Canadian Journal of Communication Vol 41 (2016) 543–546
©2016 Canadian Journal of Communication Corporation


Dreams, Dramas, and Crises

Michael Dorland, Carleton University

The CBC has been in crisis for decades and continues to limp along as one of the most poorly funded public broadcasters in the world. Here, Brooks DeCillia and Patrick McCurdy examine Canadian news and commentary coverage of the CBC between 2009 and 2014 quantitatively and qualitatively. Although 66 percent of their sample referred to the CBC’s troubled status (N = 467), only 10.5 percent connected the discussion to the idea of public service broadcasting. That silence means, DeCillia  and McCurdy argue, that in the absence of more extended discussion of public service broadcasting, a neoliberal discourse has become discursively hegemonic for news media’s treatment of the CBC. They go on to show the extent of CBC executives’ entanglement with the assumptions of neoliberal discourse. What the authors’ analysis shows, above all, is the disconnect between an “idealized academic discussion” of public service broadcasting and the neoliberal conversation in popular media in Canada. As a result of this disconnect, public broadcasting in Canada is viewed—in large part—as an extension of the market. Efficiency, ratings, and accountability define and narrow the horizon of possibilities for communication and action surrounding the public broadcaster. Values of citizenship, democracy, and bolstering arts and culture are largely marginalized—and rarely given a full-throated defence by CBC officials and others.

In contrast to neoliberal discourse, Jennifer Dell draws upon Erving Goffman’s dramaturgical model of Scene-Performance-Audience to examine the press conference given four days after the 2013 Lac-Mégantic train disaster by Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway CEO Ed Burckhart. Burkhardt gave a 40-minute, unscripted news scrum before agitated reporters and jeering members of the public. While he repeatedly attempted an apology, its effectiveness was weakened by shrugs, other body movements, and subvocalizations (ums, ahs). That weakness was further amplified by his attempt to blame the train engineer for the disaster. These actions created a binary in Burkhardt’s performance—he was trying to apologize for the disaster’s occurrence and represent his organization in a favourable way, yet he could not display the proper demeanour of decorum to his immediate audience, the reporters. Nor was he able to adequately assess his audience’s reception of his performance, and thus he was unable to make the performative adjustments that Goffman suggests are necessary to ensure a successful performance.

For Jennifer Ellen Good, the iPhone is both an icon of our times and the most wasteful of our electronic gadgets, part of a rising “tsunami” of e-waste. She reports that more than 142,000 computers and 416,000  mobile devices are discarded daily in the United States, and the life cycle of smartphones is shrinking. E-waste represents the fastest-growing waste stream in developed countries. Globally it is estimated that 40 million tonnes of e-waste are produced annually, while countries like India and China are soon expected to see a 500 percent increase in communications device waste. Good draws on the theory of symbolic annihilation to grasp the problem: namely, what media does not show us is as important as what they do show. Showing conveys social existence; not showing (symbolic annihilation) denies it. To demonstrate, Good sampled search engines and news databases for both the terms “iPhone” and “e-waste”; and while the former generated many hits, the latter generated only a few, which were also found to be decreasing. For instance, “iPhone6” was the third-highest Google search term in Canada in 2014, after “Robin Williams” and “World Cup.” “E-waste,” by contrast, flatlined to zero. As Good observes, we cannot know what we have not experienced or not been told about.

Using narrative and framing analysis, Neil Gerlach re-examines newspaper coverage in the U.S., Britain, and Canada of the 2014 Ebola outbreak. While the initial coverage was consistent with the classic “outbreak narrative” theory, the framing changed once cases began appearing in the West, to what he terms “a pandemic narrative.” The latter is a more general narrative, less concerned with medical issues and humanitarian aid, and much more so with broader security issues, including government and military action. The pandemic narrative, Gerlach contends, is itself part of a larger “pandemic culture” characteristic of globalized cultures. It rests, as he demonstrates, on a number of frames: 1) that global health systems are fragile; 2) that national biosecurity systems are inadequate; and 3) that the pandemic narrative itself is rooted in fictional representations of disease outbreaks that have leaked into other media and news genres. Pandemic culture is thus the result since the 1980s of regular scares of possible outbreaks (HIV/AIDS, SARS, etc.). These scares have produced an affective condition of generalized anxiety and threats. Because disease threats are linked to our bodies and everyday social practices, anxiety becomes part of the daily environment in which we live, rather than a specific medical threat.

Pertinent here is Kelsey Lucyk’s article on social determinants of heath (SDOH). SDOH are concepts fundamental to population studies and public health issues, referring to the complex set of demographic, economic, and social factors that condition the contexts into which we are born, grow, work, and age. However, the Canadian public remains largely unaware of SDOH. Some studies show that while respondents identify personal health as an important concern, they do not make a link to broader social and economic aspects, such as employment or gender. Media, in turn, focus upon individual health practices (e.g., smoking, diet) but not on the more complex, systemic conditions. Here, content and framing analysis of the top 25 Canadian news outlets were used to evaluate public awareness of SDOH between 1993 and 2014. While some initial coverage of SDOH emerged in coverage of a public health conference at McMaster University, and while some SDOH were identified (housing, income, education, poverty), others (such as child care, control over one’s life, disability, race, and homelessness) were much less frequently mentioned. Where explicitly identified, SDOH were mentioned very broadly, from individual health practices to community-level engagement to public health and security issues. In terms of media coverage, although SDOH were mentioned to a limited degree prior to 2005, after that year coverage increased significantly. Coverage, however, tended to cluster around specific topics, such as the role of key actors advocating for SDOH.

A framing analysis of news articles revealed that the social determinants of health were presented as an urgent issue in which the action was framed as the responsibility of government, saving health care costs, and a morally just endeavour. Yet articles also framed SDOH and health inequalities as issues that only affect those who face the greatest health and social disadvantage in our society. Problematically, Lucyk argues such framing may serve to disconnect Canadian society from the issue of health inequalities and their negative societal impacts and risks ignoring the root causes of inequalities within and between nations.

Héloïse Boudon and Katharina Niemeyer look at the transcultural issues involved in the adaptation of the 2005 Québec television series Les Invincibles for broadcast on the Franco-German cultural channel Arte in 2010. While the authors did not focus on the reception of the new adaptation among audiences, they did emphasize the production and adaptation process, with interviews of producers and screenwriters of both versions. Current research in adaptation studies emphasizes five theoretical and analytical clusters: fidelity (similarity and difference), the opening to other media forms, a multilevel approach as opposed to one-to-one adaptation, a dialogical process of adaptation, and broader theoretical questions such as interseriality. The French version of Les Invincibles is therefore not simply an arbitrary “copy and paste” of the original, but an interserial product that relies on the articulation of the named fidelities. “The adaptation can then be seen as an original re-creation bearing fidelity in form of resemblance and similarity” (p. 659). In the case of Les Invincibles, the iconic resemblance to the original is both verbal and visual. It is this resemblance that forms the basis from which the latter version begins to create its own universe via the interserial interplay. These observations are evidence not only of the efforts made by the producers and screenwriters to adapt the original format of the series, but also of their desire to integrate into the overall milieu of the Arte channel and strike a chord with its target audience. Elsewhere, the writers’ deliberate choice to give greater importance to the characters’ mockumentary interview scenes demonstrates the willingness to blend in with the channel’s existing style of programming, thereby making Les Invincibles a genuine first-generation transcultural adaptation. What is largely French or partly French in Les Invincibles is difficult to determine. Not to forget that in an era of increasingly larger movements of populations across the globe, it is impossible to designate a kind of majority television viewership of native origin and ancestry. So finally, the “Frenchification” of the series was more an attempt to condense national French and some German traits, regionalism, and specific immigration cultures within a topic that is overall “universal.”

Finally, Miglena Todorova’s study aims to encourage journalism educators to apply a decolonizing approach that appreciates the pedagogical value of Indigenous practices related to media and communication and embeds Indigenous epistemologies across the curricula. In journalism education, ecology of knowledges presents an epistemological space wherein diverse kinds of journalism thrive together, thereby enriching the professional repertoire of the journalist-in-training. This approach  means embracing the study of Indigenous communication systems, journalistic techniques, and approaches practised by Indigenous journalists around the world, as well as engaging in meaningful conversations about how power, (neo)colonialism, capitalism, and hegemony shape the social context of journalism. This rich epistemological environment can foster journalists who are skilled media and information practitioners, and who are thereby able to address highly diverse and multicultural audiences, including Indigenous, diasporic, and (im)migrant communities. Linking journalism education to social relations is also one way to contribute to efforts to decolonize mass media and thereby help Indigenous Canadians attain political and cultural equality. Todorova’s research proceeds in three steps: first, a review of the course catalogues of 10 top-ranking journalism programs in Canadian universities reveals how curricula are dominated by colonial and Eurocentric perspectives. Second, these exclusionary perspectives are related to scholarly literature on journalism cultures. And third, the article considers recent journalism programs in Australia that are inclusive of Indigenous practices as well as a special topics course developed by renowned Indigenous journalist and educator Duncan McCue (Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation) in Canada.