Mass Media: Reporting or Deflecting the News?

On February 6, 2012 in Southwestern Ontario, a 15-passenger van, which was transporting Peruvian migrant workers from a poultry farm, collided with a flatbed truck killing 10 migrant workers and the driver of the truck. Two injured passengers were rushed to the nearest hospital in Stratford to be treated for their injuries, while another passenger was airlifted to a hospital in Hamilton with life-threatening injuries (CBC News 2012). According to Ontario Provincial Police Consta. Kees Wijnands, “The impact and the carnage that was out there – it’s a miracle that these people are still living” (Allick et al. 2012). The truth is, it is a miracle that Canadian temporary foreign workers are still alive after working such “dangerous, dirty and deadly” jobs. Although this is Canada’s largest growing sector in the labour market, the working conditions that migrant workers face tend to go unnoticed – especially by the mainstream media – until the occurrence of a horrific accident.

In the analysis that follows, I reviewed the mass media coverage of this incident in order to identify the central frames that were adopted by the media. Data sources include five major Canadian newspapers: CBC News, the Toronto Star, the National Post, CTV News, and the Globe and Mail. This extensive reading of news articles led to the identification of one common frame – the deflection frame – that was adopted by many mass media outlets to deflect from a real tragedy to a news story.

In these five news articles, it was evident that there was a polarization in the way the issue was represented. In the National Post, the Toronto Star, and the CBC News, the issue was decontextualized and oversimplified, as opposed to in the Globe and Mail and CTV News where the incident was put into proper perspective. The National Post, the Toronto Star, and the CBC News blamed the use of 15-passenger vans as the cause of the crash. There was a common trend in these news articles to provide historical examples of crashes involving 15-passenger vans. In addition, there was an emphasis on banning the use of 15-passenger vans as a form of transportation for human beings. On the contrary, the Globe and Mail and CTV News emphasized the vulnerability of Canadian migrant workers. Migrant workers experience long hours, lack of protection, and little to no representation (CTV News 2012).

According to CTV News, a spokesperson from Agriculture Workers Alliance suggested that exhaustion from working long hours might have contributed to the collision. Given that the National Post, the Toronto Star, and the CBC News focused on the use of 15-passenger vans as opposed to the vulnerability of Canadian migrant workers, it can be argued that they used a technique that I have coined as the “deflection” frame. These mass media outlets “deflected” the real cause of the tragedy and used the 15-passenger van as a scapegoat for the crash. By doing so, the mass media outlets oversimplified the severity of the issue and also disregarded other possible causes for the collision. In contrast, the Globe and Mail and CTV News contextualized the crash and questioned the working conditions of the migrant workers at their low-wage jobs, which may have played a part in the collision.

With regards to the spokespeople, the National Post, the Toronto Star, and the CBC News quoted predominantly from government officials and policymakers, such as Perth County Mayor Ian Forrest, Ontario Premier Dalton Guinty, Ontario Provincial Police, Health Minister Deb Matthews, Transportation Minister Bob Chiarelli, and New Democrat MPP Teresa Armstrong. On the contrary, the Globe and Mail and CTV News quoted predominantly from support services for temporary migrant workers and academic researchers, such as Justicia for Migrant Workers, Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services, Ontario Federation of Agriculture, Workers’ Action Centre, Agriculture Workers Alliance, the North-South Institute, and Laurier University researcher Jenna Hennebry. Evidently, in this case, there is a conflict in the mainstream media over who is considered “legitimate” spokespersons. In the current news production industry, “good” journalism requires the “equal” presentation of both the views of legitimate spokespersons of the conflicting sides, however, in reality, equal coverage for both groups is never the case (Boykoff 2007:250). With regards to the media coverage in this context, instead of the press concentrating on power, context, and institutional analysis, the tragedy was “personalized” and disconnected from deeper social analysis. The comments by the government officials and policymakers predominantly consisted of offering their condolences to friends and families of the migrant workers. In addition, the Toronto Star and the National Post quoted Perth County Mayor Ian Forrest who stressed that victim services were available at the scene for counseling the members of the community and for the emergency workers who were at the scene of the crash. It is evident that they “personalized” the issue by focusing on the trials and tribulations of the individuals who were not directly affected by the crash, instead of focusing on the deeper social issue. With regards to the spokespeople quoted in the Globe and Mail and CTV News, they explicitly introduced counter-hegemonic discourse that questioned the capitalist structure of the Canadian labour market. They also discussed the precariousness of temporary work and the vulnerability of migrant workers. Although migrant workers are a significant part of Canada’s labour market, they tend to go unnoticed, and as a result, migrant workers are exploited and abused (Paperny and Bascaramurty 2012). Therefore, the Globe and Mail and CTV News presented the issue from the perspective of the silenced and did not adhere to the journalistic norms of personalization or authority order bias. In summation, it is evident that more often than not the mainstream media views the state as a source of information and also for the restoration of public confidence. Mainstream media predominantly “glosses” over or misrepresents the underlying social issues. Nonetheless, it is pleasing to know that there are mainstream media sources that are not “informationally” deficient and critically cover social issues.

References

Allick, Chantaie, Kate Allen, and Tim Alamenciak. 2012. “Ontario Crash: OPP Work to Identify 11 Victims Who Died.” The Toronto Star, February 7. Retrieved December 9, 2012 (http://www.thestar.com).

Boesveld, Sarah. 2012. “‘Miracle’ Three Survived ‘Carnage’ of Hampstead, Ontario Crash that Killed 11.” The National Post, February 7. Retrieved December 9, 2012 (http://news.nationalpost.com).

Boykoff, Jules. 2007. “Mass Media Deprecation.” Pp. 216-247 in Beyond Bullets: The Suppression of Dissent in the United States. Oakland: AK Press.

CTV News. 2012. “Deadly Collision Raises Labour Rights Questions.” CTV News, February 7. Retrieved December 9, 2012 (http://www.ctvnews.ca).

CBC News. 2012. “Ontario Crash Kills 11, including Migrant Workers.” CBC News, February 7. Retrieved December 9, 2012 (http://www.cbc.ca).

Paperny, Anna M. and Dakshana Bascaramurty. 2012. “Ontario Crash Sheds Light on Plight of Migrant Workers.” The Globe and Mail, February 7. Retrieved December 9, 2012 (http://www.theglobeandmail.com).

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3 comments

  1. Hello Ideluna9,

    Thank you for comment. All the points that you raised were very relevant and have been well noted. I would like to address one aspect of your comment, specifically the question, “Would this kind of society be interested in migrant workers?” Given that we live in an individualistic society, it is a natural reaction for us to look at the issues of migrant workers from an individualistic approach, and disregard it as a social problem. The way I think of it is from a legal perspective, and this is the same perspective I apply to immigrants and refugees. The application of the rule of law is not being uniformly applied to all groups, which questions the legitimacy of our democracy. As discussed in my post, the law constructs the insecurity of migrant workers, thus, what we see is a “law overriding law” situation. Ultimately, the Provincial labour law is overriding the rule of law. If the state fails to uphold the “supreme” rights of certain groups in our society, how do we expect the state to uphold “our” rights? (“Our” being the citizens of Canada) If we allow rights to be upheld only to certain groups on an ad hoc basis, I truly believe “our” rights are in jeopardy. As much as I fight for our society to emphasize with the precariousness of the position of migrant workers, I have come to realize that very few people do. In my opinion, the only other approach that has the potential of being effective in relaying my message (because it all comes down to where we approach the issue from in our society, from a left or right wing perspective) is taking it from an “objective” legal approach. Admittedly, I am not unbiased in this issue, but it still stands that the rights of all are diminished when the rights of one are diminished.

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  2. Good day,

    Your media analysis on this 15-passenger van was quite intriguing. You noted the different perspective that the Globe and Mail and CTV News took in comparison to the Toronto Star and National Post. It was interesting to note that the latter used more quotes from politicians, while the other media outlets used social support services in their piece. It was quite apparent in their reports on the matter through their opposing views. I wonder what political affiliation do these media outlets take (are they more liberal or conservative). It was to my understanding (and I may be wrong) that the Toronto Star was more towards a left liberal side. I would assume that their priority on welfare would put a preference on interviewing ‘experts’ on their social disadvantages. But then again, I see these political affiliations in check when The National Post (a conservative newspaper) would focus on “the trials and tribulations of those who were not directly affected by the crash, rather than focusing on the deeper social issue. I just find it fascinating to see these various affiliations come into play within reporting on a story that has such social implications.
    I believe that reporting on the deeper social issues of migrant workers would be important in reporting. However, there are important considerations to keep in mind before this happens. For one, would it be interesting? Sure, social issues can affect everyone, but in this individualized neoliberal society, people are more adamant to look into issues outside their own. Would this kind of society be interested in migrant workers? Don’t get me wrong, I have personally be affected by migrant workers (some of my family from my parents’ respective countries partake in this work), but to the average Canadian, this issue does not directly affect them and thus would not be of high priority on their interests. Most migrant workers work out in the countryside with no real personal connection (or visual indication) of how these people live. In addition, how often are migrant workers even reported in major news outlets? At the end of the day, news outlets are a business and need to appeal to society’s interests to make their profit. It was the recognition of a devastating occurrence to sway public to recognize these problems. I think this disconnect really do takes its toll on these reports.
    Lastly, you noted the frame of deflecting. You mentioned that you perceive that these media outlets used the 15-passenger van as a scapegoat rather than attacking the underlying social issues. I fully support this claim, but I want to see you take on this with the inclusion of racism. These migrant workers are temporary, and as sad it is, society does not see them as a full Canadian Citizen. Like you mentioned, the migrant suffer through low paying jobs and horrid living conditions. By not policing the social conditions of these migrant workers, they have become subject to overt racism. This back to how the aboriginals were framed as the “other” or “stranger”. Migrant workers can be classified as the stranger as well! This kind of belief would only further overt racism to these workers. It should not take a serious car crash to realize these social issues, but it did. How can we remove these kinds of thoughts to support migrant workers on a continual basis?

    Best,
    ldeluna9

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  3. I really enjoyed reading your post and I am glad that you shed light on this very deserving topic!! You mention that the only frame used is the deflection frame, but you discuss that deflection is not the option taken by the Globe and Mail and CTV News. You said that both the Globe and Mail and CTV news actually shed light on the issue, being critical. In my opinion I see the formulation of another frame, a critical frame, where the media is actually critical of the capitalist structure. It is just that this critical frame is not used as often, which leads me to my question: Why do you think that some media outlets applied a critical frame, while others applied a deflection frame? Do you think that the political orientation of the different media outlets had anything to do with it?

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