30 Years of Journalism and Democracy in Canada

28 February 2013

Thirty Years of Journalism and Democracy in Canada:The Minifie Lectures 1981 – 2010
Edited by Mitch Diamantopoulos
Published by Canadian Plains Research Centre Press
Review by Regine Haensel
$39.95 ISBN 978-0-88977-225-0

In his introduction, editor Mitch Diamantopoulos, Department Head of the School of Journalism, states: “This collection profiles the best of Canadian journalism. Its contributors seek to alert, to inform and to protect the people against those who would conceal or distort the truth. In other words, this is also a book about the ongoing struggle for democratic vitality and press freedom in Canada from 1981 to 2010.”

Lectures begin with Knowlton Nash’s “Cleopatra, Harlots and Glue”, and continue with other well-known journalists and broadcasters such as Peter Gzowski, Pamela Wallin, Peter Mansbridge, Wendy Mesley, and Evan Solomon. These are the cream of the crop, not only in Canada, but around the world. Their credentials include work with the CBC, MacLean’s Magazine, Southam News, The Globe and Mail, CTV, Good Morning America, and Al Jazeera English-language international news channel.

Some lectures discuss problems and pitfalls of journalism, such as censorship. In his 1983 lecture William Stevenson says, “I was in Indonesia when the first rebellions began against Dictator Sukarno . . . We smuggled books and small luxuries into the jails, we helped families and above all, we kept reminding the government in power that it could not liquidate the offending journalists.”

This is a fascinating read, a book to return to. Keep it on the bedside table; lend it to friends (as long as you’re sure they’re going to give it back). It provides an interesting and varied perspective on Canada and world events, raises crucial questions, informs and entertains.

The brief biographies (with photos) attached to each lecture are as interesting as the talks themselves. The journalists have covered events from the Cuban Missile Crisis to recent terrorist attacks, and worked all over the world. They have interviewed key figures such as Ho Chi Minh and René Lévesque, won numerous awards, written books, and directed documentaries. Many are from Western Canada or have a connection to Regina. Edward Greenspon says, “I remember my first summer here – 1980. Temperatures over 40°, drought, dust, dead cows, grasshoppers and, most memorably, falling ash from the volcano at Mount St. Helen’s. It was like the apocalypse. After that, I came to accept the winters.”

The reporters, broadcasters, and journalists who deliver these lectures represent a variety of experiences and different viewpoints. For example, June Callwood speaks about “The Journalist as Advocate,” while Ann Medina says, “It isn’t our job to stir up protest against what we feel is wrong.” Others raise crucial and provocative questions for our society and world: who are we as a nation, and who do want to become, “as we become probably the most multi-ethnic state on the planet” (Carol Off). Speakers also examine the changing face of journalism in an increasingly digital world. “The business model that drives our industry, journalism, is now skidding into history with all the grace of a gas-guzzler heading over a cliff with a sleeping drunk at the wheel,” writes Terry Milewski.

This is not merely a book for journalism students. There is much to think about, much to discuss and debate in this provocative collection of lectures. James M. Minifie would be proud.


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