rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

By funding international journalism projects, Ottawa shapes perceptions of Canadian policies abroad

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism. Chip in to keep stories like these coming.

Last Saturday the Ottawa Citizen published a feature titled "The story of 'the Canadian vaccine' that beat back Ebola." According to the article, staff reporter Elizabeth Payne's "research was supported by a travel grant from the International Development Research Centre." The laudatory story concludes with Guinea's former health minister thanking Canada "for the great service you have rendered to Guinea" and a man who received the Ebola vaccine showing "reporters a map of Canada that he had carved out of wood and displayed in his living room. 'Because Canada saved my life.'"

A Crown Corporation that reports to Parliament through the foreign minister, the International Development Research Centre's board is mostly appointed by the federal government. Unsurprisingly, the government-funded institution broadly aligns its positions with Canada's international objectives.

IDRC funds various journalism initiatives and development journalism prizes. Canada's aid agency has also doled out tens of millions of dollars on media initiatives over the years. The now defunct Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) has funded a slew of journalism fellowships that generate aid-related stories, including a Canadian Newspaper Association fellowship to send journalists to Ecuador, Aga Khan Foundation Canada/Canadian Association of Journalists Fellowships for International Development Reporting, and the Canadian Association of Journalists/Jack Webster Foundation Fellowship. It also offered eight $6,000 fellowships annually for members of the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec, noted CIDA, "to report to the Canadian public on the realities lived in developing countries benefiting from Canadian public aid."

Between 2005 and 2008, CIDA spent at least $47.5 million on the "promotion of development awareness." According to a 2013 J–Source investigation titled "Some journalists and news organizations took government funding to produce work: Is that a problem?," more than $3.5 million went to articles, photos, film and radio reports about CIDA projects. Much of the government-funded reporting appeared in major media outlets. But, a CIDA spokesperson told J-Source, the aid agency "didn't pay directly for journalists' salaries" and only "supported media activities that had as goal the promotion of development awareness with the Canadian public."

One journalist, Kim Brunhuber, received $13,000 to produce "six television news pieces that highlight the contribution of Canadians to several unique development projects" to be shown on CTV outlets. While failing to say whether Brunhuber's work appeared on the station, CTV spokesperson Rene Dupuis said another documentary it aired "clearly credited that the program had been produced with the support of the Government of Canada through CIDA."

During the 2001-2014 war in Afghanistan, CIDA operated a number of media projects. According to the J-Source report, a number of CIDA-backed NGOs sent journalists to Afghanistan and the aid agency had a contract with Montréal's Le Devoir to "[remind] readers of the central role that Afghanistan plays in CIDA’s international assistance program."

The military also paid for journalists to visit Afghanistan. Canadian Press envoy Jonathan Montpetit explained, "my understanding of these junkets is that Ottawa picked up the tab for the flight over as well as costs in-theatre, then basically gave the journos a highlight tour of what Canada was doing in Afghanistan."

A number of commentators have highlighted the political impact of military sponsored trips, which date back decades. In "Turning Around a Supertanker: Media-military Relations in Canada in The CNN Age," Daniel Hurley writes, "correspondents were not likely to ask hard questions of people who were offering them free flights to Germany" to visit Canadian bases there. In his diary of the mid-1990s Somalia Commission of Inquiry Peter Desbarats made a similar observation. "Some journalists, truly ignorant of military affairs, were happy to trade junkets overseas for glowing reports about Canada's gallant peacekeepers."

The various arms of Canadian foreign policy fund media initiatives they expect will portray their operations sympathetically. It's one reason why Canadians overwhelmingly believe this country is a benevolent international actor even though Ottawa has long advanced corporate interests and sided with the British and U.S. empires.

Image credit: Flickr/isafmedia

To organize an event as part of the fall tour for Yves Engler’s forthcoming book A Propaganda System: How Canada’s Government, Corporations, Media and Academia Sell War and Exploitation email: YvesEngler [at] Hotmail.com

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism. Chip in to keep stories like these coming.

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.