A story in one Edmonton newspaper and a wrongful dismissal lawsuit by a former political columnist at another have pulled back the veil a little on the mentality that fuels the mainstream media’s blockade of stories about the labour movement, liberal political parties and other progressive causes in Canada.

Any observant reader of mainstream newspapers in this era of concentrated media ownership knows that certain stories, for example the many significant activities of organized labour, are consistently underplayed compared with such more acceptable areas of coverage as the plans, proposals and political agendas of major corporations. This is simply a matter of arithmetic — just compare the column inches devoted to one topic versus the other, or count the number of stories in the business section versus the number of stories in the labour section. (Wait! There is no labour section!)

Likewise, critical readers of the press know that Canadian newspapers owned by the major media chains have a bad habit of seriously underplaying the crowds that attend demonstrations against causes and activities with which the media’s corporate owners are in sympathy, if they report such protests at all.

But it’s easy for those who still work for the mainstream media to pass off such criticism as merely unprofessional news judgment by supporters of special interests. (This is often done in the context of touting the valuable service provided by professional journalists, helping us poor citizen schmucks sort through what’s important and what’s not in an age when anyone can report anything on an Internet blog.)

Those of us who have toiled in the chambers of the mainstream media know the distain with which labour news and the like is treated behind closed doors, but this is rarely a matter for public discussion.

So it was interesting to read the obvious stated aloud in a rather unsympathetic Edmonton Journal portrayal of retiring City Councillor Dave Thiele. It seems that the former CUPE activist’s opinions were too progressive for the Alberta media to report.

Say what? We’re talking about a guy here who has served four three-year terms on city council representing a southeast Edmonton ward that is home to more than 130,000 people, not all of them old enough to vote, of course. Nevertheless, the folks in Ward 6 must have thought Thiele had something worthwhile to say!

But here’s Journal columnist Scott McKeen on his professional perception of Thiele: “Thiele was not someone I approached for insight into civic issues. Thiele was no media darling, to be sure. His politics were too left for some local pundits.”

Hmmmm… Interesting. For many on the left, Thiele’s positions on such issues as the privatization of Edmonton Power’s electricity-generation assets and the plan to sell off the Edmonton Municipal Airport were sadly deficient from a left perspective. But they were left enough to make “some local pundits” brush them aside.

Meanwhile, court documents in the interesting case of former Edmonton Sun columnist Kerry Diotte’s claim against his former employer contain more food for thought.

The CBC reported: “According to the statement of claim, Jose Rodriguez, the editor-in-chief of the Sun papers in Calgary and Edmonton, sent Diotte an email on Sept. 30, 2009, expressing concerns about how often Diotte used Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald in his stories — an amount Rodriguez felt was ‘disproportionate’ to the coverage given to other MLAs. Diotte was to rectify the ‘imbalance in his reporting,’ Rodriguez said in the email quoted in the court document.”

If MacDonald had been a Conservative Cabinet minister, presumably, the Sun would have had no trouble reprinting his press releases.

The matter became a legal brouhaha when, according to the former columnist, Diotte was demoted to writing stories about rescued pets when he followed instructions and ignored another story originated by MacDonald that turned out to be well played by the competition.

Well, McKeen’s column was just one guy’s opinion, and the allegations in Diotte’s statement of claim are, as they say, unproven in a court of law. Still, regardless of the relative insignificance of these two small incidents, their presence in the public prints where “civilians” can see and think about them is unusual.

Insiders know there is a systemic blockade of news about progressive issues, positions and arguments in the corporate-owned mainstream media. These stories are two small examples of how the system works.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, Alberta Diary.

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...