Media Democracy Takes A New Shape

Woodward's Building, Vancouver, British Columbia

“The media landscape we operate in currently in Canada is frightening because of the mass concentration.” Media Democracy Days coordinator Sydney Ball refers to Postmedia Network’s ownership of the majority of the newspapers across Canada. She continues, “[The media landscape] is always getting a little bit more dire but … there certainly is great journalism happening, and there is great media content being produced.”

In its sixteenth year operating out of the School of Communications at SFU, Media Democracy Days continues to broaden the scope of its conversations about media and democracy, and its commitment to supporting the production of non-mainstream media. When I ask Ball for her perspective on media democracy, the concept that is the conference’s focus, she replies, “It really needs to serve the public if it’s going to be a democratic media system. That means to ask questions about who it is producing news, what stories get into news, who’s producing media and what kind of policies shape the media that we’re consuming.”

The concept of democracy is inherent to the structure of Media Democracy Days 2016. Ball says of this year’s program format, “We want inclusivity to be not an afterthought, but actually to become part of how we build the program in the first place.” Much of the programming for Media Democracy Days was shaped and determined by the Co-Lab hosted on September 15. The Co-Lab brought together people involved with different aspects of media activism with the intention of offering opportunities to individuals and groups to collaborate on public programming.

One of Ball’s aims as coordinator is to include those who are interested in media democracy, whose work is outside of the scope of traditional journalism and what is commonly thought to be media. Ball and her team issued prompts for the Co-Lab and based on the topics, they “[received] really creative responses from people that wanted to participate in our program that maybe hadn’t had the opportunities to before.” Of the program structure, Ball says, “Besides the keynote and besides the community radio events at the Inspiration Lab, the rest of our program was shaped by people that showed up to the Co-Lab. [They] either came with ideas of what they wanted to host for Media Democracy Days, or collaborated with other people they met.”

Ball and her main collaborator Stuart Poyntz, Associate Professor in the SFU School of Communications, “got excited about the possibility of having a more collaborative project, of having a lot of space for maybe people that don’t know how to get involved with media activism to get involved … as well as pick up skills.” One of the collaborations set for November 19 is between Access to Media Education Society and Cascadia Deaf Nation.The two organizations have teamed up to facilitate a workshop called “How Do We Leap?” where participants will create a collaborative art piece based on ideas of solidarity around environmental action.

This year’s program will also include workshops from CiTR 101.9FM and Vancouver Co-op Radio (100.5FM) in partnership with the Vancouver Public Library on media making and audio production, titled “Community Radio Takeover at the Inspiration Lab.” Through Media Democracy Days, CiTR and Co-op offer opportunities for those who wish to get involved with media activism, and to learn the practical skills they need to produce radio broadcasts.

Media Democracy Days is designed to include individuals and organizations with non-mainstream perspectives, with the intention of fostering an inclusive and critical media landscape. “We want to act as a platform for media activism and a place for our broad community … [to get] together to really discuss how the media does interact with democracy,” says Ball. This year’s conference includes a broader range of participants, resulting in a group that is more in keeping with Vancouver’s diverse demographic.

Independent media in Canada “is important and in place because corporate media systems don’t generally do their job of challenging power … Non-corporate media allows for other stories to be told,” says Ball. With a diverse national population comes diverse perspectives, many of which are made marginal by mainstream media. By providing communities with the tools they need to share their perspectives and by offering opportunities for interested people to connect with independent media outlets, more content will be created that challenges the corporate media status quo.

Without independent media and media activism, society runs the risk of only hearing a national narrative that places network interests before truth speaking journalism. “If you don’t have a media system that’s representative, if you don’t have a media system that’s going to challenge power, then we’re really at a detriment. People aren’t going to be able to make political choices or make choices in their communities or really understand what Canada looks like,” explains Ball.

When I say that media democracy seems more important now than ever, Ball counters, “It’s always been important. It’s never, not been important.”


Media Democracy Days will be held on November 15-16 at the Vancouver Public Library’s Inspiration Lab, and November 19 at SFU Harbour Centre. Ryan McMahon (Red Man Laughing Podcast) will deliver a keynote speech at 12pm on November 19. More information at 2016.mediademocracydays.ca.

Song of the Day: Blood on the Leaves by Kanye West

This article was published in the November 2016 issue of Discorder Magazine.

After the American Election

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All of my regular content feels inconsequential in light of last night’s election results. The topics I had thought to cover now feel trite. Rather than shy away from today’s political conversations, I’m sharing my thoughts on Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton in last night’s American presidential election.

Trump’s election is indicative of a culture of prejudice, and a culture in which individual privilege takes precedence over the needs of others. His rhetoric leading up to his election reinforced racism, misogyny, xenophobia and homophobia. He advocated for reduced rights for women, minorities, immigrants, and LGBT people. Even if his rhetoric changes now that he is president-elect – like it did last night in his temperate victory speech – that does not undo the fact that he was elected even though he ran a hate-filled campaign.

Those who voted for Trump condoned his discrimination — whether or not they personally supported it. Even those who voted ambivalently for him are complicit with the culture of white supremacy. After the campaign he ran, his election reinforces the culture of white supremacy on which America – and all colonized countries – was founded. This culture will continue perpetually so long as discrimination is condoned and white people rest on the laurels of our privilege.

What is unjust about the result of the election is that exit polls show that a majority of people of colour voted in favour of Clinton. Those who stand to be the most threatened by Trump’s presidency, those who are subject to discrimination daily, voted in highest percentages against him.

My friend Alex said articulately before the election results started to roll in, “What makes me the most mad is the false equivalency that’s being drawn between Hillary and Trump in the name of ‘unbiased’ media coverage.” Clinton’s email mismanagement was condemned with the same vigour as Trump’s hate-speech and the sexual assault accusations made against him. The media’s false equivalency condoned Trump misogynist and racist comments. In so doing, the media reinforced a culture of discrimination in America. Clinton’s email debacle and her tactic of secrecy are indicative of the mistakes of one person and her support team. All of the wrong Trump has done is indicative of an entire culture of prejudice that will continue perpetually so long as people keep saying, ‘Yeah, but she lied too.’

The force with which Clinton was condemned is indicative of sexism in America and the world, the same sexism she has had to fight every time she sought a position in a male dominated arena. I believe that if a male with Hillary Clinton’s resume had been Trump’s opposition, the forecasted blow out of the Republicans by the Democrats would have been a reality. Had Bernie Sanders won the Democratic nomination, Trump might not have won the election. Then again, perhaps I underestimate the extent to which the white middle and lower class sought political change.

Hillary Clinton was not the perfect political candidate. I would have voted for her if I was an American. However, the candidate I would have supported most enthusiastically was Bernie Sanders. I fear that some voters went into the election with a Bernie or bust mindset and voted their disapproval – by voting Trump, independent or abstaining from the vote – rather than voting their hope of continuing the progress made by Barack Obama’s policies. Some of his policies were imperfect but he sought to make change – change that could be largely undone by Trump’s Republican government.

I am saddened that the most qualified candidate in yesterday’s election was unable to crack the glass ceiling of sexism. She may not have been the perfect candidate – but has there ever been a perfect candidate or president? – but her presidency would have been an undeniably big step towards gender equality. Clinton said in her concession speech, “We have still have not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling. But some day, someone will.”

My heart breaks for all the minority groups in America and around the world who have been made to feel unsafe in the country they call home. So many people I admire are feeling dejected right now, people I turn to for words of truth and justice. Too many people who put in daily work to create a better world have been made to feel like their country doesn’t want them anymore. I am ashamed to live with my white privilege. I am ashamed that my privilege comes at the cost of the safety and security of others.

We still need Black Lives Matter because people of colour are told implicitly and explicitly that their lives do not matter. They experience racism viscerally, not as an abstract concept that exists only in Trump rally hate-speech. We still need feminism because too many women are shamed when they seek positions for which they are qualified in predominantly male fields. Too many women are assaulted, objectified and subjected to language that is meant to devalue us and undermine our personhood. This is even more true for women of colour and for trans women, who are constantly confronted with violence in action and in words.

Where does that leave us now? As a Canadian, I was powerless to influence the quantitative result of the election. I have the power to stand against injustice, to challenge white supremacy and my own white privilege. I have to listen, especially to those who are marginized, whose voices are too often silenced in mainstream media. As a writer, I have to continue to work with publications that prioritize free speech and media democracy. We have to continue to love. bell hooks said, “The practice of love is the most powerful antidote to the politics of domination.” We have to say ‘Fuck you’ to anyone who attempts to create divisions.

As Clinton said in her concession speech, “This loss hurts. But please never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.” We need to channel that hurt into action. We now know how far we have to go.

Song of the Day: Alright by Kendrick Lamar

Man Repeller, along with a number of other websites, has compiled a resource that includes a number of organizations to get involved with, and a number of ways to keep fighting for justice.

My Thoughts Are With Belgium and the World

Belgium, France, Turkey

I pray for Brussels, Belgium, following the terrorist attacks at Brussels Airport and Maelbeek metro station. I pray for Brussels in the same way that I prayed for Paris, France following the November 2015 attacks on the streets of Paris and Saint-Denis and at the Bataclan Theatre. I also pray for Anakara and Istanbul, Turkey, both beautiful cities that have been devastated by terrorist attacks in March that have been largely unmentioned internationally.

We should never become so desensitized that we stop seeing terrorist attacks as senseless violence that no population deserves — whether the attacks are an isolated occurrence in one city or a daily reality in another. To see one event as more tragic than another because the attacked population is closer to oneself geographically, culturally or politically is to draw dividing lines based on difference. To impose divisions is to inflict injustice.

The death and destruction of terrorist attacks is tragic. It’s also tragic that people are using the attacks to justify their hatred.
In the wake of terrorist attacks, hate the perpetrators, hate ISIS, who have claimed the Belgian attacks as their own. Don’t hate the people whose religion shares the same name but is based upon totally different values. It is disgusting to see American politicians referring to the Belgian terrorist attacks in their Islamophobic fear mongering. It’s so easy for hatred to germinate in fear, when fear causes one to impose divisions. As Illustrator Christian Watson writes, “[F]ear shouldn’t dictate a draw of the sword.”

We must fight evil but just as importantly, we must protect good. When we let difference eclipse our common humanity — the right that every person has to love and respect on their own terms — we let evil win.

Song of the Day: Unfucktheworld by Angel Olsen

Nicki Minaj, Taylor Swift, and Conversations On Race and Feminism

Oh My Gosh

Celebrity social media feuds are fuelled by a tendency to conflate fame with relevance, a desire to bolster one’s public image and instantaneous access to platforms for mass communication, all of which amounts to some poorly calculated PR moves and some bafflingly inarticulate 140 character sentences. If you would rather a more literal definition, a celebrity social media feud occurs when one famous person implicitly or explicitly questions the talent and credibility of another famous person in order to assert her/his own superiority. While I usually think of these feuds as the definition of vapid, the recent feud between Nicki Minaj, Taylor Swift et al has been of interest to me because of the number of issues of social relevance that are related to it.

Minaj tweeted her dissatisfaction that her videos for “Anaconda” and “Feeling Myself” have been overlooking for Video of the Year at the MTV’s VMAs. She then tweeted, “If your video celebrates women with very slim bodies, you will be nominated for vid of the year.” Swift took it as an implicit jab about the nomination of her video “Bad Blood” and responded by saying, “I’ve done nothing but love & support you. It’s unlike you to pit women against each other. Maybe one of the men took your slot.” Minaj responded with, “Huh? Didn’t say a word about u” and the people of the internet did what they do best, react and hashtag. Meek Mill accused Drake of having a ghost writer, everyone was either inflamed or apathetic and as Rembert Browne of Grantland said, bloggers had to put on the hat that makes one actually care about these things.

I could make a point about how both of Minaj’s videos and Swift’s video are celebrations of celebrity rather than of talent. This would be followed by a comment that Beyoncé’s low budget and accessible video for “7/11” is remarkable only because Beyoncé has celebrity status and her world is inaccessible. I certainly wouldn’t be nominated for a VMA if I used my iPhone to film myself dancing on my balcony. More likely my neighbours would have me arrested for obscenity. I could make a point about celebrity but this isn’t the matter of most relevance. To focus on the celebrities involved in this feud is to obscure the larger issue at hand. What is of interest to me isn’t the Twitter feud between Minaj and Swift – though this is what the media largely chooses to focus on – but rather the social issues that their comments relate to.

On her tour for her most recent album, 1989, Swift traded her persona of the jilted lover for that of the best friend and her theme of heartbreak for one of female empowerment. Her “Bad Blood” video and her recent concerts are celebrations of her friendships – with Victoria’s Secret models, natch. Ironically, the “Bad Blood” song itself is about a female friendship turned sour, female enmity, actually, which is purportedly about a conflict between Swift and Katy Perry. Swift took Minaj’s comment as an expression of resentment from a female artist to a female artist. Given her best friend persona, Swift was quick to say that she has shown Minaj nothing but love and it was likely a man who took her nomination for video of the year, effectively suggesting that as a self-declared feminist her displays of female friendship placed her squarely in the right. Perry, purported target of the aforementioned Swift song, wrote a largely unintelligible tweet that essentially said the only effect of pitting women against each other is that a woman is torn down. This can be taken as a comment directed to Swift, who turned Minaj’s comment into an attack on another female’s art, or to Minaj who made the comment about female bodies or to the media that gleefully reported on the Minaj-Swift feud as an online celebrity catfight. And while Perry does have a point about how it is completely toxic to pit women against each other for sport and clickbait, she is largely missing Minaj’s point. (You were wondering when I was going to get to Minaj’s point, weren’t you?)

The main reason why Swift’s “Bad Blood” video has received so much recognition is because of the celebrities – or more specifically, the celebrity bodies – in it. The video features a cast of singers, actresses and models who play the part of assassins, plus Kendrick Lamar as the video’s featured rapper. The video features a lot of weapons and even more latex bondage wear. While the action of the video emphasizes female power, its main marketing point was female bodies.

Minaj’s “Anaconda” is a celebration of female sexuality and bodies, specifically women with bigger butts, which prominently features a sample from Sir Mix a Lot’s “Baby Got Back”. As Minaj says in the song’s outro, “Fuck the skinny bitches in the club / I wanna see all the fat ass bitches in the muthafuckin’ club.” When Minaj tweeted about the videos that celebrate women with slim bodies, she alluded to a tendency for the music industry (and North American society at large) to privilege not only white skin but bodies that conform to a normative image of whiteness.

In its most obvious form, racism can be seen in a discriminatory preference for white skin over black. In its more subtle form, it can be seen in the privileging of certain skin tones, facial features and bodies. There is a long history of the music industry celebrating white artists over black artists. In the music industry, racism results in white artists receiving more accolades, money and recognition than black artists, and in the music of black artists being relegated to niche markets. It also results in white artists receiving recognition for their appropriation of black art forms while their sources of inspiration are largely overlooked. As Minaj said in another tweet, “Black women influence pop culture so much but are rarely rewarded for it.”

In The Racial Contract, Charles W. Mills writes that in looking at cases of discrimination, “one has to recognize it is not as excesses by individual racists but as an organic part of this political enterprise[1].” Part of this political enterprise is the covert racism that results in the privileging of some bodies over others. This can be more difficult to acknowledge than overt discrimination, to the extent that some white people are ignorant of their own white privilege. It’s hard to acknowledge one’s own privilege as a symptom of racism because for the privileged group, it is a fact of life and no longer feels like privilege. Swift missed Minaj’s point because she did not recognize that she referred to the covert racism that results in the privileging of Swift’s music over Minaj’s. Additionally, Swift was thinking in terms of an acknowledgement of female artistry without considering that black feminism seeks recognition for those who are black and female in an industry that largely recognizes white males.

The people of Twitter were quick to point out that Swift turned the conversation towards feminism while ignoring the racial issue that Minaj was trying to address. Swift reacted to the tweet because she truly thought she was being attacked and then made a misguided attempt to make things better with Minaj. I don’t think this was a conscious attempt to derail a conversation about black feminism that needs to take place. However, it was likely indicative of Swift’s inability to have this conversation. That the story of the Minaj-Swift feud largely turned away from racism in the music industry is indicative of the difficulty many people have with starting conversation about race, which is not to say that there weren’t people who were unwilling to start the conversation because of their own racism. Additionally, the fact that the Drake-Meek Mill feud that started on the same night has continued to be an object of some media fascination while the Minaj-Swift conversation has largely come to an end is indicative of a reluctance to start conversations about feminism.

To turn this piece back to its author, I decided to write about the Minaj-Swift feud and the social issues that intersect with it because I think it is necessary that we have more open, frank conversations about race and racism. Also, I think it is important that we are critical of the popular culture we consume and how it can relate to larger cultural issues. What was meant to be a relevant addition to an ongoing conversation comes a few weeks after the conversation has ended largely because I felt I was unqualified to talk about issues surrounding race and racism. While I have read a lot recently pertaining to black feminism, sociology and literary theory, I still feel like I don’t know enough to be starting this conversation. Ultimately, I decided to finish writing a piece that has been a few weeks in the making because of a round table conversation I read on Man Repeller called “We Need to Talk About Race.” The blog’s founder, Leandra Medine, said that she decided to start the conversation after she realized the racial aspect of the Minaj-Swift feud had been undiscussed on Man Repeller but she admitted she didn’t know how to approach the conversation as a white woman. Their guest writer, Ashley C. Ford said, “We like to think that when we’re silent, it’s because we’re having a different conversation or whatever, but a lot of times when you’re silent — especially in the situation with [Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj], people saw a white woman pitted against a black woman, the media did that — when you don’t mention it, what people hear in the silence is that you don’t consider this a necessary conversation to have.” I thought this was a necessary conversation to have and took it as a chance to apply some of what I have read. One major thing you learn in grad school is how little you know, so I know that my knowledge falls short when it comes to turning this into an academic conversation. However, as Ford said, it is necessary to start these conversations so we can learn from them and have more effective conversations about race and feminism in the future. With that in mind, I would love to read your thoughts and opinions about the Minaj-Swift feud and the issues surrounding it, and I would love to learn from those who have knowledge to share in conversations about race and feminism.

Song of the Day: Echo by Lurch & Chief

What, you wanted to hear more from Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift?

[1] Mills opens his book with the painfully true line, “White supremacy is the unnamed political system that has made the modern world what it is today. And this omission is not accidental. Rather, it reflects the fact that standard textbooks and courses have for the most part been written and designed by whites, who take their racial privilege so much for granted that they do not even see it as political, as a form of domination.” A necessary explanation of his use of political enterprise, Mills uses the term to refer to white supremacy and ultimately racism as the unnamed systems that shape North American society.

My Letter to the Toronto Raptors

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Dear Toronto Raptors,

I like you. I’m writing to you because I know you have been going through a rough patch over the last week or so and I thought I would offer some words of encouragement. I’m not writing to offer you advice on how to improve your game or to tell you how ‘we’ need to play better defence because I am neither so bold nor so knowledgeable as to think you would benefit from my advice. I wasn’t even bold enough to offer advice to the guy taking shots in Coopers’ Park in Vancouver the other day and he would have benefitted from it because he was throwing up some serious bricks. You are a part of a franchise that matters to Torontonians and to Canadians. You are the team that makes it possible for us to say We The North and gather together in Jurassic Park. I say – and you likely agree – that basketball is the greatest sport, and I think your team has made a lot of people feel the same way.

You have had a great season so far. You play team basketball, you have a positive dynamic on and off the court and you all seem like really cool guys. I hope you feel that way on good days and bad days. As far as the way the last few games have gone, it must be hard to accept losing when you have played so many great games together.

In a way, I know what you’re going through right now. I am currently working on a Master’s in English Literature, which is in no way as remarkable as playing in the National Basketball Association but stands as some kind of an achievement. Like you, I am surrounded by people who are really good at what they do. Even though I know I’m capable of doing what I need to do, there are some days when it feels like – maybe this is a good comparison – I’m doing well, I’m in a groove and aw shit, I have to play against Tim Duncan now? (Your recent win against the Spurs was awesome, by the way. I worship at the altar of Tim Duncan and I loved that you denied Coach Pop his 1000th career win in Toronto.) It’s hard to consistently do great things when you are surrounded by people who are also trying to do great things. I also know what it’s like to be far away from home. Toronto is my home and living in Vancouver isn’t working out for me. Shout out to JV and Bebe who are my age and are even further from home than I am.

To turn to the last week or so, I too have been going through a losing streak. If your success and my success are tied together, it’s no wonder you lost to the Knicks the other day. I was even losing to people who weren’t in the competition. Some days and some games just suck, but don’t let it get you down. Know that you have a city that stands behind you, a rapper writing songs about you and me wearing my Raptors snapback over on the West Coast.

I just wanted to say, we can do this. No, not, ‘Pass me the ball, Kyle, I’ve got this!’ I’ll leave the coaching and playing to you. You can and will compete at a high level and show everyone how great your team, my favourite team, is. I can and will write really long, complex essays and show everyone that I am capable of producing creative work with very few grammatical errors. You’re awesome. Like I said, we can do it.

Love and We The North,

Courtney

Song of the day: 6 Man by Drake because I want to be as cool as LouWill

OR Leather Jacket by Arkells because they know what it’s like to have some shaky landings

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