After The Paris Attacks | From Headlines to Analysis: the Media

After The Paris Attacks | From Headlines to Analysis: the Media


Good afternoon everyone. I’m Stephen Toope, the Director of the Munk School of Global
Affairs, and on behalf of the Law School and the Munk School I’d like to welcome you
back for this afternoon’s continuation of what has already been a very
engaging set of discussions around effects after the attacks in Paris. This afternoon,
we’re beginning what I know is going to be
a really fascinating discussion because of the
participants. I will say that you have a programme so
we’re not introducing everyone (they’re very distinguished) and we’re
going to focus on an analysis of media in terms of responses to the Paris
attacks and, I guess, implicitly what the role of the media is and it’s called, ‘From Headlines to
Analysis’. I’d like to welcome the Chair, Brian
Stewart, who is a senior fellow here at the Munk School. Thank you very much. Thank you, Stephen,
very much indeed. I was struck by the fascinating
sessions before this that the word need for context, of course, kept coming up
but also as the discussion neared the break, more and more I was
hearing lines like “It is hard not to be pessimistic”, “We’re
not good at taking time”, “We’ve got an impatience problem in the 21st century”. Context, impatience, pessimism: perfect setup for a media
discussion. And I want to give my own little
bit of context first. When I graduated, which was only nine
months after the Kennedy assassination, it was into a very different world than
today. And it’s very hard to get across to
people now how really since 9/11 the media, along with all other
institutions, along with governments, has been cast into this vortex of ever speeding-up crises, and events, and 24/7 events that had to be responded
to. It’s not just good enough now to have the headlines; you have to have frequently the immediate analysis. So
we’re really – in fact, Doug and I were talking just
before this that we remember the summer before 9/11, when, basically, I remember at the CBC
desk I complained that the news business was basically gonna die. It was gonna go out of business because
nothing big was happening anymore in the world or crises were coming at us so few,
there really wasn’t that much to do. But we are in a position
now – and this is the context – that the media itself is under a great deal of
stress due to events, due to the fragmentation of the media, due to
ever more strengthened finances, and itself is
dealing, as are all other institutions now, with a lot of analysis of whether
we’re doing a decent job or whether we could do much better.
And as other panels have agreed, that a each guest here has asked one opening question to be asked
of them which they can answer up to two-minutes. So, before we start our
conversation, Doug Saunders – I’d like you to answer the
question: When you sat watching the crisis
develop, writing about it and consuming the news was there ever a
point when you said “Hey, wait a minute. This is exactly not
how I see the situation develop. Something’s really wrong in
this coverage.”? Well yes… no, not while the attacks in Paris were taking
place. I wasn’t there for that. I’ve
been in Paris for the recent attacks including the the attack on the jewish nursery school in 2012 so I know how these things
unfold. And I thought the actual coverage of the
event itself and even of the immediate French
political aftermath was pretty robust and and sophisticated and didn’t reach for
simple things. I think the problems occurred with the
discrepancy between the actual world out there and what was being said occurred when media outlets began
looking for a larger narrative to tie these
attacks to particularly a larger narrative in Europe –
what does this say about Europe right now? And I think we run into
problems when that happens, when you start trying to use a, you know, a metonomy or syntactic here
whatever you call it to be the thing that
symbolizes the entire region or culture or people. The two examples of that I’d point to
are first, there’s always a media desire to look
for a story about a backlash against something that just happened.
“Surely there’s going to be a backlash against Muslims” was what, I’m sure, every newsroom said
and people went out looking for it. And I think the thing that people
latched onto was a group based in Dresden, Germany called ‘Pegida’ which called itself ‘Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West’, which had some protest marches in the
city of Dresden. And we started seeing stories across the
North American media saying that Germany has been overtaken with anti- Muslim, anti-religious minority politics. “The intolerant Right is back again
in Germany and sweeping across Europe” soon became a
headline that was related to that too. This was linked to other similar movement in other
countries that, in response to the Charlie Hebdo
attacks, were sweeping across Europe. And by the time people noticed that this
was a municipal phenomenon that was confined to Dresden, and not even much of Dresden, that
narrative had already been out there. In fact, it turned out Pegida, yes, was part of a sort of tradition of little racist crack groups in smaller cities of the former East Germany in Saxony and
Brandenburg that have never been able to gain more that
sort of municipal council seats, and that faded out probably about two days
after its leader was shown in a photograph wearing a Hitler moustache which, luckily, today in Germany, makes
somebody a persona non grata pretty much instantly still. And it missed the point – the larger point –
that backlash politics really didn’t
happen very much this time in Europe. The anti-religious
minority and anti-immigrant parties of the right have
become sort of third-place parties in many countries but have not risen above that level in any
country, in fact, did not become the official
opposition or the government, in fact it’s an extraordinary accomplishment in the years since the 2008
economic crisis (the worst crisis Europe’s seen in six or seven decades), not
a single extremist party has become a government or
even an official opposition anywhere, and so on. And even in France
where seventeen percent of French voters are
willing to vote for a party in the first round of the presidential vote that is opposed to Jews and Muslims and
Roma, the Front National was unable to capitalize on this event either, in good part
because Marine Le Pen, the leader of the party was the
main target of Charlie Hebdo, they portrayed her on the cover as a concentration camp guard and so on. So that was the one
narrative. The other one with the flip side of that, rather than
looking for a backlash, looking for a forelash as you might call it, to try to say
that this attack was evidence that the entire
Muslim population of Europe or a large part of it was becoming radicalized in
this way. And of course, I think we all saw this,
that Fox News in the United States was forced to
apologise for having run several stories claiming that European cities contained
“no-go” zones: areas where Sharia law prevailed and where the police and ambulances dared not go and where women could not walk and so on. But that was not just Fox
News, a whole lot of media outlets retailed that claim which had been floating in
the air… sort of came out of right-wing blogs by people who’d paid one visit to
Europe fifteen years ago or something that
in East London or in Malmo, Sweden or in Brussels, there
was some district that had been so taken
over by religious extremists that nobody dared go there. There is always some place that the
reader was unlikely to have gone. Of course, there are poor immigrant
neighborhoods that have crime and have drug problems and things like this
but there was nothing of that magnitude to be found. Their
apology, I think, help a bit, particularly because they’d singled out
Birmingham, England which a lot of people did know and
was so far removed from the reality that was being portrayed that way.
But, again, once the apology had occurred that was out there: both this idea that Europe
was being overtaken by Islamic extremists in its domestic
neighbourhoods, and that Europe was being overtaken by far-right organizations opposed to
those religious minorities that you’d think a civil war was occurring on the continent. In fact, the reality is
much more subtle and you needed an examination a point by point case rather
than trying to find these sweeping narratives. Okay, Natasha, what did you find
that was well done by the media – you were
observing this from CBC (television news) and what did not live up to your expectations or angered you? Well before answer that, I do think
there were things that the media got right, things the media got wrong, and then things that we need to work as collective
media. But because my main responsibility at CBC news is as a
breaking news reporter, I just wanted to inform folks here that it’s an odd coincidence that
earlier today during our morning sessions a French police arrested four more people
in connection with the Paris attacks. So, one person is a man who seems to have
some connection to Coulibali, the man who killed the
French police officer and also held folks hostage in that Jewish supermarket, that man is connected to him
in some capacity. His girlfriend has been arrested, who is
a policewoman, and then the other two individuals, at this point, they haven’t
given many details. But there’s no way I can be a breaking news reporter and not
share that information with you, particularly since we’re having this
discussion today. So, to get back to your question. What I
think we got right in the media is that we gave it a lot
of attention, and, you know, we’ve been talking about that
alot: did we overemphasize the importance of that attack, those
gruesome images, those, I’m sorry, horrible, monstrous men screaming in the streets, their warped ideology of Islam… I think we gave
it the attention it deserved. This was a major, major political story that deserved to be on the front
page of every newspaper, it deserved the amount of coverage that it got, and I
think, for the most part, news organizations covered it
responsibly, ethically, they did not fear monger, they did
not blow things out of proportion for the most part, so I think we got that right. Where I think we went
wrong was the response – and I know hopefully we’ll
get into this in greater detail – but there’s no way to talk about how the media covered this without
talking about the cartoons themselves. And for the most part, English media in
this country including CBC where I work chose not to publish the cartoons
that had been previously published, they chose not to publish the cover of the Charlie Hebdo the week
after the attacks and it our French colleagues did (and I
applaud them for that), the National Post did, Sun News Network did, and I applaud them
sincerely because I think they absolutely made the right decision in my mind and I can certainly
understand why certain managers and leaders of news organizations
might have chosen to not do so but I think it was wrong and I think it
was wrong journalistically and I think it was wrong philosophically and I think
it was wrong as a Muslim. And where I think we need to do some
work is on the analysis end of it. So we covered the news well, we got the facts right, we got the story and the information
out there appropriately, but when we had to delve into analyzing it and breaking the story down
and figuring out why – which is so hard and which is the
essence the work, how could something like this happen, how
in 2015 could something so horrid happen and
for it to continue over the course of the week and for there to be such a
sense of chaos and disruption in the civility of our life, and I do mean all of us because
it’s not just France, it’s an assault on all of us, I sincerely
feel. I think we’re strong on challenging
political figures but we were not strong in challenging representatives of potentially Islamist ideology. And so, what I mean by that is,
this is something I can say because I’m a Muslim, because I was born
in Pakistan and I grew up in Saudi Arabia, and I’m a practicing Muslim, but we are
soft on this issue. As an institution, the media is soft on this and it’s understandable – you don’t want
to be Islamophobic, you don’t want to come across as racist, we have a great
tradition of protecting minorities, particularly in
this country, of being tolerant of trying to understand, but where it’s
gone too far is that we see Muslims only as victims. And so we don’t hold leadership in Muslim communities
accountable the way we do political leaders, and to some degree the leader of an imam or an Islamic
group is a political leader, particularly if
they are espousing political ideologies. If they are proponents Sharia
law or other political ideologies that are
linked and rooted in Islam, then we have to hold them
accountable in the same way every political interview on television
and in a newspaper is an accountability interview, every interview with a leader of an Islamic group needs to be an accountability
interview. I spoke to Brian about this; in the week following the attacks, because
we want to understand and we as the media want to understand what are Muslims thinking, what are they feeling, so we interview folks, and they come on air
and I saw this twice on two different networks including
the I work for, a leader of a mosque came on and said, “Well,
as long as the West keeps assaulting our people, things like this
are going to happen. Attacks on Charlie Hebdo will continue.” And that’s it, interview over, thank you for coming. Ask the
follow-up! And I sincerely think that the media
needs to feel that they have the permission to be a bit tougher on this. This is a
matter for accountability, it’s not a matter of racism, it’s not a matter of Islamophobia.
Does your mosque, does your group purport? Does it push a certain ideology
that is counter to the laws of this country? And if so, you have a responsibility to challenge it. Thanks, I’m going to hold the Charlie Hebdo discussion until a little bit later, because I wanted to
stay with the ongoing journalism problem, but you do open to a very
interesting door that one has to go through. In the immediate aftermath of the
attacks, I watched Al Jazeera English and they had one Islamic speaker after another come
forward, very much strongly condemning the attacks, very, very blistering, actually, responses and they
had not one, but two, three, four, dozens seemed to come on
over the hours. You look at Canadian television, and an
even more American, you might get one Arab clip. I wonder if the point is that we’re not just being soft, we’re kind of lazy.
We could be getting more sources out there, from that community if we were prepared
to deal with the things you mention – the
embarrassment, the difficulty finding them, and the
commitment to put them on air. So this is a legitimate concern; we need
to get the voices out there. But we all know, and for those who don’t
know, if you’re a reporter and you’ve got the deadline you’ve got to make deadlines so I need a
Muslim voice, well, where is the easiest place to go to get that Muslim voice? I’m going to
run over to the local mosque, interview the imam because he’s there
and he claims that he’s the authority on how Muslims
feel on this and his job is to be Muslim all day long, so okay, great, that’s my
voice. But that man, and it is always a man, represents a very small faction what
it means to be a Muslim. One of our panelists earlier today said, and thank
you for saying it, is that most Muslims are not busy being Muslims. Most of us are
trying to pay our mortgages, go to our 9 to 5 jobs, put our kids
through school – we’ve got the same concerns, so that secular voice or that moderate middle-
road voice, that same that’s as confused as any mainstream Canadian
is left out because they’re not accessible, it takes a lot of
work… I do think there’s an element of laziness in it because you have to
get the work done by the deadline. So you go to the easiest place you can go.
And frankly, they don’t look Muslim enough because, well, you don’t have a beard and you’re
not wearing hijab, and you don’t fit, there is an element of racism in this,
you don’t look like the kind of Muslim I want featured in my story, so I don’t
know if you are authentic enough. Does this concern you as well? Because you’ve written some very
insightful articles about how we misconstrue the level of anguish in Islamic communities,
certainly in Europe very often, but what about this lack of getting a serious response from the
community? The idea of- look, I think you’re quite right, the
finding of representatives is always going to be a
very difficult thing because the people who say they
represent a community or a religion or so on, they represent their own followers and
it’s always a bit dangerous to get an authority from within a community to represent it.
On the other hand, finding a random person on the street is going to run into problems
also. I think part of it is a lack of understanding of the division between a situation faced by a community of religious
believers in an area, and the political movement, known as Islamism, that exists within
some members of that community but is also sort of praying on them, and that
sort of thing. And the relationship between political
beliefs and religious beliefs, partly
because there are religious leaders who have extreme political beliefs. Mosques are a particularly tricky thing in Europe because, and I think it’s to some extent in Canada as well, in the sense that you quickly learn when you’re there that the imams at mosques in Europe are overwhelmingly non-European-born people
who’ve been shipped in from Saudi Arabia or Egypt, for the simple reason that those are the only places that will- and
Turkey to quite some extent these days as well- those are the only places that will pay
the salaries an imam. There’s not really a tithing system in the same sense, and it’s a community that’s
fairly poor anyway, so they get these guys shipped in from
from Saudi Arabia or Egypt which finance imams and pay their salaries all over Europe. And they
usually don’t even speak the same language as their community around them and are coming from a
completely different place – to a lesser extent, I think that’s a problem in Canada as well. The idea of finding representatives this
way is very tricky. I would say there’s a terrible journalistic
instinct to look up the organization of ‘x’, whichever group you’ve just seen, and assume that their spokesperson is
speaking for them. I’ve often had to joke that if something terrible happened
in the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant community that the WASP Council
of Canada would be founded, and I’d be alarmed at how they speak for me, I think
they’re located over there at Massey College, in fact. And I’m not sure if I would feel very comfortable with
how they represented me. Dealing with, then, the problem, coming back to the
original concern and the concern the panelist before us of things happening so fast, things happening to a degree where we simply don’t have the
same control over anymore. and there have been studies done that
the more uncertain society feels, the faster and faster information comes
in, the more pontificating and analyses spewed out, the more often there are
going to be a lot of mistakes. Is there a sense that the sheer brilliance of crisis coverage that
we can now do on newspapers and on television, radio, in fact, puts more and more pressure on
that spinning wheel to go faster and faster which puts more and more pressure on the
governments to move faster and faster, which leads people into, perhaps, a
quicker acceptance of a need for a security clampdown. Governments all have this need to seize the narrative, they have to
get hold of the narrative. Before anyone else, governments will
come out after every crisis and say, “We need to re-examine our security
apparatus and see how it’s functioning”, which can usually be translated: “We’ll be
back shortly, very shortly, with some tougher security laws.” But is there
a problem now that their sheer brilliance of the immediacy of our
coverage, if I use that term, is dangerously, if I use that term, affecting our society’s willingness to
act too quickly, to bring security crackdown
measures too fast? Or am I being completely paranoid in this? I don’t know… It’s difficult for, I think, us as reporters to respond to
that because our primary responsibility is to get the
story out there as quickly as possible, as
correctly as we possibly can. But it’s not just the government
reacting because the first thing we do is call DFID, and call the Prime Minister’s office and say, “What’s
your response to this attack that’s happened? What’s your response to this statement that’s been put out by this
Islamic organization? So, I think one thing is feeding into the
next, and so then, the government puts out a response that might be interpreted
by some of us as an overreaction and so then we report it and then we put the analysis out there that they’re hyping this up
and they’re making it a bigger deal than it actually is. I feel like a machine that feeds
into itself, but I think we have to get the story out there. And just as an
exercise- so the last time I worked was on Friday and just to give you a sense of, over the course of my eight-hour shift,
the stories that we covered and the lack of analysis about what we’re seeing
being covered. So I’m working for CBC News Network. If
you take out sports and weather, this is the news, the eleven stories
we covered: Zehaf Bibeau, a Winnipeg dad named
John is concerned that his son has become radicalized and has gone over to
fight with Isis, Isis destroys the ancient city of Nimrud, Brookings Institute put out an analysis on Twitter being used by
Isis, a Montreal mosque facing charges that
its illegally using its base, Concordia University’s MSA, which is a
Muslim Students Association library, is having to account for radical
materials in the library, then four other stories that are not
some way interlinked with Islam, Muslims, radicalization of young people in this
country. So for me, the concern is that all of these are
being reported individually and that’s fine, of course,
they are independent individual stories, but imagine if the six stories were
Conservative politician in Alberta, Prime Minister Harper, the
spouse of a conservative politician – if we made, instead
of it being Muslim Conservative politicians, there would be outrage. This would be the headline: “what
the hell is happening in the Conservative Party?”, throughout the country, and so that same
type of analysis, we are not allowing ourselves permission
to have when it comes to this. Natasha and I were talking earlier about
that certain sense of guilt that you feel as a reporter when you cover major crime story, which I
don’t do that much these days as a columnist and editor of columnists but I’ve certainly done plenty in the
past, and you know it’s gonna be at the top of page a1, and you know, certainly sitting here
in Toronto, that we are living in a country with one
of the lowest crime rates. We’re living in a city with, I
think, Toronto has the 37th highest crime rate of any Canadian city and I don’t think I could
name 36 Canadian cities. And we’re living in a city in a
country with the lowest crime rate in about sixty years and it’s been following pretty much
consistently for even longer than that, and
by putting that gruesome crime on the top of page a1 you’re
going to create a perception among readers who tend to follow the world by looking at the dots
and joining the dots, and we’re putting another dot on the page which says there’s a lot of crime and you
should be scared and you should support policies that work against
that fear…and politics that work against that fear. I don’t know the solution to that because I actually think gruesome crimes are of interest and I’m just covering it, but certainly, that’s also true of things like
Islamic extremism, and so on, which are a phenomena in Canada. I don’t besmirch anyone covering that guy from Ottawa who went off and
joined Isis, that guy from Calgary who went off and joined Isis, the various terrorist plots that have emerged
from people who may or may not sympathize with these groups and so on. But I do know that
pointillistically, we’re creating this notion that there’s a flood of Canadians going
and joining Isis or Islamic state when in fact, of the foreigners who go join them,
something like one or two percent are coming from Canada and the United States combined or
something and it’s fairly negligible. We’re also creating a perception that Muslim
communities in Canada are marginal and radical and religiously
extreme (those are three very different things that are generally unrelated) whereas
in fact, they are middle-class, very prosperous, not very
religious and have a higher University rate then
average Canadians and so on, and that they are only three or four
percent of the population and not growing very fast, et cetera. So, there’s this worry that crisis
coverage, it’s glorious, it’s wonderful to do, it’s the one time
we always get it right and people love us when there’s a big crisis and and read us and watch us and so on,
knowing that that crisis coverage, as grand as it
feels, is putting another dot on that dot-to-dot. And the counter to that is also true. So
when you do the crisis coverage of an Islamist attack or of Muslims going
over, converts from the West going over to fight with Isis, and then we talk about Islamophobia. So
for the one, and we do it big, like if there’s been active
Islamophobia, a woman in Montreal’s been told “Take off your hijab in the courtroom” we
blow that up too. And overwhelmingly, Muslims in the West feel
safe in the West and study after study shows that while
they might disagree with the political agenda or the
West’s response to certain Islamist ideologies, they feel an allegiance to the countries that
they’re living in, that they’ve immigrated to. So while it’s true that we don’t want to blow
Islamism out of proportion, we also don’t want to
blow Islamophobia out of proportion. Overwhelmingly, Muslims in the
West feel safer in the West than they might in the countries of their ethnic origin. One of the things, though too, we all have to live with a faster world and challenges come to us much faster, in the
media coverage of the aftermath which one of the debates is of course, over security (Bill 51). I think
we do a good job of seeking out very good experts in this
area to discuss and there’s been some excellent articles in the media and appearances in the
media. One area, though, that I think there’s
been a weakness and it’s a worry, is that we’re not
very good at process stories, or at least, reporters aren’t very good at being able to sell them to the editors, and I used to have an enormous problem doing
this. Process stories are those stories that try and explain, even in the
midst of a crisis, how things really work. If we’re having a debate over Bill 51, you want know what is a sunset
clause? And why is it really important to have that? Or what is oversight of our security agencies?
We don’t do the mechanisms of Parliament very well, we don’t do depth coverage of
basically policies as well as we probably should. We do hunger for the clash in question
period, the what is a verbal combat wherever you
see it. And I think it’s lost along the way here, and
I think this kind of society and other societies would benefit more if the media, if it can’t slow down, at least go into
somewhat greater depth in discussing policies and that, where they are very important to
multi-culturalism, to national security, and to our
international obligations as well. Sometimes the process stories tell
the whole story, and this is flaw of my own as well, sometimes that ‘opening up the hood and showing how the
engine works’ type of journalism is exactly what you need. A classic example: I was in Germany a couple
years after September 11th attacks, and I had wanted to look into how they missed this al Qaeda cell in Hamburg that carried out the attacks
when it was sitting there in an apartment by the train station for three
years. And the process story there was that it had come out their
intelligence agency had given the Church of Scientology
about ten times more prominence than al Qaeda,
it had been the big threat that they had seen. And then you realize when you got there, well, yes, it depends what you mean by
their intelligence agency because Germany has 17 intelligence agencies, one for each of
the 16 launder or states and one national one, all
of whom hate each other and don’t speak to each other or share
information and so on, and that was a big part of the reason
why these guys tended to move around and that sort of thing. And that
institutional story got lost in a lot of the sort of Sturm and Drang of the coverage. There was some stuff like that on the American institutions which all hated each other
and didn’t speak to each other, and therefore, missed all this as well. I think we’re going to have a story,
unfortunately years later, about the Canadian
security and policing institutions that all hate each other and don’t speak to
each other and they’re going to be asked to carry
out a law which, among other things, makes the holding of certain ideas
illegal, and that we’re going to learn much too
late about the institutional problems with these organizations that aren’t
being discussed as we’re simply looking the headline
items about the laws. I think there’s been some mention of the idea of civilian
oversight batted around in the House of Commons
without a lot of discussion of the severe dysfunction within the
organizations that are being asked to carry out these laws. One of the things I noticed is that there
is a somewhat of a lack when we bring up the question or debate over new
security measures in this country. We do so was assuming the basis that
we have a society with a uniquely clean, clear record, a really good liberal
society and I think the historical record is
often overlooked in this country; the horrible abuses that occurred in Canada
during the First and Second World War, the
detentions of assumed aliens, the Red Scare of the 1950s and God knows what story I covered, the Quebec crisis and the War Measures Act,
the arrests of 478 people, almost all them completely
innocent… these things have occurred in Canada but they don’t get mentioned too
much, or dare I forget, the great RCMP
affair and the stripping of the
RCMP of its security service because it couldn’t be trusted not to
kidnap, burn barns, put out false documents, so there have
been real problems with security in this country, and I do wish there was a little more debate and
discussion about that in the current context. But I think the time has come when we have to now raise that Charlie Hebdo affair because it still haunts the
media, it haunts our discussion, it’s in a discussion where a lot of
people were stunned by the beginning of the crisis
that this was taking place, shooting in a cartoonist office, and then it was the great march, Je Suis Charlie
through Paris, one of the great public demonstrations I’ve ever
witnessed, at least on television. And then we have the debate that editors
had to face: do we reprint? Do we republish? And
that debate is still going on all around the media, we’re still have it, it’s with us now. I’m gonna ask you, Natasha, to weight in first because I know it’s
going to be tough. To me, I did not think there would be as
much of a debate because the argument presented by many editors
who chose not to print the cartoons was that well, we didn’t print the cartoons prior
to the attack so why would we change our policies now? Well, our policies change all the time
and they change depending on the variables
surrounding that decision. So something very big has happened in the
world where people lost their lives, presumably over the creation of those
cartoons. So that changes the rules of engagement for how or why we would print those cartoons. The other argument that’s
presented is that well, it’s offensive to Muslims and to me,
that is the most dismissive and irrational response
because what Muslims did you speak to to come to that decision? Did anyone at the Globe and Mail or CBC have a town council where members of the Muslim community consulted or did the one Muslim in
your newsroom tell you, “Well it might not be a good
idea”, or were you afraid? And I mean, really I’m concerned about what is
actually fear reprisal being covered up as “We’re trying
to be sensitive”, because you’re also, if you’re saying
you’re trying to be sensitive, you’re accepting a very limited narrative of what it means to be a Muslim. So yes,
overwhelmingly, Muslims surveyed will say be find any depiction of the Prophet
offensive and they would prefer for there to not be any physical
depiction, but that is also a result of a type of Islam that has become the dominant Islam. So this notion that there’s never been any images of Prophet Muhammad is absolutely false. Historically in Iran, they’ve always created
images of the Prophet, beautiful images that are published, there are paintings
there are carvings… so then they get dismissed, well they’re Shias, they’re not real Muslims. Okay, so then let’s move to Turkey. They’re
Sunnis and they create beautiful depictions and always have for
as long as Islam has been in Turkey of the Prophet… well those guys are more
European, they’re not really Muslims. Okay, then let’s move to India with the Mogul
Empire were there is a rich history of depictions of the Prophet Muhammad, and people skirt around it too because sometimes his face is veiled but it’s not obscured, you can still see a
human face in those images. You can see his face
covered in flames but you can still see the face of a man. Also in Islamic texts, nowhere in the
Quran and nowhere in the Hadith, which are the
practices of the Prophet that many Sunni Muslims use as their guidelines
to fill in the blanks where they feel the Quran is not a complete document, in neither of those two Islamic pieces of literature does it say anywhere that you cannot depict the
Prophet. So when someone tells you, and this goes back to the journalism of the thing, of challenging it, when you’re saying, “Why aren’t we doing better analyses about these bills coming out on security? Why
are we not, as journalists, doing better analyses of these what I would describe as bogus arguments,
irresponsible arguments and say, well that’s not my understanding, I’ve tried to study the Quran, I’ve tried to study the Hadith?” This is a very small group’s
interpretation and they have spread it throughout the world and it’s
irresponsible for journalists, whose job is to question any illogic-, to accept it. I just can’t believe it and as I said to you guys at the offset, I find
it offensive as a Muslim- (this will get me in trouble, I’m sure,
at work), this is racism of different rules for different people.
This is a type of racism. If you feel that, well, we can depict Jewish
prophets and Christian prophets in a mocking way because we
know they won’t retaliate but those crazy Muslims, they can’t be trusted, they’re going to kill
somebody there, they’re going to shoot somebody so we’ve got to have different rules for them. Either we’re all equal or we’re not qual, but we can’t
have different rules for different people and I feel very strongly about
that. Either we are all equal citizens in
these countries or we’re not. My instinct as a journalist would have been to run them, the images, as was the case with the
Copenhagen blasphemous cartoons that caused a scandal, partly because
that’s my taste and both practically, I like to run the
evidence of the thing we’re writing about, I also like to run
provocative and offensive things (I’m a bit tabloid-y that way), and also as a gesture of solidarity for the people who were killed and also I’m a fairly
anti-religious person and I like offending religious people. That said, I don’t think it was a big matter of principal to run it or not, and I think it was a bit of
a false debate: that this was the hill that we were all going to die on, as to whether we publish these cartoons or not. I think there were plenty of reasons why
publications or television broadcasters would not
publish them that had nothing to do with cowardice and so on, although I
certainly did hear people saying things like “We don’t want to offend this community”, or “We don’t want
our staff to be in danger”. Your staff not going to be in danger, you’re not going to lose readers, you not going to have Muslims on your staff quit over this. But there were other reasons why you
wouldn’t run them: the practicality reason, which is that these are images that were very
much imbedded in particular contexts of politics in France that are almost incomprehensible outside, the context reason, in the sense that yes, this was an attack
against a satirical newspaper for the first couple days and then it also became an attack on
Jews in a very profound and disturbing way
and do we really want to be saying that this is mainly about freedom of speech and not about
anti-semitism and violence against a religious minority? There were legitimate reasons why you might not want to print them; my instinct would have been to do so and go by that, but I really think this
was a false and misleading debate. It has to do with different approaches to running a newspaper and editing a
newspaper or television station or so on. The sort of engaged way that I
like to do it, where if somebody’s controversial, you bring them in specifically because you’re controversial
on you hang the controversy out there and let your freak flag fly
and so on, is not the only method of journalism.
There’s a more sort of removed approach to journalism
where you stand at a distance from the
things and not everybody who chronicles the
events of the day has to be an activist engaged in the
event of the day. So I think we need to move beyond this idea that we all have to practice journalism the
same way. I have to respond to that because- Could I throw a comment in there first before you respond to both? Because I’m still on the rack of anguish myself trying to sort it out as I listen to voices I greatly respect on both
sides of the debate. I just wanted to throw in a
quote from Tony Burman, a highly respected journalist, former head of CBC news, for head of Al Jazira, who wrote a column saying he applauded
the editors who had the courage not to run, not to rerun, not a reprint, and
commented, “We felt we could easily describe the
drawings in simple and clear English without actually showing them. Why should we insult and upset an important
part of our audience for absolutely no public value? We wouldn’t have done
that if it involved [examples of racism or anti-semitism
or liable]. I do share the view of many of today’s
news executives who believe that gratuitously demeaning religious beliefs to create a
commotion is too easy and too pointless to justify.” So that’s another strong view that is there in journalism, and I know you want to contest that. Well, I do because it’s
not a sideshow for me if I’m a TV reporter. In any other TV story I would do, as much as I can use visuals to illustrate the point of the story, I would need those visuals. So
if I’ve got two men who claim allegiance to al Qaeda and a third guy who’s claiming allegiance
Isis and both those organizations have said that the depictions of the Prophet Muhammad
are absolutely unacceptable and in the past this same magazine has
come under threat of assault and also been sued for depictions of the Prophet, I need to show the audience a story. They can make up
their own decision but in any other story I was telling, if there was a
visual that would support the narrative and that would help people
understand what I’m talking about, I shouldn’t have to describe it as a TV
reporter, I’ve got the picture to show you, I should be allowed to show it. It was said
earlier in one of the sessions that maybe this is not really a question of freedom of press, but of civility.
There’s also a civility bar. At what point do we look at ourselves and say look, Charlie Hebdo, British Private Eye, Canadian Frank magazine, if anybody can remember that, were magazines that were, let’s face it,
scoreless but also had strong veins of sadism that ran through their humor,
their attacks on people. Do we really want to risk the great
social upheavals, and I tell you I’m still undecided on the rack of anguish, do we want to risk that, when what we’re defending are cartoons
which undeniably do hurt tens and tens of thousands
people? I mean, first of all, in normal times you
wouldn’t have run their cartoons, not because of sort of
prudish taste, but because they are from a weird sort of place…I mean,
it was a hippie magazine. It was founded out of May sixty-eight in Paris by the left-wingers who marched during that time, anti-authoritarian in every way. And
I’d visited them and had enjoyed the company of the Charlie
Hebdo guys and you know, watched them do their cartooning
and so on, but it was so- look, the
closest thing in English language culture was R. Crumb. His comics are the ‘Fabulous Furry Freak
Brothers’ or something like that, which we probably wouldn’t run because mostly,
they were women with giant boobs and giant bums being portrayed in a vision sexuality that was
somewhat outmoded and so on, and a type of libertine
politics that is regarded as sort of self-evident nowadays. That said, if somebody had gone and killed R. Crumb, we would have been running his most sexist image all over the cover and that sort of thing. And
there are some double standards… I mean, the French police did not help
anybody when after all of France and Europe and much of the rest of the world went to Paris to have a march in support of freedom of expression, in support of the right to run offensive images, images that may offend
religious minorities and that sort of thing, the next week
they locked up a really grotesque Muslim comic for making anti-semitic
jokes and so on. Well, on a certain level, if you’re going to allow people to be offensive, you have to allow everybody to be offensive it’s the same thing. I mean, if you’re
going to say there’s no such thing as hate speech, which I agree there
should be no such thing as hate speech, then you have to be willing
to suffer the consequences that, which is that there’s going to be a
lot of stuff out there that you are supporting and I’m willing to support, or at least
tolerate its existence in the world and argue against it, that you find abhorrent. And I think it starts falling apart very quickly as soon as that becomes the thing. I think it would have been a nice symbolic gesture, though, to run those cartoons, and for TV it’s very, very awkward to not
show that. There was a crazy moment on one of the British TV
networks where they were interviewing somebody
who was a respected person, who in answer to questions, said,”Here’s the cover of the Charlie Hebdo. You can see that- “, and immediately, the camera panned up and cut away to the newscasters who said “I apologize for what you just saw there .” It was ludicrous. That was, as you say, actually
chronicling something day to day as news on camera, it starts to feel a little bit like a very
awkward form of self- I mean, it’s very different from printing something in a
newspapers as a statement of solidarity to showing what the thing is everybody’s
yelling about on TV. Well, you know, to go back to the thing,
I think it has to be a case by case basis. No, you certainly wouldn’t show images- in order to tell the story, I don’t need
to show the most vile images created by Charlie Hebdo of the Prophet, but I need to show one
image for sure. I think we need show that this
is an example of what some people are offended by and could potentially be the
reason why those men carried out those attacks, and you disclose that there are images that were far more vile; we made a decision to not publish those. But then, this perfect
example, I’m glad you brought it up, I think it was Sky News or something, where the woman, who’s an analyst and she has the latest copy of the
Charlie Hebdo that has the Prophet on the cover saying
everything is forgiven, it’s actually probably the most thoughtful
depiction of the Prophet that Charlie Hebdo ever created, I thought it was a brilliant
cover, I went to great lengths across several
countries to try and get a copy of it because I think it meant so much to
those of us who care about freedom of the press, but the
response from the journalist was so bizarre for the camera to pan up and this fear in her, that, ‘Oh my goodness, if you’ve been offended from what you almost saw and what you
clearly did not see, I’m so deeply sorry”. What is this sense of having to protect
people from a vision? I just found it absolutely bizarre and we’ve gone
way over into the deep end of trying to protect people’s feelings. That’s not our job. We
have a social responsibility to behave ethically, to behave responsibly, but to hurt
people’s feelings about potentially seeing a cartoon that is so mild and gentle and almost
affectionate… I think there was one element in time outlets that they had, aside from being a little overly
sensitive about offending communities, which to the point that being that
sensitive is going to offend possibly more people in those
communities than not being sensitive is that there were legal departments that were
oversensitive as well. I can think of one outlet whose legal
counsel said to them, “Oh, you’d be liable for
putting the staff in danger. You can’t run this”, which is- I have to say, a good media legal counsel, a good liable lawyer or legal counsel is not someone who
says no, this is too dangerous, you can’t do this, it’s someone who says, here’s how you can get
away with doing this. That’s what you want your lawyers to say. Interesting point mentioned there that in being too sensitive towards some
communities, we start to offend those communities who
feel they can’t be dealt with honestly, and I think this has been raised as one of
the arguments along the lines of something’s gone wrong with
multi-culturalism or we don’t understand multi-culturalism as much anymore, we’re not dealing with it
the way it was designed when, I think, the original green paper, Bill
75, came in back in the 70s. Is there an element
here where we begin to exclude people or give people a sense they’re kind of being excluded from mainstream society because they only talk about us in very neutral mamby-pamby terms? Is this a problem with
minorities, that they feel “We’re not included
because we’re not really treated like anyone else in the media, not that we’re treated badly, but that we’re barely treated at all.”? Well, I think the case with the Muslim
community all over the west is very specific to
the Muslines, so you can’t lump in the Hindus and Sikhs, and other people of color into this. This is a very Muslim-specific
discussion and I do think there is a premise of going
into any conversation when it involves Muslims, no matter what the story is, assuming that the Muslims are the
victims. And that’s problematic – that’s lower
expectations for an entire community of a billion people on this planet which does not allow you to tell the story
responsibly, and if the whole premise is to
not have bias, most of us are going into our stories with a great deal of bias. So that makes
telling the story honestly problematic. The other issue, which I mentioned at the
beginning of the discussion, is well, who represents the communities, right? So
overwhelmingly, you have people who work with Islamic
institutions or organizations, people who represent mosques, and when the vast majority of
Muslims in Canada and in the West are not attending mosques, so why is an imam speaking on our behalf?
It’s very hard… Yeah, you feel left out because
if there’s this massive vacuum of space where analysis has to be thrown in and perspective has to be given, and
that vacuum is filled by conservative imams or people who are hostile to the West, and sometimes those people are the same,
then yeah, it makes it very difficult because the average Muslim living in France, in UK, in Canada and the United States, their voice cannot be represented. And there is a
fear that can not be underplayed. There’s a fear of Muslims who are moderate, who are not overly religious, who do not
sympathize in any capacity with Isis or al Qaeda, to say, “I kind of support the security
bill. I think our community is going too far.” They are afraid to say we have a problem. Physically afraid and morally afraid. I think so. I think it’s a good point there. I
think one of the reasons why people say, “How can the conservatives be
passing that kind of security bill when it’s the same
party that’s trying to get religious minorities and visible
minorities to be supported?” I mean, the Conservatives have done more than any Canadian political party in the last twenty or thirty years to try to get Muslim/Hindu/Sikh
communities to be loyal voters for their party.
How could they do that? And I think you’re quite right in saying
well, a large part of it is that members of Muslim communities support
tough-on-crime bills. They’re hugely threatened by its political
threat in their midst. I don’t know a lot of, you know, Lebanese or Pakistani parents around me who aren’t afraid of the idea of their
kids getting hooked into some sort of Salafist
movement or or some kind of Jihadi ideas or
something, this idea of your kids being tempted to go to
Syria or something is a deeply tangible worry for these families to the point that I think it’s created a real polarization in that there’s a real desire to support
things that’ll be tough on that, and on the other hand, there’s this sense that this is also being perpetuated by various people who
are also backing judges who won’t allow people to wear headscarves into court and all this sort of thing. I think
maybe this is where the concept of multi-culturalism versus other forms a pluralism runs into
a really difficult journalistic wall, in that
we’ve been used to conceiving of the idea of the diversity of Canada, not in terms of plural
identities, or in terms of diversity, but in terms of
multiculturalism, in this idea that there are fixed and
monolithic cultures that sit next to each other in Canada. There are the Muslims, there are the
Sikhs, there are the First Nations, and that as a journalist you’re walking
out and trying to open the door to a culture, talk to the first person you find out, and
that’s the culture there. I think most Canadians, and I’ve as I said,
I think that the point where multiculturalism starts
to fail is in the second generation where people want to have more multi- and
less culturalism, and that it starts to limit
diversity in that within any of these
supposedly monolithic cultures, there is, in fact, huge contradiction and
diversity aand probably majorities of people who
would rather not be identified primarily by their cultural- I mean, I don’t know a lot of people who are
Muslim who would like that to be the main thing
about them, right? People running certain organizations maybe, but beyond that,I don’t know many people who are Jewish you would like to
be mainly the Jew, you know, I think that’s a fairly universal feeling and that the
problem with that multicultural conception of the reality out there, when practiced by journalists, is that we
tend to reify these rigid cultural walls. We’ve only
about a minute left, all the time is up already, you’ve got 10 seconds only: we heard earlier historians say it’s very hard not to be pessimistic these days. How do journalists feel, those of you that are on the frontline of covering news, do you feel the same? 10 seconds only. Personally, it’s a tough battle going
into this covering these stories but I’m not pessimistic because, it’s going
to sound so arrogant, but I trust myself and I feel a tremendous
sense of responsibility when it comes to these stories and I feel I can tell them fairly and
honestly, and I feel the CBC and Canadian media for the most part
wants to get it right and they want to do it well. Five seconds, Doug. I think we’re going through a rough
patch. We do need to remember that we’ve been through this before, that two generations ago, if you’d
been sitting at this corner, you may well have heard somebody talking, saying that the Catholics coming from
southern Europe are part of a plot take over the country, there was enough violence out
there and fascism in their countries to convince you that was true, so we need to have some- I wish the historians’ panel had gone
on longer. Thanks very much.

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