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Abstract:

The ‘Vancouver Sun’ lacks sufficient reporting of environmental concerns. Before 1992, the paper printed articles critical of vital industries and environmental policies. The hiring of Burson Marsteller public relations firm in 1992 by the paper changed its environmental coverage.

Full Text:

Journalists and media analysts in BC may be holding their breath (and noses) over Conrad Black’s January purchase of 23 percent of Southam Inc., owner of 17 daily papers in Canada including the Vancouver Sun. But environmentalists assessing the impact on BC’s paper of record (which these days holds the title by default rather than performance) are shrugging it off with a “Why worry? How much worse can it get?”

Indeed the Sun’s coverage of environmental issues fell into a black hole long before Conrad came along. Prior to 1992, the Sun had five fulltime reporters dedicated to forestry, fisheries, Native affairs, energy and mines, and environment.

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Today only the environment beat remains, and Sun management has instructed environment reporter Glen Bohn to limit his coverage to greater Vancouver and the lower mainland — an area conveniently free of large tracts of old growth forest and other sites of preeminent resource conflict and pillage.

The Sun has no reporter dedicated to Native affairs in a province where most of the territory is the subject of unresolved Native land claims. Two business reporters have been collared to look after forests, fishing, mining and energy — and editorial decision that suits industry fine.

The most recent casualty in the Sun’s quest to eliminate industry-negative copy from its pages was forestry reporter Ben Parfitt. Parfitt was dumped from the beat last October because of an article he wrote in the Georgia Straight on a PR firm hired by the BC forest industry to concoct and run a pseudopopulist, industry-funded pressure group called the BC Forest Alliance.

Parfitt wasn’t the only Sun reporter to pursue and print the truth about Burson Marsteller’s penchant for representing a worldwide assortment of companies and governments involved in the worst eco-disasters and human rights violations of the century (Agentina’s military junta and Union Carbide after the Bhopal disaster are just two in a long list of Burson Marsteller clients).

Before long, the company that had been hired to run a $1 million PR campaign for the province’s logging companies had become the industry’s biggest liability.

Sun management came to the rescue, hired the PR giant itself (to help the pub lic adjust to the Sun’s shift from an afternoon to morning paper), and the troublesome coverage magically vanished from the Sun’s pages, thereby solving the local image problems of the world’s biggest image-maker.

All of which leaves British Columbians without a single full-time journalist dedicated to covering the province’s biggest industry. The loss of the forestry beat accounts for the Sun’s total lack of coverage of the ongoing courtroom drama over MacMillan Bloedel’s clear-cut logging of Clayoquot Sound, the largest intact temperature rainforest left on Vancouver Island.

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Throughout 1992, 65 people were arrested for blockading roads and bridges leading into the logging zone. Their trials, which began last November, have run for days, with judges hearing some harsh truths about shoddy and illegal logging operations and even watching a slide show of clear-cut devastation in one case.

But as far as the Sun is concerned, it all occurred in hyperspace. That’s the thing about black holes — the gravitational pull is so strong that reality remains forever trapped inside, unable to escape.

Nanaimo-based writer Kim Goldberg is a regular contributor to Canadian Dimension.

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