CHEK News: A Cycle of Squalor

by Rob Wipond, August 11, 2010

Is the purpose of TV news to report responsibly or reinforce beliefs?

CHEK's August 10 evening local broadcast was a classic example of how mainstream television news tends to simply reinforce our society's dominant opinions and beliefs. Here's how it went:

Pandora's street issues: (Grainy security pics of homeless after dark... defecation and needles... "cycle of squalor"...)
Ladysmith sawmill reopening
: (Inspiring pics of cleaning and repairs underway... interviews with happy returning workers...)
Migrant ship coming: (Statements from people who insist there's no room for these foreigners... Wild, unsubstantiated speculation about whether there are terrorists aboard...)
Missing woman: (Show numbers for offering help.)
Stray bullets enter home: (Mystery... "extreme risk to the public"... "luckily no one was hurt"...)
Dog adoptions: (Anchor gives smile for first time in show... Pics of dozens of cute Chihuahua puppies playing... chowing down on scrambled eggs... "Chi-wow-wows!"...

A common excuse for producing such cliched tripe is that there's simply no time to provide more thoughtful, critical or questioning points of view-—after all, this particular newscast raced through 12 stories in its first 15 minutes. Yet, the fact is, merely slightly rearranging how these stories were presented would've reinforced very different values and perspectives. For example, what if the newscast had been done this way:

Pandora's street issues: (Inspiring pics of homeless people picking up after themselves... wheeling their belongings away... recycling valuable goods from dumpsters...)
Ladysmith sawmill reopening: (Interviews with exemplary, long-time workers who were rendered homeless for the past 2 years... "luckily no one was killed" by corporation, community and government abandonment...)
Migrant ship coming: (Statements from people hoping there might be some qualified doctors or at least good taxi drivers aboard...)
Missing woman: (Show phone number of her landlord, because her apartment will soon be available.)
Stray bullets enter home: (Anchor cracks smile for first time... "a good, old-time shoot 'em up"... "Hey, it looks like there's a faster way to get yourself into a new home in Victoria's tight rental market; if you're a bullet, that is...")
Dog adoptions: (Pics of dogs defecating, fighting... "cycle of squalor"... wild, unsubstantiated speculation about whether they've been properly vaccinated, neutered or trained... chowing down on reporter's shoes... "extreme risk to the public"... )

Some would argue this second way of doing the news wouldn't be popular. But is that to say, then, that the main function of TV news may not be to report the news responsibly or even entertainingly, but mainly to reinforce popular beliefs?