Human Rights and The Sochi Olympics

Will Canadian journalists care about Human Rights when the Olympics are over?

By Stephen Pate – The Canadian media are all over the gay human rights story at the Sochi Olympics, from headline stories to in-depth coverage of the protests and panel discussions.

That’s great but can we count on the Canadian media to keep up their interest in Human Rights issues back in Canada? The  domestic Canadian reporting of human rights is sparse, biased and expresses bigotry.

The Canadian media like to focus on human rights abuses in other countries like Syria, China, North Korea and now Russia but not at home. Attitudes expressed in the Canadian media can either advance human rights or hinder them. I suggest that for the most part, the media are not promoting a liberal view of human rights in this country.

Women are regularly abused in the media, with negative labels attached to them. Canadian Aboriginals are treated to the 4 D’s reporting – drunk, drumming, dancing or dead stories. Canadians with disabilities get no coverage except the odd Supreme Court case and media stereotypes as shirker, welfare or pitiable charity cases.

Even Journalists for Human Rights, a Canadian non-profit charity advocates outside of Canada, mainly in Africa. ”Our mission is to empower journalists to report ethically and effectively on human rights issues in their community. Currently, we have projects in Tanzania, Ghana, the DR Congo, Sierra Leone, and Northern Ontario.”  It’s neo-colonial view of the world.

Human rights of women

In the recent past I spent time in Halifax Nova Scotia reading the Chronicle Herald and watching local CBC news. Almost every story that involved a female death or crime included a description of the woman as a drug user or sex trade worker.

Examples of gender bias are all to frequent in stories, columns and reader comments. Why doesn’t the media report the race, sexual activities and substance use of men?

Halifax murder victim Tanya Brooks, identified by the media as an aboriginal, drug user and sex-trade worker (Photo CBC)

Canadian aboriginals get negative press

As CBC reporter Duncan McCue wrote in Does an aboriginal Canadian need to be “drumming, dancing, drunk or dead” to make the news? Mr. McCue addresses the issue that the Canadian media only present negative stereotypes of Canada’s aboriginal community. However, McCue soft-pedals the issue since his bosses at the CBC control the story flow and content.

Negative to minimal coverage of the disabled

Canadians with disabilities are rarely depicted positively in the media. We either need charity like an Easter Seals campaign,  are carrying out some PR stunt or engaging in segregated games.

Why is it OK to have segregated Special Olympics when it would be considered an affront to have a Black, gay or racially segregated sports event? Impossible you say but not if accommodation is made for disabilities.

Typical media reporting in Canada about the disabled has a negative bias. The recent Supreme Court ruling for the disabled in Rasouli was declared wrong by the Globe and Mail “Sadly, it is a loss for common sense and common humanity. It is also a blow against physician integrity and potentially damaging to the Canadian health-care system.”

When I started reporting actively in 2007, I was appalled at the limited or biased journalism about Canadians with disabilities.  For example when the Canada Games refused to make the venue accessible, the CBC Executive Producer said it was not their kind of story.  Donna Allen said it was my story, presumably because I have a disability.

Canadian journalists do not report on human rights abuse of the disabled unless it reaches the Supreme Court or the rare provincial human rights commission. The Canadian media bias against the disabled is so entrenched that no major Canadian media outlet has reported the CBC’s activities in my complaint against the CBC producer before the PEI Human Rights Commission.  An article in j-Source tried to spin the Human Rights case as a blogger story.

I doubt if Sochi will make a difference. Maybe the gay lobby will keep the media’s interest up.  Women, aboriginals, the disabled and other minorities can expect more of the same negative press from Canadian journalists in the future without significant change. Perhaps Journalists for Human Rights can stop pretending we are superior and pay attention to Canadian Journalism.

I have a direct interest in this story: I filed a Human Rights complaint against the PEI Legislature Press Gallery for removing my press credentials for volunteer human rights advocacy. When the Complaint was allowed by the Human Rights Commission, the CBC and Transcontinental filed for a judicial review.  Follow me on Twitter at @sdpate or on Facebook at NJN Network and OyeTimes.

By Stephen Pate, NJN Network

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