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.
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.
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).