December 21, 2011

"OMG" reporting about Attawapiskat

Covering the Crisis: Can Mainstream Media Attention Help Attawapiskat Long-Term?

By Martha Troian[A]lready some are questioning why it took two months for Canadian media to take notice, even after the community declared a state of emergency. Moreover, as CBC News noted earlier this month, the ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (AAND) has known about the conditions for quite some time. Moreover, deplorable conditions on aboriginal reserves have been well documented for decades, as television journalist Peter Mansbridge noted when he interviewed Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo on the CBC News program One on One recently.

“I’ve been in this business for over 40 years,” he said during the broadcast. “One of the first stories I covered was a community like that. But this was in Manitoba.”

So why is it being covered as if it were a sudden disaster?

One of those questioning how media responded is Duncan McCue, creator of an online guide for journalists called Reporting in Indigenous Communities (RIIC), based out of the University of British Columbia School of Journalism.

“It took an MP with a camera, who went on to self-publish an article to get anybody’s attention,” he said. “Even then, mainstream media didn’t listen.”

McCue was referring to the now-famous November 21 article and video (“What if They Declared an Emergency and No One Came?”) published on Huffington Post by Charlie Angus, the Member of Parliament for Timmins–James Bay, which is what sparked the media frenzy.

But at the same time that it brought much-needed attention to the issue, Angus’s column also set the tone for how the crisis has been covered, McCue said.

“Someone made an interesting comment on the RIIC Twitter page that there is an awful lot of ‘OMG’ going on in the reporting,” he said, adding that journalists are focusing only on the atrocious living conditions described by the media. “There has been less of a focus on some of the systemic problems that have led to that and some of the context that is necessary.”

Kevin Carter is originally from the Hollow Water First Nation in Manitoba. Now living in Saskatchewan, he has been following the story through mainstream media television, newspapers and a few small aggregated news sites. He said he’s disappointed in what he has seen so far.

“Right now [the coverage] is just about shaming Harper and the Canadian government,” he said. “There are some very real housing issues here, but this is still just the flavor of the month. Everybody will get kinda tired of it after a while, and then it will go away.”

As the coverage blossomed in early December, Carter tweeted, ‘Love the media and twitter outrage on #Attawapiskat but this will pass like it has before.’”
Comment:  For more on Attawapiskat, see Attawapiskat Triggers "Welfare" Stereotypes and Blaming the Victim at Attawapiskat.

Below:  "Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence got a standing ovation after speaking before a Special Chiefs Assembly at the Assembly of FIrst Nations."

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