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About Newswatch CanadaBlindspots in the news agenda

MAY 1, 1997


VANCOUVER, BC - The points of view of big business receive more favourable news coverage than its supporters often claim, according to preliminary research findings by NewsWatch Canada, at Simon Fraser University.

"Several of our studies point in a consistent direction and challenge media monitoring by the pro-market Fraser Institute," said Bob Hackett, a professor of communication who co-directed the project.

"Their studies suggest that media coverage is hostile to business," he adds, "but two of our studies covered the same ground as previous Fraser Institute research on media coverage of bank profits and new technology. We found that the coverage was not hostile to business."

NewsWatch Canada (formerly Project Censored Canada) undertakes independent research on the diversity and thoroughness of news coverage in Canada's media, and focuses on identifying blindspots and double standards.

Now in its fourth year, the research project involves communications schools at SFU and the University of Windsor. It was initiated in collaboration with the Canadian Association of Journalists.

Hackett and project co-director Donald Gutstein led a team of students at Simon Fraser University whose research uncovered several blindspots in the Canadian news media.

"It was very demanding," said Brent Stafford, a student researcher in the project. "We were challenged to bring a critical and unbiased perspective to our research."

U. of Windsor professor James Winter directed a similar group to identify junk food news -- relatively insignificant stories that received major news coverage.

"Given the blindspots and double standards towards business and national unity we are uncovering, we are concerned that important national issues may be unfairly framed for readers and viewers during the federal election campaign," commented co-director Donald Gutstein.

One study found that the Canadian daily print media tend to present business with a more positive, less negative, framework than two other important institutions, organized labour and government.

Another found that newspapers owned by the Hollinger, Thomson, and Rogers chains present less critical coverage of the three companies than does the Toronto Star, an independent daily.

One qualification to pro-business coverage is that environmental groups seem to enjoy more media access than do resource companies in news about BC forestry issues.

Other patterns identified by NewsWatch Canada include:

€ Right-wing think-tanks, such as the Fraser Institute, receive far more references in the Canadian news media than left-wing institutes, such as the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

€ Pro-technology voices are well accessed and often set positive frames for news coverage of information technology

€ In the English-language national media, the concerns of Francophone minorities outside Quebec are given very little coverage while the grievances of Anglophones within Quebec are emphasized

€ Homicide receives more coverage than any other types of violent crime, with offenders receiving more coverage than the victims. White-collar and corporate crime are rarely reported on in Canada¹s major newspapers

€ The press is reluctant to criticize Canada's trade policies even when human rights abuses are an issue

€ Women's health issues, particularly breast cancer, receive more and better coverage in the Canadian news media than men's health issues.

The student researchers were: Jan Anderson, Robert Finlayson, Sarah Galasso, My-Le Lai, Benjamin Letts, Mavis McMillen, Emira Mears, Janet Ready, Kirsten Simmons, Brent Stafford, Jason Watson, and Trisha Wilson.

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NewsWatch Canada, (604) 291-4905
Robert Hackett, (604) 291-3863
Donald Gutstein, (604) 291-3858
Jim Winter, (519) 971-7713
Bruce Mason, SFU media/pr, (604) 291-3035
Individual abstracts are available by fax
Media/pr¹s Web site: http://www.sfu.ca/mediapr

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