Being Canadian is definite advantage for a journalist working abroad – unless you’re covering Washington's corridors of power, in which case you often find yourself at the bottom of a well-established media pecking order.
That was the opening consensus at the fifth annual media panel sponsored by CIGI and the Canadian International Council Waterloo Region Branch, which was titled Bordered Biases: National Identity in World News Coverage. Moderated by TVO anchor and senior editor Steve Paikin, the event brought together Canadian print and broadcast journalists with a depth of foreign reporting experience. Panellists included Mitch Potter (Washington bureau chief, The Toronto Star); Kevin Carmichael (Washington correspondent, The Global and Mail and Report on Business); Tony Burman (professor at Ryerson University’s School of Journalism and former head of Al Jazeera English and CBC News); and Diana Swain (senior investigative correspondent, CBC News).
To Paikin’s opening question on whether being Canadian helped or hindered journalists on a foreign assignment, all but Carmichael said they had found it to their advantage, especially when recalling the experiences of colleagues from the U.S.
Potter told the story of being “practically tackled to the ground” in Baghdad, by U.S. journalists wanting Canadian pins and flags while covering the Iraq War.
For Carmichael, who reports on the global economy and related policy decisions, the experience of being a Canadian journalist in a foreign capital was often one of frustration. “When you’re trying to cover the power game and the country you’re coming from doesn’t have that much power, then you’re on the outside looking in,” he said.
Burman suggested Canadian journalists enjoyed another benefit by way of nationality in the form of an audience that was, generally speaking, more receptive to a global perspective.
“Many of us who live in Canada not only want a Canadian perspective, but also want a broader, international perspective,” Burman said.
Swain noted that Canada’s diverse population has a direct impact on her work. So much so, she joked, that the first two people she thinks about when considering her audience are her boss and her immigrant mother.
On the seminal question of whether being Canadian influenced their work, the panellists all agreed it inevitably did, but without hampering their ability to deliver news objectively.
“Invariably, it all seeps into our pores and out of our pores,” Potter said.
Paikin led the panel through a broad-ranging discussion that touched on the “freakish” nature of the U.S. electoral primaries, the future of print media, the role of social media in journalism, and the increasingly fragmented Canadian media landscape.
In responding to a question from the audience, on the U.K. Leveson Inquiry into the close relationship between British media and politicians, Burman said the scandal appeared to be unique to Britain and reflected the “competitive desperation” of that country’s media industry.
Swain agreed that such collusion was unlikely to occur in Canada. “I think I can say with a measure of authority that it just doesn’t happen here,” she said.