Recently the prospect of ending up on CBC Radio crossed my plate when I was referred by a friend because of my admittedly anti-social, social smoking habits. This encounter was interesting, springing up in me several urges ranging from frightened to opportunist. What if I make an ass of myself? How can I fit George Bush bashing into it? What if I cough too much? Can I plug indi-media? I sneeze a lot and Grizzly always meows when I'm on the phone... oh good Christ!
Another feeling sprout up in me, though. After I spoke with the reporter doing the story it occurred to me that I was witnessing the distortion of the news first hand.
I should explain. In Montreal a ban on smoking in restaurants is imminent. This has caused the predictably mixed responses that any such freedom limiting, benevolent parent legislation brings about. I don't want to sound overly negative, I agree with the legislation whole heartedly. Ninety percent heartedly, at least. I've never been a big fan of government legislation of behaviour, but it seems to be that the market will always benefit from selling fixes to addicted smokers, and so public health and employee health be damned. In this light I'm pleased that the government is taking action to force the ethical position upon smokers. Of course, they aren't doing it for the sake of right and wrong, the government is doing it because the smoking profitability matrix has shown that long term care of cancer patients is out-weighing the short term gains of taxation on big tobacco. Besides, it is becoming more and more clear that big tobacco will find ways around taxation whenever possible. Follow the money.
Now what am I talking about in terms of the distortions of the media? I talked with a very nice woman yesterday who asked some tentative questions about my smoking habits, my opinion of the impending ban and its impending effect on my smoking habits. She was friendly, apparently intelligent and smooth and informal with her questions. In a very subtle way she was disarming, which while in this particular case wasn't necessary, I suspect it makes her quite a good interviewer. It was the result of the pre-pre-interview which struck me. I was told that I didn't meet the criteria of the story. I didn't smoke enough, and I didn't plan to "quit because of the ban" (paraphrased). I'm not particularly bitter that I was excluded, mind you, because I was terrified of doing the interview anyway. It occurs to me that I was too neutral.
What does too neutral mean? I think it means that I answered her questions with an even keel. "Do I agree with the ban?" I hate government legislation of private behaviour, I say, but I think that businesses will never 'do the right thing' left to their own devices, so it is a necessary evil. Obviously employees will greatly benefit from this, if no one else. "How much do you smoke per day?" Average? Well, I smoke none per day, but when I drink I smoke a lot, so I guess somewhere around a pack every four or five days. "Do you think the ban will compel you to stop smoking?" Well, I'll smoke less because when I'm socially drinking I won't be able to smoke as easily, so it will reduce my smoking, but it has no real effect on my decision making.
Neutral. Every answer is neutral. It seems to me to be the kind of answers that people don't fight over. Of course I'm not sure, but it seems very likely to me that the radio program in question will have extreme viewpoints which virtually yell at each-other. There is no round table of misc. laymen interacting, but the editing will likely be like every other story I've read, seen or heard and will pit the blind opinions blindly against each-other in meta-round table format.
Is this important? Not really. Is this authoritative or researched? Not in the slightest. It does feel like a micro-chasm of every debate we see or hear about, however. Most importantly, it makes me wonder how many people are neutral, and so don't fit the story.
No one goes to a rally with a sign that says "A-Ok!", I guess, and there sure isn't any coverage of anyone who does.