Media too quick to move beyond Morgentaler

  • August 7, 2008

{mosimage}It's interesting how quickly the astounding news that Dr. Henry Morgentaler was to receive an Order of Canada has disappeared from the nation's media. After an initial flurry of articles, commentaries and broadcasts, the issue has quietly been replaced by the usual diet of stories on summer weather, terrorism and environmental degradation.

Normally, when they smell a good story, journalists are like pitbulls on a piece of raw flesh. If it features lots of conflict, extreme emotions, people in high dudgeon, all the better. Far less interesting stories have received serial treatment for months on end in the Canadian media.

Yet the Morgentaler story — while displaying all those ingredients of a juicy story by traditional journalistic definition — has just vanished. And it's not for lack of new angles. For instance, a survey released by Campaign Life Coalition showing that 56 per cent of those surveyed were opposed to Dr. Morgentaler's  award was by and large ignored by mainstream media.

Could it be that this poll was viewed with suspicion by mainstream journalists because a similar survey by well-known pollsters Ipsos Reid suggested that 65 per cent of Canadians approved of Morgentaler's award? Could it be that KLRVU Research, commissioned by Campaign Life, was an unknown quantity and, therefore, deserved being treated skeptically?

If so, then it would suggest a level of discretion not normally demonstrated by Canada's largely sheep-like media. When polls contradict each other on subjects such as, say, Stephen Dion's popularity with voters, the media simply report both polls. They don't pick one to favour and shun the other.

But this is Morgentaler and the subject is abortion. There are few other subjects that generate such an allergic one-sided response from mainstream Canadian journalism. Most journalists for the country's main news outlets are probably not even aware of how close-minded they are. Support for our no-holds-barred abortion regime is now assumed to be as Canadian as maple syrup.

On this, however, they are seriously out of touch with average Canadians. Both the Ipsos Reid poll and the Campaign Life poll  — along with numerous others done over the years — reveal there is far more diversity of opinion on abortion among Canadians than is generally reflected in our daily press. In fact, there is plenty of evidence to suggest support could be generated for legal restrictions on abortion similar to those found in Western European countries. They may still be weak, by and large, but they are a definite improvement over the situation here.

In fact, there is fertile ground for a serious debate that strives to find common ground among Canadians for dealing with the very serious moral problem of abortion. It's a debate that would go past the run-of-the-mill denunciations and rebuttals to explore areas of agreement. But a national public debate requires a national forum. Shouldn't this be the duty of a national media?

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