Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Will Sun News Investigate the Staged Citizenship Ceremony? Will the CRTC?

Last October, Canada's Sun News Network, filmed and broadcast a story on what was portrayed as a regular swearing in ceremony for new Canadian citizens taking their oath of Citizenship.  Turns out, the participants were all already citizens and the ceremony was a "reaffirmation" ceremony.  Worse, most of the participants were actually civil servants working for the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration Canada.  This came out because the Canadian Press obtained emails through access to information showing the event was essentially staged for the benefit of the cameras.  At the time, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney blamed the civil servants for staging the event, and apologized to the network that had covered it, Sun News Network.  Kudos to the Canadian Press for staying with the story and requesting more documents because, well:
Kenney had criticized civil servants when it was revealed six bureaucrats reaffirmed their oath of citizenship alongside three or four bona fide new Canadians during a televised ceremony last October.

But he was striking a decidedly different tone Tuesday after The Canadian Press published the bureaucrats’ version of events — that the network was actively involved in the decision to use civil servants as stand-ins.

During the Sun News broadcast, the hosts referred to the group as new Canadians that had “finally” received their citizenship.
Now of course the minister lied both when he blamed lowly civil servants for the staged event and in claiming Sun News was unaware that the event was staged.  Also unsurprising that once again, civil servants were blamed for a political screw up.  This government has a track record of blaming staffers, underlings and bureaucrats whenever anything goes wrong.

But what about Sun News?  Back in February we were supposed to believe the Sun News didn't know the swearing event was staged.  Now we have documents credibly alleging that Sun News employees knew the event was fake and even participated in the last minute decision to throw the bureaucrats into the event when too few of the government's hand-picked participants showed up. 

It seems to me we have a prima facie case of Sun News knowingly airing "false or misleading news" in contravention of the Canadian Broadcast Act.  Will the CRTC investigate?

Even aside from that, from a simple journalistic credibility perspective, Sun blithely accepted Kenney's February apology to them for his department "misleading" them.  Will they investigate internally to find out who at Sun News knew all along?  They're not even carrying the story today.

It's pretty hard to avoid the conclusion that Sun News is just "Fox News North," operating under a still functional sort of "fairness doctrine" set of regulations up here which prevent it from going the full Murdoch, but still working in as much pro-Conservative bias as they can.  I know the substance of this event is pretty small bore in the grand scheme of things.  A citizenship swearing event staged for an ideologically friendly news network to run a soft story is hardly the most imporant issue, but at heart the issue is about truth in news and the government's ability to lie to the public without consequence.  If this sort of thing is allowed, much greater and more consequential propaganda could easily follow.  It mostly appears this one was put together by bungling amateurs in Kenney's political operation likely thinking that no one would look into such a minor event.  But letting this slide will teach other politicians what they can get away with.

It's also a good moment for uncovering what Sun News is really about.  A chance for the upstart network to show its quality.  Conservatives have been complaining for years about CBC's pre-supposed bias and poor journalism.  Yet, given the chance to show up the "state broadcaster", Sun News is hardly shining. 

And even if you want to still believe the Sun News didn't know the event was staged, that's hardly the greatest endorsement of their journalistic acumen:  A bunch of cubicle dwelling career bureaucrats managed to pull one over on the network that prides itself on "hard news."  A few quick interviews with the event participants would have quickly uncovered the lack of bona fide new citizens.  Even a better soft news outfit would have done these interviews just for the sake of having some human interest footage.  So, Sun News:  Complicit in a journalistic fraud, or merely gullible and incompetent, which are you?

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