-lock-horns-over-mayoral-candidates/article2239028/)

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/british-columbia/bc-politics/business-partners-lock-horns-over-mayoral-candidates/article2239028/

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