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Journalism in the Age of Fake News: journalists go head-to-head at Hart House Debate

Panel discusses misinformation in Canadian politics, on social media

Journalism in the Age of Fake News: journalists go head-to-head at Hart House Debate

Amid strong political criticism against media outlets in recent years, the Hart House Debates and Dialogue Committee hosted a panel on January 21 with four professional journalists from across Canada. The debate, titled “Journalism in the Age of Fake News,” asked panelists about their thoughts and perspectives on the rapidly evolving role of journalism in the age of misinformation and skepticism.

Speakers included Jesse Brown, the founder of CANADALAND, a crowd-funded news site and podcast that discusses and criticizes practices of large legacy media outlets; Tamara Khandaker, a Toronto-based journalist working at VICE NEWS; Daniel Dale, Washington Bureau Chief at the Toronto Star; and Asmaa Malik, a journalism professor at Ryerson University.

The event was moderated by Marva Wisdom, the director of the Black Experience Project in the GTA, a seven-year research study of the experiences of the Black community living and working in the region.

On the topic of misinformation in Canada, panelists shared conflicting views on fake news in Canada.

Lies aren’t new and bad reports aren’t new,” said Brown. He added that the reason that ‘fake news’ was the term of the year is because of  the growing phenomenon of spreading disinformation, which has sometimes been popularized by US President Donald Trump.

Brown addressed the overall context of ‘fake news’ in Canada, comparing the business of pay-per-click content in developing countries to those in North America. “We just don’t have a population base here for [fake news] to be an effective business to get people to click on just absolutely fraudulent stories,” said Brown.

Panelists also expressed the need for readers to look through different sources of information, noticing a pattern of political affiliations in news sources.

“I think as a journalist, and as citizens, we do have an increasing sort of ‘bubble problem,’ or a treatment to our own self-curated social media feeds, our favourite websites, and we’re just not aware it,” said Dale.

Those with left-leaning views were found to consume legacy news sites such as the Toronto Star and CBC, while those with right-leaning views were found to consume newer media such as Breitbart News and Rebel Media.

Because of this, Dale suggested audience members broaden their sources to gain a better perspective of filtered information on both sides of the political spectrum.

“I urge everyone to refresh their news sources and sometimes I think that means reading sites like Breitbart or Infowars, which are purveyors of often eager, inaccurate information, so you’re aware of what is filtered out there in bubbles that are not your own.

A number of the panelists shared their views on the need for media literacy in Canada.

“I think fake news as a political cry to rail against good journalism is deeply problematic and it is causing a huge effect,” said Malik.

Malik drew from her experience in academia, commenting on the difference between misinformation and disinformation.

“I think that we’re dealing with a huge media literacy problem and I think that what’s happening is that people are rarely going to direct sources for information, but instead are getting multiple news in multiple ways and that sort of loses the connection to where it actually came from,” said Malik.

Social media was also a consistent topic throughout the debate, centring around the emergence of newer media sites such as Buzzfeed and VICE, and their unique approach to news coverage.

Brown sees these sites as “much more aggressive in pursuing stories” because of their social media presence, which has allowed them to be “sort of understood… [as] the new standard there.”

“I think that the larger phenomena of social media itself [is] probably a greater force than this kind of small but significant ecosystem of news sites,” said Dale.

The panel ended with questions from audience members. One individual asked panelists for a piece of advice they wished they had known early on in their career in journalism.

“Stand up for your story ideas and perspective in a newsroom,” said Khandaker. “I think when you’re starting out you… let people say ‘no,’ and you can be really passive.”

“If something is interesting to me, it’ll probably be interesting to other people.”

Doug Ford: The First 100 Days event sees Liberal, PC speakers spar

Hart House Debate asks how Ford’s government has performed, what it has in store

Doug Ford: The First 100 Days event sees Liberal, PC speakers spar

On September 19, Hart House played host to former Deputy Premier of Ontario Deborah Matthews and the campaign manager for the Progressive Conservative (PC) party that ousted her, Kory Teneycke.

The event was organized by the Hart House Debates and Dialogue Committee and also featured Jaime Watt, an expert in government relations, and Tiffany Gooch, a public affairs consultant.

The sold-out event aimed to discuss the actions taken by Premier Doug Ford and his government since being in office for almost 100 days. The topics touched on included Ford’s climate strategy, his decision to reduce the number of city councillors in Toronto, the threat of the notwithstanding clause to achieve that aim, and the repeal of the basic income pilot project. Their opposing views and political positions came to a head on the debate room floor.

In response to a question about Doug Ford’s intention to “scrap cap and trade, scrap the federal government’s carbon tax, and cancel nearly 800 renewable energy projects,” Matthews brought up how these large and provincial-wide decisions could have a very real impact on students and the U of T campus.

“The money that was raised through cap and trade, every penny was going back into [greenhouse gas (GHG)] reduction. For example, U of T would have received significant money to retrofit buildings to reduce the GHG emissions. That money was earmarked for colleges and universities… to make the buildings more comfortable, but most importantly, to reduce GHG emissions. That money is not available anymore.”

Teneycke responded by supporting Ford’s actions, saying that cap and trade raises costs for consumers at home and results in jobs being driven to “places like China and Mexico” at Canada’s expense.

“If you believe climate change is a global problem, then it’s about global emissions. And if you’re driving jobs from environmentally cleaner jurisdictions to environmentally dirtier jurisdictions — that are using coal power and other things — you’re not actually having a positive impact on global emissions as a whole.”

The back-and-forth dynamic of these two speakers dominated the event.

Their differences were most apparent when the issue of the basic income pilot project was addressed. This experiment was meant to look at the effects of a universal basic income on poverty reduction, but it was discontinued by the Ford government earlier in the year.

Teneycke compared the guaranteed income strategy to the politics of Venezuela, a socialist country that is currently embroiled in an economic crisis.

“It is a bad approach, it’s killed more people than any set of ideas that humanity has ever come up with. So, yeah, an experiment with communism is not something the government is going to double down on.”

Although he later described the use of this comparison as “in part, flippant,” he reaffirmed his criticism of the project.

“People having more money, having more choices that affords them, is a wonderful thing,” he said. “And part of how we do that is called getting a job. I know that’s not possible for everyone in society, but more people that are employed — gainfully employed — means more money we have to help those who are in a position, whether it’s through disability or through other circumstances, to be assisted.”

In opposition to this stance, Matthews said that “if you think that a market-driven economy, a capitalist market-driven economy, has no room for taking care of those that are most vulnerable, then you are wrong.”

Matthews went on to say that the basic income pilot was, at its core, about answering one question: “If people have a little bit more money, would they actually be more likely to go back to school, to get a job, to reduce their reliance on the health care system, to reduce their reliance on the justice system?”

Because the pilot project will not be allowed to run its course, Matthews asserted that we might never know the answer to this question.

Throughout the debate, profanity was thrown around, interruptions were made, and the numerous personal comments verging on attacks “disappointed [Watt] profoundly.”

From all this, Gooch’s response to an audience member, who asked what incentives there are for young people to enter politics, sums up this chaotic event best.

“You need to enter it because it needs you.”

Premier Wynne talks minimum wage, mental health at Hart House

U of T visit part of town hall series before 2018 election

Premier Wynne talks minimum wage, mental health at Hart House

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne visited Hart House on March 1, delivering a keynote address and participating in a moderated discussion hosted by the Hart House Debates & Dialogues Committee. The event was largely focused on student-related subjects.

The discussion and Q&A period with the audience, led by Debates & Dialogue Committee student chair Aceel Hawa, focused on the province’s minimum wage increase and issues of mental health.

During her address, Wynne emphasized the significance of publicly funded education, which she described as “the most important” government responsibility. “I’m in politics because I believe that there is inherent unfairness in our world — that’s a reality that we deal with,” she said. “I came into politics because of my deep commitment to publicly funded education.”

Wynne also spoke to the controversial decision to increase the minimum wage to $15 by January 2019. The change, she said, was balanced with a decrease in small business taxes from 4.5 per cent to 3.5 per cent as well as youth hiring subsidies. She added that the minimum wage change is closer to providing a living wage for GTA workers and was instituted during an opportune time of economic growth.

Audience members expressed concern that the government had failed to deal with employers sidestepping the minimum wage increase by cutting worker benefits and breaks. In response, Wynne said the number of Ministry of Labour inspectors visiting businesses had been increased to ensure that improvements for workers would materialize.

“The vast majority of employers are following and complying with the law, but we’re very determined to make sure that happens,” said Wynne. “If we find that it’s not, we’ll move ahead with making more changes.”

Another topic addressed by Wynne during the Q&A session was mental health. She said that the government had a clear plan to put more money into support on campus and in the community. “You will see, as we move forward, we are going to make more investments to provide more practitioners, more places for people to go to find mental health supports.”

The Premier’s visit was part of a series of town hall-style events that have recently focused on issues relevant to postsecondary students. The province will take to the polls in a general election in June 2018.

Hart House debate committee hosts Omar Khadr’s lawyer

Speech touches on Guantanamo Bay, nationalist politics, Islamophobia

Hart House debate committee hosts Omar Khadr’s lawyer

The Hart House Debates and Dialogues Committee held an event called “The Rule of Law in an Age of Fear” on October 18. It featured the lawyer of Omar Khadr, Dennis Edney. Khadr is a Canadian, born in Toronto, who was sent to Afghanistan by his Al-Qaeda-affiliated father. He was captured at age 15 by US soldiers after allegedly throwing a grenade that killed US Army Sergeant Christopher Speer. At age 16, Khadr was taken to Guantanamo Bay and held there for 10 years. Khadr sued the Canadian government, claiming that his rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms had been infringed upon. He received a $10.5 million settlement in 2017.

Edney spoke on topics including the 2016 US election, fear mongering, Islamophobia, and his experiences at Guantanamo Bay. The intention of his speech, he stated, was to “[challenge] you to question whether the concept and practice of justice is being carried out in your name.”

Edney described Guantanamo as a microcosm to the breakdown of the rule of law. He pointed out the rarely talked about secret prisons in Guantanamo Bay, designed for enhanced interrogation techniques. “It doesn’t take much imagination to understand what that means,” said Edney. “Omar Khadr spent most of his life in one of those places.”

“I decided to write to my government, the Liberal government of the day, to inquire as to the status of Omar Khadr and to remind them of their international obligation to assist a Canadian citizen, under international law and under international humanitarian law,” said Edney. He received no response and went on to defend Khadr. He said he sacrificed a great deal in doing so, spending life savings, missing both of his children’s graduations, and giving up “a huge part” his business.

In his first meeting with Khadr, Edney found the young man shackled to the floor, “his whole body suffering from extensive shrapnel injuries.” Edney said that he had trouble controlling his emotions. “I didn’t know whether to shout, to scream, to cry, I didn’t know what to do. I was not prepared for what I was witnessing.” A particularly horrific experience, he said, was witnessing the sexual abuse of every single detainee “because there is no greater way to get to a Muslim, who prides in his body.”

The Liberal government, Edney stressed, did not do enough to repent for “the horror that they created, assisted in,” saying the party gave only “half an apology.”

Edney broadened his remarks, speaking about the current geopolitical state of the world: “The political temperature has been dominated by populists such as Trump, and European nationalists who want to tighten borders and restrict the flow of refugees from war-torn countries, especially Muslims.” He went on to describe the entire Trump campaign as based on fear and bigotry, comparing the security measures proposed during the Republican presidential campaign to those of Nazi Germany.

In his closing words, Edney spoke on how an individual can make change in their own society. “We may not have control of world events, but we do have control over how we respond to the world. We do have control [over] how we treat each other. So in the end it’s not about policies that work, it’s about forging consensus, fighting cynicism, fighting the critical will to make change, and to find the character to open our hearts to one another.”

Hart House Debate panel tackles Trudeau’s first two years in office

Panelists praise PM, condemn failure to deliver on electoral reform

Hart House Debate panel tackles Trudeau’s first two years in office

On October 10, four guests of the Hart House Debates & Dialogue Committee sat on a panel discussing their views on Justin Trudeau’s first two years as Prime Minister of Canada. The guests included Karim Bardeesy, Dr. Mel Cappe, Dr. Donna Dasko, and Toronto Star columnist Tim Harper, who moderated the event.

The panelists mostly spoke positively about Trudeau, complimenting his ability to create change and his positive reputation among other leaders and among Canadians.

Dasko, the former Senior Vice President of Environics Research Group Ltd., pointed out that a lot of polls regarding Trudeau are inconsistent. She claimed some polls show that Canadians lean toward the Liberal Party in the next election, while some polls have the Conservative Party leading.

Dasko added that another measure of a Prime Minister’s success is to explore their ability to deliver on promises made during their campaigns. She noted that out of Trudeau’s 226 promises made in 2015, 131 of them have been kept, or are in progress, while 54 of them have not been acted on. The remaining 36 have been outright broken, most of them regarding electoral reform.

Dasko cited Trudeau’s promise to run on a deficit, his aggressive approach to the environment, and the upcoming legalization of marijuana as examples of Trudeau’s ability to deliver change, which she said was another way to measure the success of a Prime Minister.

“I think the implementation is an issue,” Dasko told The Varsity, discussing Trudeau’s ability to effect change. “When I was talking about change, I was trying to emphasize what I see as a very significant policy change from the previous government. The real test of that will be the ability of the government to implement these changes. So it’s not just passing legislation, it’s actually implementing them.” 

Cappe, the former clerk of the Privy Council of Canada, and most recently Canada’s high commissioner to the United Kingdom, pointed out that Trudeau is now the oldest among the party leaders. New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh and Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer are both 38 years old. Cappe also stated that if he were to assess Trudeau as he would a 4th year university student, he would score around 80 per cent.

Cappe stated that Trudeau did well on most of the criteria he used in his assessment, which included how Trudeau has changed how Canadians view themselves, how they are viewed abroad, how he left the Canadian economy, what he has done for human rights and security, and whether he could win another election. Cappe’s major concern was Trudeau’s broken promise to deliver on electoral reform.

Bardeesy, a former Director of Policy to the Premier of Ontario, started by stating that the Liberal Party is planning for multiple terms. He pointed out Trudeau’s struggles with NAFTA renegotiations. However, he sees this as a missed opportunity to explain the benefits of trade to Canadians. Bardeesy said that Trudeau does well in representing Canadian identity, and other leaders are competing in this way. He believes that Trudeau will possibly receive backlash in the future, regarding a possible terrorist attack, and focusing too much on Indigenous issues.

The event had a high turnout, with many people asking detailed questions. The speakers were impressed by the students’ interest in the topic.

“What’s exciting is when you see young people coming out to talk about politics, which can be a really boring topic,” Dasko stated.