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CBC misrepresenting Quebec student strike?

February 24, 2012

CBC misrepresenting Quebec student strike?

Coverage of yesterday's demo leaves more questions than answers

by Stefan Christoff

Some 15,000 students marched through the streets of Montreal on Feb. 23 to protest increasing university tuition fees across Quebec. Over 50,000 students are on strike in the province. cc Photo: mouvementetudiant

MONTREAL—CBC coverage of yesterday's Quebec student protests in downtown Montreal was driven by a painfully obvious bias against the student strike.

Across Quebec, over 55,000 students are currently on strike to protest Quebec government plans to raise post-secondary tuition fees by $1,625 over the next five years.

News reports via CBC yesterday, when 15,000 students marched in Montreal, consistently failed to scrutinize violent police actions against striking students, and the station's coverage bent towards the austerity-driven logic of the Quebec government's policy to hike tuition fees.

CBC television cameras and reporters were on the ground yesterday to cover the massive student protest but failed to convey the real story, missing the full message of the student protesters and misreporting facts on police actions.

CBC News Now host Reshmi Nair's live national commentary on the student protest is important to highlight.

In this clip Nair describes live footage from Montreal via Radio Canada, broadcast as thousands of students, who had been marching throughout downtown all afternoon, converged around Montreal's Jacques Cartier Bridge, leading to a temporary blocking of bridge traffic.

Montreal riot police were on location and began forcefully clearing student protesters from the bridge and surrounding public streets. As police move on the protest, using batons and pepper spray against students carrying protest signs, Nair announces that the "police are fighting back."

Police were "fighting back" against what exactly?

"Fighting back" with pepper spray against a widely popular student protest?

Is employing batons and peppery spray against young students holding placards justified?

Certainly more balanced ways for CBC to report on unfolding events were possible.

Unfortunately this example points to larger systemic failures in CBC's coverage of the current Quebec student strike.

A lead article on CBC.ca gave the first quotes and focus in the report to a few individual students voicing support for tuition hikes and opposition to the strike. Also, this CBC post does not quote a single student participating in the strike, failing to document one voice from the thousands protesting in downtown Montreal streaming past multiple on-location CBC reporters.

Additionally, CBC coverage has widely focused on comparing Quebec tuition fees to the rest of Canada, an argument that misses the Quebec specific context to the protests.

Key historical events central to the current protests, like the major Quebec-wide student strike in 1996, which featured mass street protests that lead to an almost decade-long freeze on tuition hikes in Quebec, is largely being excluded from CBC coverage. Without clear facts on past strikes—collective student action that secured relatively lower tuition fees in Quebec—CBC is failing to provide critical context to the current story.

Students across Quebec are motivated by victories of past strikes like the protests in 1996, but also the 2005 strike when students confronted an attempt by Jean Charest’s Liberal government to slash $103 million from bursaries granted to students. Again in 2005 Quebec students successfully forced the Quebec government to back-down after months of street protests and direct actions.

CBC is also failing to address broader questions on increasingly inaccessible university education across Canada, an issue that current Quebec protests should inspire people across Canada to consider.

Tuition fees are going up coast-to-coast, rising in many cases to levels that make post-secondary education inaccessible for many, a reality illustrated in a recent study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives on university education in BC. Is this a reality that Quebec should move toward?

In a CBC live report from Montreal yesterday, reporter Dan Halton was equipped with statistics on tuition fees from across Canada, listing off the differences in tuition across the country. In doing so, he completely failed to address the central issue that Quebec students are striking to fight for: sustaining an accessible post-secondary education system.

"As it stands now Quebec has the lowest tuition fees in the country," declared Halton, finishing off the report, missing the broader point of the protest.

Implied by the CBC reporting that compares Quebec tuition fees to the rest of Canada is that Quebec students should accept proposed tuition fee hikes, given that people in the rest of Canada are paying more for post-secondary studies.

If fewer and fewer people in Quebec or Canada can access university education due to tuition hikes, increasingly a fact today, what impacts will that reality have on the collective social health?

Key to the current student strike in Quebec is a broader political struggle for accessible or even free university education as a political principal rooted in social justice.

Certainly governments are able to find billions of dollars for military spending, like the controversial billions the Conservative government is moving to spend on fighter jets, so why is the financing for more accessible or even free public universities not being explored?

CBC coverage on the Quebec student strike seems to completely side step more meaningful questions about the direction of post-secondary education in Quebec and in Canada.

Stefan Christoff is a Montreal-based musician and writer who contributes to the Media Co-op. Stefan is on twitter @spirodon

This article was originally published by the Co-op média de Montréal

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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