The media is the message

The media is the message


“The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.” –Thomas Jefferson to Edward Carrington, 1787. ME 6:57

A free press plays a vital role in a democracy. It is essential that governments be open to investigation and criticism. Furthermore, competing free presses are even better. We need the Toronto Sun to balance the Toronto Star. The press is important. But, the citizens must keep the press honest. We cannot allow the press to behave in a way that undermines the democratic process. The press can undermine the democratic process through acts of omission. Consider the following …

On May 13, Toronto Star columnist Royson James, wrote an interesting article where he pointed out that of 26 candidates for Mayor only 6 were invited to the debate. The remaining 20 candidates were not acknowledged or considered fo inclusion in the debate. Mr. James noted (among other things that):

“So, we attach a stamp of approval on a few of them, using some imperfect criteria.

To wit, if you are a city councillor then you are automatically given a pass to credibility — no matter your views. How else to explain that Giorgio Mammoliti is given access to the debate podium night after night, while better equipped representatives are held at bay?”

and

“It’s not all ad hoc, of course. Rob Ford, Joe Pantalone, George Smitherman and Mammoliti get an automatic pass because they’ve been elected by a constituency and have a public record. Rocco Rossi headed up the Liberal Party of Canada, and, as such, has some bona fides. Sarah Thomson? That’s a bit more difficult, as she has no public record of note. But she is female.

The selection doesn’t seem rigorous enough, though. Rather, it seems skewed towards the status quo — another means of shutting out new blood.”

This article prompted me to write the following comment:

“There are two kinds of candidates for Mayor:

Category 1 – Inventions of the media Example: The current “front runner” – according to the Toronto papers he is THE “front runner” for mayor. Based on what? The papers say so. The fact that he has yet to articulate a single idea is irrelevant. (This is likely to remain true if the “front runner” changes over the weeks).

Category 2 – Candidates supported by the voters Example: Who might they be? We will see on election day. These candidates will get votes whether the media supports them or not. We have already banned unions and corporations from making contributions to campaigns. Perhaps the time has come to ban the media from “inventing the credibility” of otherwise weak candidates. Voters complain that they are not happy with the candidates. They should look beyond the inventions of the media.”

In a “breath of fresh air”, Betterballots.to is hosting a Mayoral debate on June 1. They are running an online poll to decide which additional candidates to invite. Although, this doesn’t go far enough, it is a clear step in the right direction.

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5 thoughts on “The media is the message

  1. votejohnrichardson Post author

    James: Of 26 mayoral hopefuls, just six invited to debates

    May 13, 2010

    Royson James

    There are some 26 candidates registered to run for mayor of Toronto. Mainline media has chosen to listen to six of them, discarding the rest as unworthy of our attention.

    It’s not that we’ve examined them all, interviewed them, tested their ideas and found them wholly untried and, as such, only six are suitable for the most rigorous of test during a 10-month election campaign.

    No, with some fairly weak criteria, we’ve lazily made our choices and told the electorate these are the ones worth considering. We’ve fallen back on our experience, which teaches that among the 26 are kooks and crazies, bigots and dumbbells, mad egomaniacal attention-seekers who can barely get themselves out of bed. And, as such, we blithely ignore all but the established candidates.

    So, now, at all-candidate meetings for the mayoral hopefuls, only six are given a place at the podium. The rest are shut out as debate conveners cite a variety of reasons, most of them uncomfortably stated.

    The truth is, we find it inconvenient to examine all the registrants. A mayoral debate becomes too cumbersome when opened up to all comers.

    “The three-ring circus would become a (26)-ring circus,” says Ryerson University professor Myer Siemiatycki. “It’d be totally unproductive and clearly not feasible.”

    So, we attach a stamp of approval on a few of them, using some imperfect criteria.

    To wit, if you are a city councillor then you are automatically given a pass to credibility — no matter your views. How else to explain that Giorgio Mammoliti is given access to the debate podium night after night, while better equipped representatives are held at bay?

    I know that from just talking to the other Rocco in the race, the rejected one, the young lawyer whose reasoned positions have not been heard, much less digested. Where Mammoliti sounds like a shrill, even irresponsible, publicity hound — proposing to arm bylaw enforcement officers, impose curfew, setting up red-light districts and gambling dens to pay for municipal services — Rocco Achampong, 31, sounds more like a mayor of a sophisticated city.

    But few even know the candidate exists.

    “Opinion makers have decided he’s untested, not from the established political class, and said, ‘We won’t even give him an audience,’ says Achampong, the other Rocco. “I don’t know if that is fair. Before I dismiss anyone, at least, I give them a voice.

    “It’s been a humbling process. I’ve never been simply ignored. I’ve always been a very serious individual. I expected you guys would say, ‘You are too young. You are unsuited intellectually.’ I thought you would seek a credible basis to reject someone.”

    It’s not all ad hoc, of course. Rob Ford, Joe Pantalone, George Smitherman and Mammoliti get an automatic pass because they’ve been elected by a constituency and have a public record. Rocco Rossi headed up the Liberal Party of Canada, and, as such, has some bona fides. Sarah Thomson? That’s a bit more difficult, as she has no public record of note. But she is female.

    The selection doesn’t seem rigorous enough, though. Rather, it seems skewed towards the status quo — another means of shutting out new blood.

    The Star will no doubt sponsor a mayoral debate this fall. And the question will again emerge: Who to invite?

    Talking with Professor Siemiatycki, the idea came up to “give one of the others a chance to distinguish themselves from the pack.”

    How about staging a pre-debate “playoff” with all the “fringe’ candidates and send the winner to the main debate to go up against the chosen ones?

    Not perfect, but it is an improvement. I feel better already.

    Royson James usually appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Email: rjames@thestar.ca

    Reply
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  3. votejohnrichardson Post author

    ‘The other Rocco’ was ready to quit mayoral race

    June 20, 2010

    Robyn Doolittle

    http://www.thestar.com/News/GTA/TorontoMayoralRace/article/826184

    Rocco Achampong, known as the mayoral campaign’s “other Rocco,” has been disillusioned by the race, where he has received no coverage.
    CARLOS OSORIO/TORONTO STAR

    Rocco Achampong is a frustrated man.

    If you happen to know who he is, although chances are you don’t, you probably know him as the “other Rocco” running for mayor.

    It’s an irritating label for the 31-year-old lawyer, who in many influential circles is seen as a rising political star.

    In his young career, Achampong has been unaccustomed to sharing the spotlight. He’s even less used to sitting in the shadows.

    And so on the evening of Feb. 1, when hundreds of supporters assembled at Hart House to watch Achampong launch his campaign, he was dumbfounded that no one from the mainstream media showed up to cover it.

    In an unlucky timing coincidence, the city hall press gallery was three blocks west at Revival bar, watching an even hotter rising star, Adam Giambrone, announce his (soon-to-be-doomed) mayoral ambitions.

    “And it’s pretty much been downhill from there,” Achampong said. “I expected there would be questions about my perceived lack of experience, but I never expected to be ignored. Say I don’t measure up, but don’t you dare dismiss me. That’s how I felt after a while and I slid backwards.”

    So while the ordained six “serious” contenders rolled out their platforms, Achampong stopped taking campaign donations.

    Earlier this month, he soundly won an online poll, earning a place at the table alongside the frontrunners at the Better Ballots forum.

    Achampong spoke eloquently about permanent resident voting issues, partisan politics at city hall and voter apathy. In his final remarks, he said while it was unlikely he would become mayor, he urged the crowd to vote.

    “I thought everyone’s reaction in the room was: why have I never heard of this man?” said organizer Dave Meslin, who has since launched an online campaign to have Achampong permanently included. “In a perfect world you’d have all 30 candidates included, but that’s not always practical. It seems to us that at least one qualified candidate is being ignored.”

    Meslin points to Achampong’s professional-looking website, custom-designed logo, and the candidate’s thought-out platform, which addresses a range of topics, from arts funding to housing initiatives to road congestion.

    Many of the policies are not fully developed, “but to be fair, in the beginning, none of the other campaigns’ policies were either,” said Meslin.

    For John Tory, whose 2003 campaign Achampong volunteered with, Rocco 2.0 seems to have earned a spot.

    “It’s not up to me to say who should be invited to these debates, but Rocco’s tried from the beginning to be serious. And in some respects, I think he has addressed a broader range of issues than some of the ones on the debating platform,” said Tory, who has moderated several debates so far.

    During his own run for mayor, Tory says he prized Achampong.

    “People like that you remember. And he has such an unusual story. He’s not the cookie cutter type of person who often ends up on these campaigns,” he said.

    Born in Ghana, at nine years old Achampong and his four siblings were smuggled out of the country in the middle of the night after rumours his politically-active mother was about to be arrested. The family moved around, eventually settling in subsidized housing at Black Creek and Trethewey Drs.

    It was during this time that Achampong says he made the mistake of his life. At 18, he drove a getaway car in an armed robbery. He spent a year in jail.

    Looking for a fresh start, he enrolled at the University of Toronto.

    In 2001, he co-founded and became president of the Black Students’ Association. The following year, he was elected student president, left in charge of 41,000 constituents and a $12-million budget. Achampong oversaw one of the most productive administrations in the school’s recent history, a campus paper editorial noted at the time.

    After his term, he was a youth representative to Tory’s campaign. Next up it was Osgoode law school. He graduated in 2008 and was called to the bar in January. Four months ago, he opened his own firm out of a tiny sixth-floor office at the corner of Bay and Gerrard Sts.

    Some of the city’s most influential leaders, Ryerson president Sheldon Levy, former chief justice Roy McMurtry and the original Rocco, Rocco Rossi, have taken an interest in his success.

    At 6 p.m. on this day, Achampong is getting ready to attend So You Think You Can Council, a game show-inspired ward debate hosted by voteTO.

    On the walk up Yonge St. to the gay village, Achampong debates withdrawing his name. But with each passing block, he is stopped by twentysomethings of every colour all wanting to know if he is still in the race.

    Later on, he bumps into Gwyn Chapman with the Canadian Black Caucus.

    “You’re coming to our debate on Saturday? You’re in it. We’ve got you in it,” she calls from across the street.

    Achampong turns to a reporter about to write a story about a promising candidate who has given up.

    “Okay, I take it back. I don’t know what I was thinking,” said Achampong. “I’m in this to the end.”

    Reply
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