It’s being called an issue that has few rivals in terms of controversy in Canada and around the world. It’s dominated by bloody images, heated rhetoric and impassioned defences on both sides. Few facts go unchallenged. Language becomes a tool, as words become weapons of outrage or instruments of reassurance.

Abortion? Nope. The annual Canadian seal hunt.

The description above comes from an “In Depth” feature about the seal hunt on CBC News’s website. This feature includes a photo of a harp seal, a series of questions and answers, quick facts and links to related articles and other websites. Perhaps no other situation better illustrates the irrelevancy and bias of contemporary news media, particularly in Canada, than this one – in which the seal hunt is regularly given lengthy, consistent and prominent coverage in all forms of media, while death and tragedy involving human beings is relegated to secondary importance.

Note that in comparison, CBC News’s “In depth” feature on abortion is dominated by a photo of Henry Morgentaler and a timeline of his efforts to overturn Canadian abortion regulations, as if he is the one and only face of the abortion issue in Canada and his story is all that matters. Other crucial, relevant facts are carefully omitted, such as the toll of abortion on the financial state of the Canadian health system, the psychological and physiological damage done to women and the deleterious effects abortion has had on this country’s birthrate and consequently, our social safety net and labour pool.

Also in comparison, Statistics Canada this past March 15 released a report on induced abortions in Canada in the year 2003. It found that 103,768 preborn human beings had their lives violently snuffed out in this country during that 12-month period. Undoubtedly, the images emanating from each of those occurrences might have been every bit as gruesome and bloody as those of harp seals being clubbed to death. And surely, a number of those victimized human beings were in the later stages of their gestational development before they were dealt a cruel and fatal blow through the means of abortionists’ instruments.

Of course, that didn’t matter to the denizens of newsrooms across the country. A web search for news coverage of Statistics Canada’s report among newspapers such as the Globe and Mail and Toronto Star, for example, failed to yield even one article on the matter. This, despite Stats Can’s own media release and a follow-up press release by Campaign Life Coalition, which called the abortion numbers “staggering” and the overall situation an “atrocity.”

Unfortunately, matters aren’t any better with respect to news media outside Canada, which have spotlighted the involvement in the seal hunt of celebrities such as Paul McCartney and Brigitte Bardot. Our seal hunt situation has garnered significant coverage from such international media outlets as CNN, which terms it “much-criticized” and a “slaughter,” and the BBC (“Images of hunters clubbing infant seals horrified TV viewers across the world”).

A summation of the overall situation must point out that mainstream media clearly place the lives of harp seals above those of human beings – an unconscionable state of affairs, to be sure, but also a very real one. Although the constant complaint of the pro-life and social conservative movements is that mainstream media are hopelessly biased and jaundiced against their points of view, those elements must not give in to despair or resignation by simply accepting the fact they will never get a fair shake on the newswires. Instead, they need to redouble their efforts to both establish and maintain alternative media outlets and call “established” media to account.

There are several ways in which this can be done. Unfortunately, there is little happening in the sphere of media monitoring and response in this country. Whereas the United States has organizations such as the Media Research Centre, Canada has no similar entity. Even in terms of such simple endeavours as a media monitoring mailing list and/or website, Canada is lacking (although there is a capable effort in terms of the CBC at www.cbcwatch.com).