The G-8 and G-20 summits have come and gone and I dare any news organization to ask Canadians what the world powers accomplished in Toronto. I do not believe that 1 percent of Canadians know what was in the final communiqué. But, ask Canadians what happened on the streets of “Hogtown” during the weekend and you are sure to get in depth responses. There is no better magnet for airtime than violence, destruction, fire and mass arrests. I say this because it highlights the incredible failure of our police forces and politicians.
Based on what I saw on TV and what credible reporters are saying it is patently obvious that the security plan was flawed at best and really, let me be clear here, it didn’t serve the people of Toronto and Canada.
The police missed the boat on Saturday. They were so busy worrying about the politicians behind the security fence that they forgot about the citizens outside the barrier. The result was widespread destruction along several major shopping streets in the city, police cars trashed and burned, media trucks vandalized and televised pictures of the rioting taking over the airwaves. Free access for the “Black Bloc” looked to me like it was part of the police plan…I’m not saying they wanted or condoned vandalism, I’m saying they didn’t care to stop it. Keeping the protesters away from the fence was their only priority.
So then comes a Saturday night where journalists quite rightly question the police tactics and frankly make the security people look unprepared for the reality on the streets. The mayor of Toronto was questioned. The Toronto police chief was grilled. The federal minister in charge of security was dragged into the mess even though he never left Ottawa. The police failure was denied by everyone in charge. The pictures and reports made liars of all the officials.
The criticism worked. Only it worked too well. The security forces reacted to the criticism by going overboard on Sunday. On a day when it sure looked to me like all the protest was generally peaceful the police began rounding up anyone and everyone who hit the streets. Among the arrested were TV camera operators, yup the police claim they couldn’t tell who was a protester and who was a rioter, fair enough. But did they think a guy carrying a $40,000 dollar camera with network decals was a rioter? They arrested reporters. They arrested teenage schoolgirls. They arrested dentists. They arrested anyone wearing black clothes. It was beyond stupid and undemocratic.
As the arrested were let out, one-by-one they told their stories of police brutality and of putting people in small cages and keeping the handcuffed for hours and hours. One man was refused treatment for a broken arm. Another was ignored when he explained he was diabetic and needed insulin. For one strange afternoon Toronto became Tehran and you know, the politicians and police sounded a lot like their counterparts in Iran.
There is no excuse for the vandalism and rioting that took place in Toronto on Saturday. The folks in black should have been stopped arrested and had the book thrown at them. If the police were where they should have been, protecting citizens and property, they would have been able to do just that. Their claim that they couldn’t find the rioters who were using tactics to mislead the police do not hold water. The TV cameras found them. The radio and newspaper reporters found them.
Which brings me to some excellent and some not so excellent work done by the media in covering the events on the streets. First kudos go out to local reporters and crews from CTV, CITY and CBC-Toronto who did a credible job of telling the story while the network reporters were all but invisible. The Toronto Star had the best coverage of events all weekend and the best take on the events after the weekend was over. CBC Radio did an excellent job.
The losers in the coverage this weekend were CBC and Global. When Peter Mansbridge arrived to cover the events live, late Saturday afternoon and he was saddled with nothing but old tired shots we had seen for hours on CBC NN and only one national reporter, Susan Ormiston who seemed overwhelmed and was reduced to using the pictures gathered by local crews. The coverage was better before the network arrived. By Sunday night’s National the CBC was left in the dust. CTV was all over the mass arrests, the police overreaction, the scene at the detention center. CBC was still rehashing Saturday’s events using the same old pictures. The National was a day late and as the saying goes, a dollar short. CTV was terrific.
I only mention Global because they did what they do historically. They didn’t compete. Global never made it to air Saturday afternoon. I guess a second rate golf tournament could not be interrupted. I remember when I was at Global and got a major scoop. We received a leak of the federal budget. The powers at the network refused us airtime because we were running “Wiseguy.” The more Global changes, the more it stays the same.
Much of the discussion today has turned to citizen journalism. Everyone with a mobile phone is now a news source. Better get used to it people, this trend will not go away it will only grow. I’m not sure what to make of it. As far as pictures are concerned I am supportive, but when it comes to commentary I worry about the sources.
One outstanding use of the new technology came from Steve Paikin. He used Twitter to inform faster than any TV, radio or newspaper could. His tweets were informative and right on the money. It was some of the best journalism of the weekend. Great work Steve.
Late addition: Mea Culpa. It seems that Global did break into their golf coverage at least twice for about 15 minutes each time. Not the kind of coverage CTV, CITY and CBC NN were providing but Kevin Newman anchored the short hits.