As pro-lifers we are used to having the slings and arrows of outraged opinion hurled at us via the media. Considering that substantive arguments against our case are about as rare as snow in July, journalists – for the most part, overwhelmingly pro-abortion in outlook – favour the tactic of ignoring our arguments and stereotyping us as close-minded, mean-spirited fanatics. Not only do our language and point of view rarely appear in the print and electronic media, but we are routinely cast in news reports as zealots and kooks. (On CBC, I have twice seen screeching labour and pro-abortion rowdies identified as pro-life demonstrators by the voice-over.)
Besides feeling angry and disillusioned by this unjust inequity, there are some things the lone, but determined pro-lifer can do. The following is an outline of what we `Davids’ can do to combat the Goliath of media bias.
Be Well Informed. Read, read and then read some more. Network with other pro-lifers and join pro-life organizations. Being knowledgeable not only enhances our credibility but also gives us a tactical advantage over people who are as a whole, abysmally ignorant of pro-life concerns.
Identify the Problem Precisely. Was the language or information imprecise, inequitable or inaccurate? Was the coverage unbalanced? I have yet to contact a media representative who has readily acknowledged the problem. In fact, journalists often appear to view challenges as an affront. In order not to be stone-walled or sidetracked, it is important to be very clear about your concern and what you would like done about it. Also, don’t fall into the trap of using ad hominum attacks. If a columnist has written something to which you take exception, keep your comments about the writer to yourself, but feel free, to challenge the ideas vigorously!
Pick Up the Phone. Call the person responsible – columnist, editor or producer. Be articulate and reasonable. Calm down and jot down your ideas before picking up the receiver. Having the courage and persistence of a pit bull is also very useful; stonewalling is a favorite media ploy and dealing with one concern can occupy your time for weeks or even months.
Follow up on the information you are given and call back if you have new information to discuss. Be sure to document all calls.
Write Letters. Often the best we can do is write a letter to an editor or columnist. It is important to use temperate language and to be clear and concise. If you have questions about why your letter isn’t published or about how it has been edited, phone the letters editor.
Ontario Press Council. If the newspaper is still uncooperative and you believe your case is significant, you may pursue it by making a written submission to the Ontario Press Council. State your case clearly and provide all documentation.
One advantage of going to the Press Council is that if your case is adjudicated, it will be published in the newspaper. Disadvantages are the wide latitude given to the press by the Council, the mandate of which is to safe-guard the rights and freedoms of the press, not the public and the fact that newspapers are not obligated to follow the Council’s recommendations. A successful case is perhaps more of a moral victory than anything else, but it may make the newspaper more careful in future. Even my own case against the Toronto Globe and Mail regarding its inequitable use of the terms anti-abortion/pro-choice (dismissed), resulted in some small change in abortion terminology used in that paper. Interestingly, the case was dismissed despite the fact that none of the five council members at the hearing challenged my thesis.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). By sending documentation to the CRTC, a pro-life colleague recently challenged Peter Mansbridge of the CBC’s National News. The CBC and Mansbridge were chastised by the CRTC and were cautioned to be more scrupulous about their facts in future.
Write an Op. Ed. Article. As some editors claim they wish to give the subject of abortion a rest, it is a good idea to write about a current topic related to that issue. Submit to the Op. Ed. Editor, by name, a double-spaced manuscript with a word count. Also include all pertinent documentation. Follow up with a phone call and be prepared to negotiate. For example, offer to edit your own submission to the editor’s specifications. If the paper rejects your submission, try other newspapers, including out of town dailies.
As the media are in a position to define the issues and rules of the game as well as referee it, the task of holding them accountable is a daunting one. The alternative, however, is a false representation of pro-lifers and our views and therefore, a woefully mis-informed public. With judicial and legislative initiatives more threatening than ever to our unborn brothers and sisters. I believe that the pursuit of justice from the media needs to become a pro-life priority.
Judy Anderson is a special education teacher and freelance writer living in Toronto.