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Where Was the Media?

I tried to raise key election issues. Some big enviro groups, and most reporters, looked away.

By Rafe Mair 18 May 2009 | TheTyee.ca

Rafe Mair writes a Monday column for The Tyee. Read previous columns by Rafe Mair here. He also acts as a spokesperson for the Save Our Rivers Society.

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Tzeporah Berman, Rafe Mair: Who's message got airplay?

As the provincial election unfolded, we saw serious rifts exposed in the environmental movement. Where does it go now after the massive Campbell win, ratifying his plans to ravage our seas and rivers?

In the vacuum created by that rift, the news media of B.C. utterly failed in its duty to inform the voters about critical environmental issues.

As a result, Campbell will assume a mandate to bring in more fish farms, increase the capacity of those in existence and continue a massive destruction of our rivers.

Premier Campbell was able to campaign without having to meet these issues head on and this strategy was clear to me as I taunted his ministers to debate with me.

Where was the energy minister? There is no doubt in my mind that an integral part of Campbell's strategy was to get rid of Richard Neufeld, the former energy minister, so that he would not be seen to be avoiding debate. Instead, a new minister could duck a fight because he was so recent an appointment.

Movement divided, media muted

If there is an environmental movement it was sent asunder by the defection of Tzeporah Berman and David Suzuki, who seemed to tell us that destruction of rivers for power was helpful to the cause of lowering carbon emissions into the atmosphere. Indeed there seemed to be an inference, if not a direct statement, that they alone represented environmental legitimacy, an arrogant assumption of leadership.

They were accredited by the media as the environmental aristocracy before whom the rest of us should cringe in fear and humility. There were exceptions. The talk shows at CKNW and CFUN did permit contrary views, as did some community papers. But you would have looked in vain in the mainstream news media to see what we were on about.

And what was our message?

That so-called "run of river projects" permanently and seriously impact our rivers and streams to make electricity which we, through our crown corporation, BC Hydro, must buy at double or more the "spot" market price.

That this power, because most of it can only be produced when the spring runoff occurs, is of almost no use domestically and must be exported. This was confirmed by the CEO of the Plutonic/General Electric partnership who said a person "would have had to be in a coma" not to know that this power was for export.

And that Hydro now owes $31 billion to those private power companies who now have a contract -- a sum that will hugely increase as more and more private projects get approved.

With so much at stake, you would think this would be an issue that public affairs shows would want to explore at some point during the election.

Fanny, can't you spare a spot?

Yet, to offer one example of the frustrations I faced as I travelled around the province speaking on this issue, I was consistently denied the opportunity to appear on the Fanny Kiefer Show on Shaw Cable.

I began to wonder if this was because Shaw Cable is the major shareholder of Corus Entertainment, the owners of CKNW, who fired me in 2003 and have airbrushed me from their history and to this date deny me access to the 20th and 21st floor of the TD building.

When I shared my thinking with Fanny it was not she but Shaw Cable who, in a letter one might send to an uneducated bumpkin, stated that this wasn't so. As they considered this issue and it became clear, in the fullness of time and at the end of the day...they might well ask me to appear. Like much of the media in general, Shaw Cable simply refused to deal with the serious allegations Save Our Rivers Society was raising throughout the province.

CBC and Canwest

I do a regular political panel on Monday mornings on CBC radio and I begged for a year to have this issue and the fish farms debacle on the agenda. They never were unless I crammed it into an answer to an entirely different question. I was told that last week they did an entire program on it but in spite of the fact that I'm a CBC "regular," as official spokesperson for Save Our Rivers Society, I was not invited. (I expect after saying this I will be let go as part of their budget cuts.)

Again and again I asked political columnists Vaughn Palmer of the Sun and Mike Smyth of the Province to deal with this issue but not a peep. If what I said was wrong, surely the media would have said so and why.

Last Fall I went to Terrace to speak on this issue and, before I left, was interviewed by a reporter for the local radio station. When I got to the public meeting the woman who interviewed me told me (and she was prepared to be identified) that the interview had not been used because the manager of the station thought it might offend Alcan.

A few weeks ago I was in Castlegar to give a speech at an NDP fundraiser and the Black newspaper failed to cover my speech or interview me.

Laurel for Mark Hume

The only senior member of the print media (apart from a few courageous community papers) to deal with this issue at all was Mark Hume of the Globe and Mail. Indeed, the Globe, in its B.C. section, covers B.C. issues better than the two local Canwest papers combined.

During the 14 months I was traveling the province, speaking to full houses, nary one "journalist" from the two main Vancouver dailies and Global-BCTV, ever asked me a single question. Save Our Rivers Society, who hired me in part because I'm a broadcaster with a Michener Award, the Bruce Hutchison Lifetime Award winner and member of the Broadcaster's Hall of Fame, might just as well hired a fencepost with hair for all the attention the media paid this issue.

It's not about me

Perhaps I flatter myself in thinking that the media should report what I say. But the charges I made were serious. If I was right, they should have reported that. If I was wrong, then so were scientists like Alexandra Morton, Dr. Craig Orr, John Calvert, Dr Marvin Schaffer, Dr Marvin Rosenau, Mark Angelo, Dr Neil Frazer and Otto Langer.

Think on it again -- Save Our Rivers Society maintained that the Campbell government:

1) Encourages large corporations to ruin our rivers to produce electricity

2) Under long term contracts, forces BC Hydro to pay two or three times the export value with the price indexed to the market

3) The electricity, because of the time of year it's produced, is of virtually no value for our own needs and thus must be exported by BC Hydro at a crippling loss.

None of this adds up to an important public issue at election time?

The environmental questions raised by myself and much of the scientific community are so serious that only a media utterly derelict in their duty could fail to challenge them or give them full and fair coverage. In fact, on the day of the election the Vancouver Sun printed an op-ed piece extolling the virtues of private power by an executive of a private power producer!

The fundamental moral duty of journalism to inform the public was all but utterly overlooked by the mainstream media in this province, denying to the public the information they needed to make an informed election decision.

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