Media has been a very significant tool throughout its history in creating knowledge, affecting consensus and shaping general public view, as well as an instrument of common-sense discourse. The use of media by the government and politicians has been a common thing in creating moral panics and propaganda for their political interests. As Boykoff (2007a) explains the “propaganda framework” of the mass media, he suggests that media and news outlets often serve the interests of governments by propagating their main ideological consensus. On the other hand, media becomes a tool used against the state itself very rarely. In the event of the 2012 protests against the Harper governments’ budget cuts in Ottawa, media has been used as an instrument by both the protesters and in favor of the state.
The rally that took place at Parliament Hill on July 10th 2012, wasn’t just a single event of protesting against the governments’ agenda to cut science budgets, but a start to a social movement against the gap between scientific evidence and policymaking (Makuch 2013). By looking at the event itself, and how it was represented in conventional discourse, it is clear that the main objective of the protest was to attract media attention in order to engage the general public and get collaborative action against the government. The members of the rally used the media as an instrument to reach out to general public and inform them about their discontent. Scott Findlay, an associate professor at University of Ottawa and a member of the rally was quoted by several news outlets asserting that “We can restore evidence, but this will require an effort not only by scientists but by the general public.” (CBC 2013; Pedwell 2012). The demonstrations initially took place in Ottawa, and many other locations across the country followed (CBC 2013).
Social media has been a key feature in the expansion of the movement and has helped the movement spread across Canada. The demonstrations drew sufficient media coverage, because it involved a “typically apolitical group” (Makuch 2013). By labelling the event in such manner, the media represents the group as one that does not involve political bias. It can be viewed as a statement that legitimizes the group as knowledge experts. These groups are represented as one that works for the better of the society and public without the interference of political ideologies. Furthermore, much of the media has presented these protesters as highly educated, peaceful, upper-class, students, professors and scientists (CBC 2013; Makuch 2013; Nature 2012; Pedwell 2012; Ljunggren 2012). These representations are significant because they create consensus that these protestors are not criminals, belong to a ‘responsible’ group of citizens and obey rules. If we think critical of this representation, it enforces a notion in the bigger context that members of the upper class are responsible citizens, they don’t act violent and are knowledge experts. The mainstream media seem to be offering a supportive coverage of these rallies and strengths the opinion of the protesters that the government is indeed favoring their own agenda as opposed to scientific evidence. The reason for much of this sympathy by the media can be traced back to the fact that the protesters argue that the federal government has ‘muzzled’ scientists and barred researchers from talking to the media (CBC 2013). With words such as ‘muzzled’, a picture already comes to mind that the state is exercising powers of suppression. Much of the media coverage has emphasized on the decry of the protesters in blaming the neoliberal government for muzzling the scientists and their researches, which could be seen as forms of dissent through academic work. Our capitalist government supports an agenda to commercialize, help the energy industry, the oil pipelines and other projects that are ‘pro-industry’ and ‘anti-environmental’, the scientists and researchers such as those that proposed a carbon-tax, create an obstacle and resistance for those agendas(CBC 2012; Ljunggren 2012; Nature 2012). As Foucault (2009) suggests, knowledge creates power, and that power can challenge the status quo. Therefore, by controlling and muzzling the scientists, the government controls knowledge, and maintains the status quo. Jeff Hutchings, professor of biology at Dalhousie University, president of the Canadian Society For Ecology and Evolution stated at the rally: “When you inhibit the communication of science, you inhibit science. When you inhibit science, you inhibit the acquisition of knowledge. Government control over the ability of society to acquire knowledge has alarming precedents.” (Gibbs, Houban and Hutchings 2012). Christopher Hume (2012), editor of Toronto Star, suggests more overtly that Harper government has “launched a war” against science, analysis and collection of data that is essential to comprehend the environment and the world that we live in. The author is pointing to the budget cuts towards Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the National Research Council of Canada, Statistics Canada, the National Science Adviser, Law Commission of Canada and National Round Table on Environment and Economy, and believes it will hurt in many ways (Hume 2012). But, by using words such as “war”, the author paints a picture of science versus politics. The science community is represented here as a group that can challenge and threaten the government and its agenda. By labelling it a “war”, the media has aided the protestors in claiming that the government sees the scientists as a threat and as an enemy to the state.
It is important to point out that the mass media are crucial and very significant in terms of how the general public comes to understand social movements and their objectives and importance. It can be argued that the ‘death of evidence’ protests have been non-violent and peaceful mainly due to the media coverage, which allowed for the social movement to convey their message to the general public. As Boykoff (2007b) suggests, disregard by media leads social movements and dissidents open to other forms of suppression. The media has been able to support the protesters of science and not only portray them as peaceful, legitimate and fair, but also convey their message across. Even to the point that they have resorted on all the information brought to the table by the protesters. Very little has been presented from the other actors such as the government officials, and those that have been included, are framed negatively to their benefit. With the help of popular media, in using words and expressions such as ‘death of evidence’ and pictures of reapers, the state has been portrayed as a murderer, and evidence as victim. Evidence in this case represents knowledge that the state manipulates and controls, in order to maintain power.
Boykoff, Jules. 2007a. “Mass Media Deprecation.” Pp. 216-47 in Beyond Bullets: The Suppression of Dissent in the United States. Oakland: AK Press.
Boykoff, Jules. 2007b. “Mass Media Underestimation, False Balance, and Disregard.” Pp. 248-60 in Beyond Bullets: The Suppression of Dissent in the United States. Oakland: AK Press.
CBC News. (2012, May 15). CBC News. Environment panel’s end blamed on support for carbon tax. Retrieved December 12, 2014, from http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/environment-panel-s-end-blamed-on-support-for-carbon-tax-1.1164935
CBC News. (2013, September 16). CBC News. Stand Up for Science rallies target federal government – Technology & Science – CBC News. Retrieved December 12, 2014, from http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/stand-up-for-science-rallies-target-federal-government-1.1855977
Foucault, Michel. 2009. Security, Territory, Population. Lectures at the Collège de France, 1977-1978. New York: Picador. Pp. 333-358. [5 April 1978 lecture]
Gibbs, K., Houban, A., & Hutchings, J. (2012, July 16). The Tyee. ‘The Death of Evidence’ in Canada: Scientists’ Own Words | The Tyee. Retrieved December 12, 2014, from http://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2012/07/16/Death-of-Evidence/
Hume, C. (2012, July 14). The Star. PM’s Science Blindness will only hurt Canada. Retrieved December 10, 2014, from http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2012/07/13/christopher_hume_stephen_harper_is_blind_to_science.html
Ljunggren, D. (2012, July 10). Reuters. Canadian scientists protest against spending cuts. Retrieved December 12, 2014, from http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/07/10/canada-politics-science-idUSL2E8IA5CP20120710
Makuch, B. (2013, September 16). The Star. Stop muzzling scientists, protesters tell Tories | Toronto Star. Retrieved December 12, 2014, from http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2013/09/16/stop_muzzling_scientists_protesters_tell_tories.html
Nature. (2012, July 18). Nature. Death of evidence. Retrieved December 12, 2014, from http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v487/n7407/full/487271b.html#close
Pedwell, T. (2012, July 10). The Globe and Mail. Scientists take aim at Harper cuts with ‘death of evidence’ protest on Parliament Hill. Retrieved December 12, 2014, from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/scientists-take-aim-at-harper-cuts-with-death-of-evidence-protest-on-parliament-hill/article4403233/