Crawl Across the Ocean

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Sphere of Deviance

Via Atrios, an interesting piece by Jay Rosen at Pressthink on the role of the media in defining the boundaries of accepted, acceptable and unacceptable debate, and how the internet erodes the control of the media by allowing individual citizens and groups to connect directly rather than being passive receivers of the mainstream media.

With the provincial election coming up in May, and another referendum on changing our electoral system from the obsolete first past the post system to the single transferable vote system proposed by the Citizens Assembly, it made me think about the role the media plays in the debate on electoral reform.

One of the things I've always been unable to understand is just why the media is so opposed to electoral reform. In fact, one of the first posts on this blog (back in 2004!) concluded by asking, "What is it about PR [proportional representation] that leads columnists to write such absurd things? What are they afraid of?"

The reason I asked was because despite being opposed to electoral reform, most of the folks in the media seemed unable to put together a coherent explanation for *why* they were opposed, seeming to come to a conclusion first and then go looking for supporting arguments, much in the way of drunkards and lampposts.

Some of the journalists /columnists who oppose reform, Bill Tieleman comes to mind, are simply partisans who feel the reform will hurt their party and argue accordingly, but many of them seem to just have some instinctive reaction to defend the status quo.

After reading Jay's piece, I can see how in some ways that [defending the status quo, or the views of the establishment], is one of the most important functions the media has, but they're not aware of it so they do it instinctively, without even realizing what they're doing or why. I don't know if this insight can help the STV (Single Transferrable Vote) proposal get less hostile media coverage this time around, but maybe the greater strength of the internet (where support for reform is high) vs. the media now vs. 4 years ago will help shape the debate in terms more favourably towards reform.

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  • Your point is taken, but it's worth noting that Andrew Coyne has been a strong advocate in favour of the movemtent for years, and both Paul Wells and Chantal Hebert have come out in favour of (some form of) PR since the recent federal prorogation/coalition business. So there are not just exceptions, there are big ones.

    By Blogger Idealistic Pragmatist, at 5:34 AM  

  • I agree there are some (I am think particularly of the Ontario based Star columnists) who will never come out in favor of reform if they perceive the slightest chance that their party of choice will have to (God forbid) cooperate, in any way, with another party. However, IP is right, the tide is turning among some really big names in national punditry. I take some comfort in seeing that trend.

    By Blogger Greg, at 5:48 AM  

  • I think the referendums in B.C. and Ontario and PEI have forced electoral reform out of the spehere of deviance and into the 'sphere of legitimate controversy' which is allowing some journalists to come around (Coyne, who is unusual for a journalist in that he is comfortable in the 'sphere of deviance' was always a supporter).

    Still, we'll see how things go during the campaign when electoral reform moves from abstract idea to possible reality.

    By Blogger Declan, at 5:58 PM  

  • Thanks for the mention, if unflattering, but the arguments against STV are legion and that's why a wide range of people from very different political backgrounds came together on the NO side in 2005 and have again in 2009.

    NO STV has Green Party, NDP, BC Liberal, Social Credit and supporters of other parties all working together - because STV would be a disaster for BC.

    And we don't agree on what would be best - some want Mixed Member Proportional, others like First Past the Post but we do agree on STV.

    Lastly, the media has actually been mostly supportive of STV, not opposed. I'm an exception, not the rule.

    It should be a good debate!

    By Blogger Bill Tieleman, at 7:38 PM  

  • Well, it's going to take more than "STV would be a disaster for BC." to change my mind on this one.

    I formed my opinion on your motivations at the public debate on STV down at Robson Square last campaign. If you can come up with some more convincing arguments this time around, maybe I'll believe that you think STV really would be a disaster for BC and not just for the prospects of NDP majority government :)

    The B.C. media is certainly more supportive towards reform than the Ontario media but I still think the majority of media coverage was negative last time around, I guess we'll see how it goes this time.

    Like you say, it should be a good debate.

    By Blogger Declan, at 6:45 PM  

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