Mass Media’s Hidden Agenda in the Coverage of Summit of the Americas

It is worth acknowledging that ordinary citizens get the vast majority of their conventional news from mass media. Whether it’s true or not, the citizen’s dependence on mass media does not decline and leads them to believe the stories that are reported as substantially viable. Four of the six news articles, from across Canada, used in this analysis veered against the protestors in general sense. Their titles, such as RCMP and the Sûreté Du Québec, alone depict elements of fear onto the readers with such terms as violence, anarchists and assault. The Royal Mounted Canadian Police (RCMP) along with Sûreté Du Québec, in this case, were the orchestrator of the policing of security operations event that unfolded and their paramilitary style use of tactics against the protestors were seen as a justifications by the media’s agenda insofar as depicting the protestors as the evildoers. This was also where law was recognized to be at work with the arrest of 463 individuals during the anti-globalization protests. Those acts of suppressing and dominating were seen as a vindication of constituting the protestors, portraying them outside the norm.

The policing events were, in most of the news articles, presented as savage agitations by the black-bloc rather than the planned negotiated peaceful marches by the majority. This is demonstrated by the black-bloc hidden among the peaceful marchers and once reached at the city centre, provoked altercations, such as shaking fences (Windsor Star, 2001). When media disregards social movements, they exercise a subtle form of suppression that affects the ability of dissidents to maintain their morale and to be taken seriously by sympathetic individuals (Boykoff, 2007). For example, in the framing case of Jaggi Singh, a protest leader, an arrest was made because of a misunderstanding testimony by Judy Rebick, a Torontonian author/writer. These alleged minorities advocating violent acts is a proof that mass media frames violence in most of their coverage (Boykoff, 2007). Singh was arrested for the possession of a catapult and for ordering protestors to turn violent. Rebick stated,  “I said just the opposite. He was encouraging them to go back” (Dougherty, 2001). As much as Rebick attempted to corroborate his innocence by claiming the opposite and claiming he wasn’t the possessor, the judge maintained his decision to keep him in jail without bail (Dougherty, 2001).

The rhetoric of the articles is to place blame on the protestors by dismissing the peaceful marches and instead presenting the violent mentality of the aggressors. Once again, not all media coverage represented hooliganism this way. The Globe and Mail article, ‘Making it a summit for all the Americas’ clearly identified what was missing from preponderant articles; the vast majority of peaceful protestors that represented aspects of social interest, with profound respect to their surroundings and asserting influence on the leaders of the countries, were not the main focus of coverage (Globe and Mail, 2001). Furthermore, other crucial aspects of the protest missing from the articles are the aggressive behaviours condoned by law enforcement with the focal point of the media aiming at the destruction that protestors caused. Within a short time frame, a clash between the radical protestors and police commenced with the scene looking like a battle with smoke bombs (Windsor Star, 2001). During the same time, peaceful marches were taking place blocks away but the coverage rather centred the black bloc attempt to push through the front gates, shaking the steel fence while shouting slogans (Windsor Star, 2001).

There were several rationales accumulated months prior to the event that justified the behaviours of the enforcers and protestors. The former, through the Canadian Security Intelligence Services (CSIS), feared that violence would escalate. They had prepared reports that the latter, in the form of anarchists affinity groups, would strategize activities to achieve direct action, such as projectile attacks, all of which were pre-planned via the Internet (Bronskill,  2001). In many instances, no rationales were given, or documented for that matter, for the aggressive response by the police in various cases. For example, Gomberg, a peaceful Torontonian protestors who had travelled to Quebec for the event, argued that the use of tear gas was reminiscent of chemical warfare, pointing out that it was banned in wars and hence had no place in a protest (Rankin, 2001). Although police had shown restrain in several instances, they, nonetheless, abused the usage of tear gas and rubber bullets without a justified, or in this case, undocumented reasons. However, through the Access to Information Act, Southam News got a hold of the police report stating the threats and possible plans of the protestors (Dougherty, 2001).

The portrayals of the actions taken had crucial consequences. These were pivotal insofar as Orsainville jail, closest to the site of the event, was cleared of most of its inmates for the purpose of the summit (Dougherty, 2001). These included crowded cells, additional guards to maintain the facility, etc. It was claimed that these summits were a convention that aimed towards achieving greater participatory action and democratic values, but rather violent assault on individual freedom to protest was the consequence of the event (Hughes, 2001).

The representation of Jaggi Singh, for example, challenges dominant discourse taking into account the bigotry of the judging rule against him. Nonetheless, a couple articles did convey the messages of the protestors. University of Guelph professor, Michael Keefer, Toronto event planner, Henry Martinuk and former Toronto mayoral candidate, Tooker Gomberg were among the peaceful protestors that were mistaken for alleged violent demonstrators. These protestors shared their stories in City Hall, calling for a public inquiry into the tactics employed by police in their attempt to control crowds and maintain protestors, which were more hypothetical of suppression and domination (Rankin, 2001). The representations of Jaggi and the protests by the news article veered towards the justice system insofar as using words like encouraged while describing actions of Mr. Singh. Reiteratively, the case of Jaggi Singh did end on a positive note. Representing himself as his lawyer, testifying and bringing in witness along with videos of the event, Singh was discharged with spectators in the background, raising their arms in a clenched fist salute, chanting that a united people will never be defeated (Dougherty, 2001).

 

Reference List

Boykoff, J. (2007). Mass Media Underestimation, False Balance, and Disregard. Beyond Bullets: The Suppression of Dissent in the United States, 248-260.

Boykoff, J. (2007). Mass Media Deprecation. Beyond Bullets: The Suppression of Dissent in the United States, 216-247.

Bronskill, J. (2001, February 13). CSIS fears summit violence. The Windsor Star. Retrieved December 9, 2014, from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/docview/254395429?accountid=15182

Dougherty, K. (2001, April 27). Judge denies bail to last man held after summit: The Summit of the Americas protester is charged with possession of a catapult. The Vancouver Sun. Retrieved December 9, 2014, from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/docview/242595358?accountid=15182

Hughes, M. (2001, April 27). Summit of the Americas: The aftermath: An assault against freedom to protest. Kingston Whig. Retrieved December 9, 2014, from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/docview/352867838?accountid=15182

Making it a summit for all the Americas. (2001, April 23). The Globe and Mail. Retrieved December 9, 2014, from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/docview/384233506?accountid=15182

Rankin, J. (2001, May 11). Summit of the Americas protesters decry use of tear gas, plastic bullets ; Demonstrators demand inquiry into police tactics. The Toronto Star. Retrieved December 9, 2014, from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/docview/438291350?accountid=15182

Riot police, protesters clash at Quebec summit; Anarchists storm security fence. (2001, April 21). The Windsor Star. Retrieved December 9, 2014, from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/docview/254391907?accountid=15182

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