Canadian Journal of Communication Vol 43 (2018) 503–506  ©2018 Canadian Journal of Communication Corporation


Landscapes of Communication

Michael Dorland, Carleton University

The landscape plays a key role in both Canadian history and art. Contrast the views of the European “settlers” who saw only “terra nullius” with the very inhabited landscape space of Indigenous Peoples who saw there animals, spirits, and life of all kinds. This issue looks at an array of landscapes of communication, some in the immediate present, others in the recent past, all revealing various problems in the media landscapes we inhabit.

We begin, fittingly, with a study situated in Nunavut in the eastern Canadian Arctic. For Kareena Coelho (University of London) in “New Uses of ‘Old’ Media: Exploring Technologies-in-Use in Nunavut”—which draws on her dissertation research and participant interviews conducted with Nunavummiut technology users—technology studies intersect with Indigenous media scholarship. If the latter is particularly concerned with reclaiming the past, much of it traumatic, a parallel form of reclamation occurs with the various media themselves. Here Coelho borrows from David Edgerton (2008) and his idea of “technology-in use,” that is, that media technologies are defined less by “new” versus “old,” and more by the uses they are put to. Given the persistence of obstacles to widespread internet use, Nunavummiut users see radio as a more robust medium and an important site for Inuktituk language content. Television too is viewed as more reliable and a better way for the diffusion of videos across a large territory. The postal service acts as a means of delivering large digital files by the post office that the internet cannot handle. And discontinued satellite dishes provide less onerous bandwidth caps than other infrastructures. The innovative usage of persisting media illustrates the creative ways in which Indigenous Peoples use the media tools at their disposal.

Turning to a very different media landscape, pornography use, Maude LecompteSimon Corneau, and Kim Bernatchez (all Université du Québec à Montréal) argue in “Entre l’individu et le social: les motivations d’usage de pornographie” that the motivations for pornography use vary depending on various identity categories. Deploying a “metasynthesis” as a methodological framework, the authors synthesized the results of 13 qualitative studies that examined  both extrinsic and intrinsic motivations from a theoretical standpoint. The motivations identified were: entertainment, sexual satisfaction, fantasy and identity exploration, the creation and strengthening of social or emotional ties, learning and information, transgression, and protection. The results demonstrate that pornography use can be motivated by both social and personal considerations, and they suggest that future research should consider the importance of gender and sexual orientation.

Simon J. Kiss and Andrea Perrella from Wilfrid Laurier University, and Karly Rath (Brock University), analyze the medium of newspaper coverage in their Research in Brief, “Balanced Journalism Amplifies Minority Positions: A Case Study of the Newspaper Coverage of a Fluoridation Plebiscite.” Focusing on the city of Waterloo, which narrowly voted to end fluoridation in 2010, the authors situate their study within the growing opposition in North America to the fluoridation of the drinking water. Generally, they found that local populations did not initially oppose fluoridation but the campaign often led to a reversal of opinion. In Waterloo’s case, the water had been fluoridated for 44 years. Beginning in 2008 and through to the 2010 plebiscite, which narrowly (50.3% to 49.7%) voted to end fluoridation, the authors hypothesized that the role played by local news media might be a significant factor. After doing a content analysis of both coverage and letters to the editor, the authors found that the groups opposed to fluoridation were more motivated and better organized than those for fluoridation. The net effect was news coverage that was more neutral toward fluoridation than supportive or critical. Their findings emphasize the “reactive” nature of contemporary journalism.

“Does My Favourite Political TV Series Make Me Cynical?” points out that it is high time media-effects studies focus not solely on news or nonfictional programming but also look at largely ignored dramatic fictional programs. To examine the levels of political cynicism, Alexandra Manoliu and Frédérick Bastien (Université de Montréal) took the television show House of Cards as an example of political cynicism and The West Wing as a positive portrayal of the political process. An experiment was conducted with university students, largely undergraduates, in the late winter of 2018. One group watched an episode of House of Cards, the second group watched the first episode of The West Wing, and a control group watched an episode of the comedy series The Big Bang Theory. Results indicated “assymetric” effects; the series recognized for political cynicism increased it for viewers, while those that do not portray politicians and the political process cynically had no impact. Surprisingly perhaps, more politically sophisticated viewers did not react differently to the shows as increased political knowledge did not seem to moderate cynicism. The results, the authors argue, is that types of programs other than news are worthy of further study, and the fact that fictional politics impact citizens’ attitudes should not go unnoticed.

Rodrigo Finkelstein (Simon Fraser University) engages with a different kind of fictional mediascape, that of Marxian political economy. In “Productive Labour in the Information Sector,” he argues that despite the considerable attention paid to the idea of productive labour in recent debates about its place in the information sector, very few authors have engaged with Karl Marx’s own perspectives in the three volumes of Capital. The central bone of contention here goes back to Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy’s 1966 claim that advertising costs are an effect of circulation, not of labour. Finkelstein shows how both Dallas Smythe (1977) and Dan Schiller (2007) have further muddied the waters and indeed dragged “moral” considerations into the discussion. The fallacy here is not that political economy dismisses information as unproductive but that the idea of unproductive labour is viewed as having no economic function. Finkelstein’s detailed discussion of Marx’s Capital, especially volumes II and III, claims otherwise. The article concludes that the theoretical weakness of institutionalized Marxian political economy is due to a fragmented reading of Marx’s grand narrative. “This orthodox critique,” Finkelstein writes, “shows that more Marx is required in academia.”

In “An Examination of the Framing of Climate Change by the Government of Canada,” Andrew Chater (Brescia University College) argues that the rhetoric of the Conservative government of 2006–2015 de-emphasized the impact of Arctic climate change on the people of the North, preferring to emphasize issues of environmental security. Using frame theory and a discourse analysis of 19 major government statements and reports since 2006, Chater’s article shows that during the Conservative tenure, the connection between climate change and its impact upon humans was systematically de-emphasized, especially after 2009, although the Conservatives did take a serious view of the threat of climate change on the environment and nature. He argues that it “seems reasonable to assume” that this strategy was deliberate, a way of avoiding action. As a point of comparison, he evidences early statements on climate change by the successor Liberal government that did emphasize the impact upon human populations. Chater uses a framing approach to contend that government “talk” about climate change performs “second level agenda-setting,” influencing or delaying action.

For Doug Tewksbury (Niagara University) in “Digital Solidarity, Analogue Mobilization: The Technology-Embedded Protest Networks of the Québec Student Strike,” the so-called Québec “Maple Spring” of 2012–2013 offered an occasion for a large-scale qualitative ethnographic study of the online and offline mobilization efforts of the striking students. Over 50 participants were interviewed: community organizers, students, journalists, union, and government representatives. Using a theoretical framework drawn from participatory affect and politics, community belongingness, and techno-activism, the article argues that it was the students’ offline-online connectedness that allowed for a new conception of community participation to emerge through a number of strategies of co-belonging and being together that has been termed “network protest.” Tewksbury finds that the role of participatory media in direct democratic movements is to enhance offline mobilization efforts and organization, not to replace them.

In the concluding article in this issue, “Hanging the Sin Eater: International Criminal Law’s Failure to Engage with the Role of Media in a Criminal State,” lawyer and historian Mark Bourrie observes that in the very few cases where media have been prosecuted for incitement to genocide and crimes against humanity, the disreputable fringe rather than the mainstream media has been placed on trial. Too often mainstream journalists who normalized criminal regimes and their cruel policies have simply walked away or even continued to work in media. Bourrie discusses the case of Nazi press boss Hans Fritzsche, whose office controlled over 2,000 daily newspapers during the Third Reich. Tried at Nuremburg, along with Julius Streicher of Der Stürmer notoriety, Fritzsche was acquitted, not deemed responsible for the policies of the German Press Division; Streicher, on the other hand, was hanged. (As was William Joyce, better known as Lord Haw-Haw, hanged by the British for treason).

It was not until after the Rwanda genocide that a journalist was indicted for conspiracy and incitement to commit genocide. This was Hassan Ngeze, editor and publisher of the Stürmer-style newspaper Kangura, which had published intermittently before the genocide and not at all during. Though the tribunal could have sentenced him to death, Ngeze received a life sentence that was later reduced. And while the co-accused principals of the genocidal Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines were convicted, one had fled the country. Bourrie notes that the writings on the Rwandan case “are strangely silent” on the respectable media in that country.


Baran, Paul, &  Sweezy, Paul. (1966). Monopoly capital. New York, NY: Monthly Review Press.

Edgerton, David. (2008). The shock of the old: Technology and global history since 1900. London: Profile Books.

Schiller, Dan. (2007). How to think about information. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Smythe, Dallas. (1977). Communications: Blindspot of western Marxism. Canadian Journal of Political and Social Theory, 1(3), 1–27.