Editor’s Note: For more information, please also see What You Need To Know About The Brandon University Strike
By Errol Black
The Brandon University strike of 240 faculty members is now into its 34th day.
The actions and role of the media in small-town labour disputes play an important role in shaping community perspectives on the nature, dynamics and implications of the conflict for both the direct participants and the community at large. The media’s role is, therefore, profoundly important in all labour disputes; it is especially important in situations where deliberate bias in the coverage provided by the media results in a serious misrepresentation of a dispute that potentially involves segments of the community. The Brandon University strike is one such dispute.
The Brandon Sun
Of all the media in Brandon, the Sun is the one media enterprise with the most capacity to provide the news and analytical coverage from the balanced perspective that people need to understand the Brandon University strike. Before the Sun was taken over by The Winnipeg Free Press in 2001 it was a fairly robust enterprise and newspaper that provided information and insight on world, national and local issues. Now, it simply characterizes itself as the voice of conservatism in the region – a paper, in other words, with a narrow right-wing slant. This perspective is evident in the Sun’s coverage of the Brandon University Strike.
Brandon Sun Bias
From the outset, the Sun has aligned itself with Brandon University President, Administration and hired guns, notably, employer lawyer Grant Mitchell, and against the members of the Brandon University Faculty Association (BUFA). This is reflected in all aspects of the paper’s analysis and coverage including: the stories that are emphasized and the ones that are ignored or downplayed, the letters that get printed as opposed to the ones that don’t; the editorial perspectives, to name a few.
This bias reached its peak this past week, culminating in back-to-back editorials published on November 9 and 10, 2011.
The first of the editorials, titled “BU students deserve more from Caldwell,” What do they deserve from Caldwell? According to the editors, “,,,it’s rather dispiriting to say the least, when the only elected NDP representative around these parts seems unwilling to step into the fray on behalf of increasingly frustrated university students.” And why exactly, do the editors think Caldwell should step in, and what exactly do they think he should do? The editors say he should intervene, because, while “it is one thing to believe that the provincial government should not interfere with the collective bargaining process [and Caldwell has the right to his opinion], when it become obvious that both sides are incapable of reaching a fair and equitable settlement on their own…a higher power needs to step in – the provincial government.. And you, Mr. Caldwell …need to take a stand that benefits this city, before affected constituents decide to give up the ghost.”
This attack on Caldwell clearly demonstrates the editor’s ignorance of both the broader role the labour movement plays in democratic society and the importance of the collective bargaining process in providing a voice for workers.
In the November 10 editorial (“BUFA, province share the blame”) the editors claim that as of November 9, “the executive of BUFA is now the only entity standing in the way of some 3,100 students being allowed to return to class.” The editors don’t explain how BUFA is responsible for this situation. Are we left to infer that it’s because BUFA rejects binding arbitration and insists that the two parties negotiate a collective agreement? If that’s what the editors believe, then isn’t more plausible to suggest that it is the University and their high-paid legal brains that are responsible for the continuation of the strike? Surely, we might expect that when people are being paid $400 to $600 an hour, they can think of something more creative to say than “we want it to go to binding arbitration.”
In the concluding sections of the editorial the editors state: “At the outset, of this strike, the Sun’s management and editorial board made a decision to stay neutral in the Our View [ by which they mean editorial] column..”
They then say, “. . . but we never expected the strike to extend for so long and for all the wrong reasons.” There is a simple explanation for their failure to get things right; namely, that they never tried to understand the causes of the strike and the reasons for the impasse in collective bargaining. Nor did they bother to try and figure out what the issues were and why Brandon University steadfastly refused to try and negotiate an agreement with BUFA.
The editors wind up their editorial asserting that “we now see clearly who the villains are in this performance – the faculty’s union and the provincial government [and] calling on the government to legislate the strikers back to work.”
I would suggest that there are indeed villains in this situation but not the ones cited by the Sun. On the contrary, the villains are Brandon University and the Brandon Sun, which has failed through its own ineptitude and ideological blinders to provide citizens with the background they need to understand the causes and consequences of the strike.
Errol Black is a CCPA MB. board member and a retired member of the BUFA.