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CASE STUDY 3: Id Magazine | 1996 – 1997

Expertise: Editing, investigative journalism, art direction, managing teams, strategy, content development.

Location: Guelph, Ontario, Canada 1996 to 1997

Features Editor: David South  

Click here to view images for this case study: CASE STUDY 3: Id Magazine | 1996 – 1997 Images

Abstract

In 1996 I was hired as Features Editor for Id Magazine, a bi-weekly alternative magazine in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. 

About 

In 1996 Id Magazine, an Ontario, Canada alternative biweekly, was expanding and needed to improve the quality of its journalism, while also making the difficult shift to being a more consistently professional offering. I was hired as Features Editor and set about swiftly assembling a team of investigative journalists. My strategy involved targeting stories overlooked by Canadian newspapers and TV news. In the 1990s, it was often the case the best journalism and the best investigative journalism in Canada could be found in the country’s alternative media. This led to a number of firsts, including an extensive investigation into Canada’s flourishing sex industry, the government’s addiction to casinos to boost revenues, unearthing a plot by neo-nazis to infiltrate Ontario high schools with hate rock, university students’ catastrophic debt culture, reporting from the streets of Port-au-Prince, Haiti on Canada’s UN mission, and probing the government’s public services privatisation plans (including being invited to debate this topic on CBC TV’s programme, Face Off). 

There clearly was a gap in the news marketplace Id could better fill with solid investigative journalism and features writing aimed at a younger demographic. 

How large a market gap can be confirmed by various analyses on the state of the Canadian media at the time and since. According to the book The Missing News: Filters and Blind Spots in Canada’s Press (Robert A. Hackett and Richard S. Garneau, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, University of Toronto Press 2000), Canada’s media was in a mess in the 1990s resulting from declining resources, staff layoffs and media closures reducing the breadth and depth of news coverage.  

My challenge: Could I bring together a talented, young team and improve the quality and consistency of journalism for a start-up magazine seeking to grow? The proof came in the form of improved audited pick-up of the magazine by readers, the magazine’s confident push to expand on the Internet, and the fact many from that original team have gone on to not only have successful careers in the media and film, but also to be influential in their own right – proof the original belief in their talent was correct.  

Pressure on journalists to toe the line and not upset advertisers was also increasing in the context of ongoing high unemployment, a stagnant economy in a recession, and government austerity. Canadian media as whole also has a “great dependence on advertising, which accounts for more than 70% of daily newspaper revenues, about 64% of magazine revenues,” which means there is enormous pressure to only publish stories that do not upset advertisers. And monopolies exert great control over news content in Canada: “In the United States, ten companies control 43.7% of total daily newspaper circulation. By contrast, in Canada since 1996, one single company controls a comparable share of the media pie.” 

Quoting Jeffrey Simpson in the book, newspapers are “shrinking in size, personnel, ambition and, as a consequence, in their curiosity,” …. “I believe the result has been a diminution in quality.” (p64) 

Fast forward to “Today, we have a crisis in the journalism industry unprecedented in scope. A media implosion. Newspapers being reduced to digital editions, large numbers losing their jobs, circulation falling, ad revenues plunging, near monopoly ownership of big-city dailies, the old business model in a state of collapse.” (Canada’s media: A crisis that cries out for a public inquiry by Lawrence Martin, The Globe and Mail, Feb. 02, 2016). 

Brief descriptions of sample issues are below: 

Can Harris be Stopped? Cover 

My first Id Magazine cover. It was thrown together in a few days after being hired. While a work of resourcefulness under pressure, it did capture the spirit of the times as multiple demonstrations and strikes tried to bring down the much-hated Conservative government in Ontario. 

“Can the UN Help Remake a Country?” Cover 

This cover photo by Phillip Smith was taken in the market area of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I had never seen such squalor and desperation in my life. It got worse as we visited the city’s morgue, packed to the rafters with the dead and mutilated bodies of children and adults. It was a tough assignment and one that was captured with professionalism by Phillip’s camera.  

Christmas Issue Cover 

Back in 1996, the Thatcher thirst for privatisation came to Ontario with a vengeance. In this issue, we asked if it showed a lack of imagination to just sell publicly paid for assets to wealthy investors. We offered other ownership models and I debated this topic on CBC TV’s Face Off.  

“Pulling the Plug on Hate Rock” Cover 

This excellent cover by Gareth Lind was, as far as I know, the first use of pop art on a biweekly magazine cover in Ontario at that time (I certainly hadn’t seen anyone else do it). It sold the excellent investigation into skinhead rock bands infiltrating Ontario high schools very well. It was timed for release during the North-by-Northeast music festival in Toronto, and had zero returns (as in all issues were picked up). 

Sarah Polley Cover 

A regular contributor to Id, Canadian actor and director Sarah Polley challenged the stale Canadian left with her spiky views. In this issue we tackled the decline in the quality of TV programmes and asked if it was a moral vacuum being hoovered up by consumerism.  

Student Issue Cover 

This cover is by great Canadian political cartoonist and illustrator Jack Lefcourt. Always funny, Jack captures well the corporate take-over of the country’s universities and the introduction of the catastrophic debt culture that leaves so many students in a financial pickle. It was also Id’s first student issue.  

“The Great Education Swindle: Are Reforms Destroying Your Future?”

“Today’s Sex Toys are Credit Cards and Cash” Cover 

As Ontario’s economy experienced year-after-year of high unemployment and stagnant salaries, its sex economy flourished. In another first, the Id team tackled all aspects of the growth of the sex economy and changing attitudes to sexual behaviour. Beating the big papers to this story, they wrote with honesty and verve and made a refreshing break from the limp journalism of most Canadian newspapers. 

Timeline

1996: Hired as Features Editor and assembled editorial and creative team.

1997: Id Magazine begins to simultaneously publish its content online, a pioneering move at the time. 

Impact 

Micro 

  • reducing returns and boosting audited pick-ups of the free magazine – a key metric for a publication reliant on local advertising
  • assembled talented investigative team and graphic design and photo team
  • introduced pop art front covers
  • increased news coverage, especially impact of austerity in Canada
  • increased foreign coverage, including on Canada’s United Nations mission in Haiti
  • introduced high-profile contributors, including actor and director Sarah Polley
  • debated stories on other media, including CBC TV’s Face Off 

Macro

  • most of the team have gone on to very successful careers in the media
  • magazine still receives good comments on Facebook many years after its closure
  • one of the first Canadian magazines to embrace the Internet and publish simultaneously online

A sample of published stories is below:  

Casino Calamity: One Gambling Guru Thinks The Province Is Going Too Far 

Will Niagara Falls Become the Northern Vegas? 

Land of the Free, Home of the Bored 

Man Out Of Time: The World Once Turned On the Ideas of this Guelph Grad, But Does the Economist John Kenneth Galbraith Know the Way Forward? 

Porn Again: More Ways to Get Off, But Should We Regulate the Sex Industry? 

Redneck Renaissance: A Coterie of Journalists Turn Cracker Culture into a Leisure Lifestyle

Swing Shift: Sexual Liberation is Back in Style 

State of Decay: Haiti Turns to Free-market Economics and the UN to Save Itself 

TV’s Moral Guide in Question – Again 

Citations 

Schizophrenia: A Patient’s Perspective by Abu Sayed Zahiduzzaman, Publisher: Author House, 2013 

Other Resources 

Freedom of Expression: Introducing Investigative Journalism to Local Media in Mongolia 

Ger Magazine Issue 1 

Ger Magazine Issue 2 

In Their Own Words: Selected Writings by Journalists on Mongolia, 1997-1999 (ISBN 99929-5-043-9) 

The back issues of id magazine reside at the Bibliothèque et Archives Canada / Library and Archives Canada [has v.5(1995)-v.8(1999)] collection.

OCLC Number/Unique Identifier: 1082496695

ISSN: 1208-4476

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2017

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CASE STUDY 1: Investigative Journalism | 1991 – 1997

Expertise: Investigative journalism, editing, start-ups, content and magazine design, digital content, digital strategy.

Locations: Toronto and Guelph, Ontario, Canada and London, UK 1991 to 1997

Investigative Journalist, Editor, Reporter, Writer: David South

Click here to view images for this case study: CASE STUDY 1: Journalism | 1991 – 1997 Images

Abstract

I worked as a journalist for magazines and newspapers from 1991 to 1997 in Canada and the United Kingdom and as a radio host for a weekly spoken word interview programme, Word of Mouth (CKLN-FM). 

CKLN-FM’s “Word of Mouth 6 pm-6:55 pm Hosts: David South, Jill Lawless This show goes well behind the headlines for the real story behind the events.”

This included working as an investigative journalist for Now Magazine, “Toronto’s alternative news and entertainment source”, as a Medical and Health Correspondent for Today’s Seniors, and as an investigative journalist and reporter for two Financial Times newsletters, New Media Markets and Screen Finance.  

Samples of published stories can be found here (below) and on the Muck Rack platform here:https://muckrack.com/david-south

About

Could it be possible to do high-quality investigative journalism in the context of a shrinking economy undergoing austerity, and where the media sector is contracting and consolidating around a small number of media companies? Is it possible to launch new media products in the face of a contracting economy and reach new audiences and create new markets?

In Canada, the early to mid 1990s were the years of government austerity and economic crisis. After the crash of 1989/1990*, institutions came under great stress. Health care, for example, was pitched into a period of turmoil and change. Drawing on my experience working in the health sector (Princess Margaret Hospital/Ontario Cancer Institute), I covered this crisis in many stories for various publications, in particular Today’s Seniors.

The Canadian economy severely contracted and unemployment was at 11.4 per cent by 1993 (Statistics Canada), and as Statistics Canada says, “Because employment recovered at a snail’s pace after the recession of the early 1990s, the decline in the unemployment rate was delayed until 1994”. 

The media in general could not avoid the wider economic crisis. According to the book The Missing News: Filters and Blind Spots in Canada’s Press (Robert A. Hackett and Richard S. Garneau, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, University of Toronto Press 2000), Canada’s media was also in a crisis throughout the 1990s, as declining resources, staff layoffs and media closures reduced the breadth and depth of news coverage. Canadian media as a whole also has a “great dependence on advertising, which accounts for more than 70% of daily newspaper revenues, about 64% of magazine revenues,” which means there is enormous pressure to only publish stories that do not upset advertisers. And monopolies exert great control over news content in Canada: “In the United States, ten companies control 43.7% of total daily newspaper circulation. By contrast, in Canada since 1996, one single company controls a comparable share of the media pie.”

The impact of this crisis was summed up by Jeffrey Simpson in the book The Missing News, where he said newspapers are “shrinking in size, personnel, ambition and, as a consequence, in their curiosity,” …. “I believe the result has been a diminution in quality.” (p64)

This is the context in which, ironically, it was possible to flourish as a much-sought-after investigative journalist who could get the story and get the quotes and as an editor. And it was also a time for opportunity, in particular as new media rose in importance, from cable and satellite television, to the rise of the Internet.

I broke original stories for Now Magazine as a member of their investigative reporting team, for Today’s Seniors as its Medical and Health Correspondent, and as a reporter for two Financial Times newsletters in London, UK. I also broke original stories as a freelancer for many other magazines and newspapers, including Hospital News, The Toronto Star, This Magazine, The Annex Gleaner, Flare, The Financial Post Magazine, Canadian Living, and others. I drew on strong contacts in health care, media, politics, international relations and the military. 

I was an editor for magazines, newspapers and newsletters as well, gaining invaluable experience and contacts. This included as Editor-in-Chief for start-up youth publication, Watch Magazine (see Case Study 2), and as Features Editor for Id Magazine (see Case Study 3). 

Themes covered included the uses – and abuses – of data, the impact of military engagements to uphold international law, how to re-structure health care when budgets are tight, with populations ageing, and technology and scientific advances quickly expanding options, the emerging new media world of cable and satellite television and the Internet, the sexual revolution 2.0, urbanization and how it re-shapes politics and community, international development, and youth culture. 

Story highlights include covering data concerns over Canada’s border screening measures, questions about the air quality of aircraft cabins, the debate over airstrikes in Bosnia, scandals involving peacekeepers in Somalia and reporting on the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti, reforms to medical education in Canada, innovators in health care, the tug of war over health care spending during austerity measures, London, UK designers, the growing role of Nordic countries in cable and satellite television, the film financing scene in Europe and the UK, the new sexual revolution and its impact on cable and satellite television and the rising Internet, changes to Canada’s media industry, and Toronto’s embracing of the megacity concept and the political battles it sparked. 

I edited newsletters and newspapers aimed at specific communities, from Canada’s medical history community to part-time students. And had the privilege of helming a start-up youth magazine as its Editor-in-Chief to its commercial success (see Case Study 2). 

It was an exciting time of great change, best reflected by the fact in 1997 Id Magazine (Features Editor: see Case Study 3) was one of the first Canadian publications to regularly publish an online version (https://web-beta.archive.org/web/19970207103121/www.idmagazine.com).  

* “The last two recessions in Canada occurred in 1982 and 1990. … The most recent Canadian recession began in the second quarter of 1990 and over the next 12 months GDP fell by 3.2%. … The recovery from this recession was unusually slow; there was almost no growth between mid-1991 and mid-1992. This slow recovery was export driven.” (The Canadian Encyclopedia)

 “In early 1994, Canada’s economic situation was not that favourable—our economy was facing some rather serious problems.

 “… the recession here was more severe than in the United States.

“Working their way out of these difficulties was disruptive and painful for Canadian businesses. Defaults, restructurings, and downsizings became the order of the day. With all this, unemployment took a long time to recover from the 1990–91 recession and, in many instances, wages and salaries were frozen or reduced (Bank of Canada: Canada’s Economic Future: What Have We Learned from the 1990s?)

A small sample of published stories with links is below:  

Investigative Journalism 

An Abuse of Privilege?

Aid Organization Gives Overseas Hungry Diet Food

Artists Fear Indifference From Megacity

Casino Calamity: One Gambling Guru Thinks The Province Is Going Too Far

Counter Accusations Split Bathurst Quay Complex: Issues of Sexual Assault, Racism at Centre of Local Dispute

False Data Makes Border Screening Corruptible

New Student Group Seeks 30 Percent Tuition Hike

Peaceniks Questioning Air-raid Strategy in Bosnia

Safety at Stake

Somali Killings Reveal Ugly Side of Elite Regiment

Study Says Jetliner Air Quality Poses Health Risks: CUPE Takes on Airline Industry with Findings on Survey

Top Reporters Offer Military Media Handling Tips

Will the Megacity Mean Mega-privatization?

Will Niagara Falls Become the Northern Vegas?

Health and Medical

Changing Health Care Careers a Sign of the Times

Critics Blast Government Long-Term Care Reforms

Cut Services to Elderly, Says Doctors’ Survey … But Leave Our Salaries Alone!

Feds Call for AIDS, Blood System Inquiry: Some Seniors Infected

Government Urged to Limit Free Drugs for Seniors

Health Care on the Cutting Block: Ministry Hopes for Efficiency with Search and Destroy Tactics

Health Care in Danger

Lamas Against AIDS

New Legislation Will Allow Control of Medical Treatment

New Seniors’ Group Boosts ‘Grey Power’: Grey Panthers Chapter Opens with a Canadian Touch

Philippine Conference Tackles Asia’s AIDS Crisis

Private Firms Thrive as NDP ‘Reinvents’ Medicare

Psychiatric Care Lacking for Institutionalised Seniors

Seniors Falling Through the Health Care Cost Cracks

Specialists Want Cancer Treatments Universally Available

Take Two Big Doses of Humanity and Call Me in the Morning

Taking Medicine to the People: Four Innovators In Community Health

US Health Care Businesses Chasing Profits into Canada

Magazines

The Ethics of Soup: Grading Supermarket Shelves – For Profit

Freaky – The 70s Meant Something

Land of the Free, Home of the Bored

Man Out Of Time: The World Once Turned On the Ideas of this Guelph Grad, But Does the Economist John Kenneth Galbraith Know the Way Forward?

Oasis Has Arrogance, A Pile of Attitude and the Best Album of 1994

Porn Again: More Ways to Get Off, But Should We Regulate the Sex Industry?

Redneck Renaissance: A Coterie of Journalists Turn Cracker Culture into a Leisure Lifestyle

Safety at Stake

Swing Shift: Sexual Liberation is Back in Style

Time Machines

Too Black

Media 

The Big Dump: CP’s New Operational Plan Leaves Critics with Questions Aplenty

Channel Regulation: Swedes will Fight Children’s Advertising all the Way

Do TV Porn Channels Degrade and Humiliate?

Is the UK Rushing to Watch TV Porn? 

Playboy ‘is not for sad and lonely single men’

TV’s Moral Guide in Question – Again

UK Laws on Satellite Porn Among Toughest in Europe

Undercurrents: A Cancellation at CBC TV Raises a Host of Issues for the Future

Special Reports

From Special Report: NMM (New Media Markets) Spotlight on the Emergence of Satellite Porn Channels in the UK

From Special Report: Sexual Dealing: Today’s Sex Toys Are Credit Cards & Cash: A Report on the Sex-for-Money Revolution

United Nations

Freedom of Expression: Introducing Investigative Journalism to Local Media in Mongolia

Starting from Scratch: The Challenge of Transition

State of Decay: Haiti Turns to Free-market Economics and the UN to Save Itself

Traffic Signs Bring Safety to the Streets

Magazines

Watch Magazine

Id Magazine

Newsletters

Hannah Institute for the History of Medicine

New Media Markets

Screen Finance

Blue Sky Bulletin

Other Resources

Ger Magazine: Issue 1

Ger Magazine: Issue 2

In Their Own Words: Selected Writings by Journalists on Mongolia, 1997-1999 (ISBN 99929-5-043-9) 

Mongolian Rock and Pop Book (ISBN 99929-5-018-8) 

Wild East: Travels in the New Mongolia (ISBN 1-55022-434-4)

Timeline 

1991: Begin career as investigative journalist and editor.

1992: Work as a Medical and Health Reporter for Today’s Seniors and as an Investigative Journalist for Now Magazine. Work as Editor and Writer for the Hannah Institute for the History of Medicine’s newsletter. 

1993: Published in many publications, including The Toronto Star, Canadian Living and This Magazine.

1994: Work on re-launch of Watch Magazine 2.0 and its expansion (see Case Study 2). 

1995: Work as reporter for two Financial Times newsletters in London, UK.

1996: Work on re-launch of Watch Magazine 3.0 and its expansion. Begin work at Id Magazine as its Features Editor (see Case Study 3).

1997: Begin two-year assignment with the United Nations mission in Mongolia (see Case Study 4). 

Testimonials 

David South … proved himself to be a penetrating, thorough and hard-working journalist. He produced a lot of very good stories …” Neil McCartney, Editor, Screen Finance, Telecom Markets and Mobile Communications, London, UK

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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Man Out Of Time: The World Once Turned On The Ideas Of This Guelph Grad, But Does The Economist John Kenneth Galbraith Know The Way Forward?

By David South

Id Magazine (Canada), January 23 to February 5, 1997

It was with hungry enthusiasm that I rushed to hear the great liberal economist John Kenneth Galbraith speak. It was with enormous disappointment that I found a genius emptied of solutions to the current political battles in today’s Ontario.

For those unfamiliar with Galbraith, think of him as a hybrid of the liberalism of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau and the manner of Jimmy Stewart. Now 88, the former Guelph agricultural economist became a servant of the US government just as president Franklin Roosevelt was beginning to introduce the New Deal – today’s rusting welfare state – as a solution to the cruel hardships imposed on Americans as a result of the Great Depression. Galbraith rode out the Second World War in a senior government position as Roosevelt’s price-control czar. He later advised Democratic presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, before seeing his influence in American economic thought wane under Ronald Reagan’s Republicans.

Galbraith has long followed the ideas of British economist John Maynard Keynes, who believed goverments should keep money tight in good times, but should spend their way out of bad times to avoid undue hardship. Galbraith also made the plight of the poor one of the pillars of his economic theory, and criticized the unnecessary appetites and demands created by the goliath American advertizing industry. He has supported wage and price controls and once, in the 1930s, even wanted to join the American Communist Party.

Last week, Galbraith breezed into Toronto with his ivy league roadshow. Speaking to a stodgy crowd of liberals (and Liberals, including former prime minister Pierre Trudeau and failed Ontario leadership candidate Gerrard Kennedy) at the University of Toronto, Galbraith was at an institution that comes as close as Canada gets to his current stomping ground, Harvard.

Symbolically, Galbraith couldn’t have visited Ontario at a better time. The Conservative government of Mike Harris is in the middle of an ambitious campaign to reverse everything that Galbraith has stood for: budget deficits to avoid depressions; social programmes to prevent poverty; taxes on the rich to fund those programmes; government policy subservient to public good. Harris oozes contempt out of every pore for the pillars of Galbraith’s thinking. In fact Ontario, once the bedrock of Canadian liberalism, is now joining Alberta in dismantling the welfare state.

A graduate of the University of Guelph when it was still the Ontario Agricultural School, Galbraith took his bitter memories of farming in southern Ontario to the University of California, Berkeley and subsequently to the Roosevelt government.

In his day, Galbraith was amongst a rare species of mainstream economists that earned respect from the once-abundant Marxists who cluttered universities. Not that the Marxists liked his compromises and complicity with the American government, or his assertions that he could save capitalism. But they thought he softened up the system for some body blows to be delivered by the workers’ revolution.

I am a member of a generation that grew up on government largesse, well-funded public schools, family allowance, university grants, and make-work progammes. But we have seen a lot of that eroded over the past eight years, during a period of high unemployment not seen since the Depression. It was time to see if this titan of liberal thought had something new to say.

Galbraith’s talk had two main points: the market economy is the best system going; he supports a guaranted minimum salary to prevent poverty. Other than that, Galbraith’s speech was a rehash of the same ideas he has been mulling over for the past 50-plus years. It could be called Liberalism 101.

His speech was peppered with euphamisms like the “socially concerned.” Perhaps he was pulling his punches so as not to offend the “distinguished” audience. The most exciting moments displayed his dry wit: “In the United States , the war against the poor having now been won,” or “We, the socially concerned, do not seek the euthanasia of the rentier class.”

He struck out against annual balanced budgets because they have been used as an excuse in the US to cut off benefits to the poor. He also slammed the globalization-uber-alles philosophy that sees welfare policies as uncompetitive – a sentiment that doesn’t seem to be in vogue these days with liberals. Last week, Prime Minister Jean Chretien told the South Koreans they need to remove jobs-for-life provisions to join the global marketplace.

His ideas and his approach to communicating those ideas come from a special historical time. A time when governments under pressure from trade unions and the far-left and right political parties decided to make capitalism a little friendlier. But they needed advisers who could speak the language of the elite. Eloquent, confident, pragmatic – advisers who felt comfortable in the courts of the democratic government. They didn’t want hot-headed union guys or hectoring left-wing demagogues.

Galbraith takes credit for civilizing capitalism and ensuring its survival: “It would not have survived had it not been for our successful civilizing efforts. We, the socially concerned, are the custodians of the political tradition and action that saved classical capitalism from itself. We are frequently told to give credit where credit is due. Let us accept it when it is ours.”

Galbriath’s economic theories have always been grounded by morality, preferring to avoid being a servant to flow charts. It is his most insightful side. When many fear to speak in broad terms about current economic problems, where many fear to make connections, Galbraith has pieced the complex puzzle together, much to the frustration of those who believe capitalism should be left unfettered. It is his worthiest legacy.

The Galbraith Interview

You point out it is reforms that have given capitalism a new lease on life. What policies would alleviate the worst aspects of today’s capitalism?

We still have the oldest problem. (That is) to eliminate the cruelties that are inherent in the system. In the United States, and I imagine also in Canada, we still have the terrible problems of the urban poor, of the people who do not make it. I see one of the central tasks of our time is to do two things: to provide a safety net so that in a modern rich society we don’t let people starve, and that we provide the means for escape from urban poverty.

How would you elliminate poverty?

No novelty about that. Two things are absolutely essential. One, that there be a basic safety net. That we accept in a modern society that there has to be a level of income below which people are not allowed to go. I do not join this attack on welfare, this notion the poor should be allowed to starve. Another thing is a strong educational system, which allows people to escape from poverty in the next generation. Those are the two absolute essentials.

Should government just concentrate on ending poverty and abandon universal programmes like public health care?

You can always have a conversation that separates itself from the reality. I think in Canada if some politician or some political group wanted to repeal the health system, they would soon find themselves in considerable disfavour. If they were committed to allowing the poor to starve, they would get a reputation for cruelty that no civilized society would tolerate. And if they started saving money on the schools, as some already have, we would find out how absolutely essential good education is for economic and social well-being. So we have a difference between what is possible in oratory and what is possible in reality … When the axing comes, it is a good deal less popular than it is in the previous rhetoric.

Who do you think, within or outside political movements, represents the socially concerned today?

I don’t speak generally on this. There is in all countries a substantial voting and politically expressive group. In the United States it is the political left, in Britain it is the Labour Party, in France it is the socialists, in Germany the social democrats. They are broadly committed to the welfare state and I think will remain so.

Would you include the Liberal Party in Canada amongst those?

I would include a substantial part of the Liberal Party in the United States. The Liberal Party in Canada, like the Democrats in the United States, have a double orientation, on one hand to the welfare state and on the other hand a more centrist attitude. Both parties have an internal problem to resolve.

Do you think they have lost interest in the welfare state?

To some extent I regret that. We must take some responsibility for human suffering and human well-being.

You don’t see that with the Democrat Party?

I prefer it to the Republicans.

Are some of these policies like welfare reform in the US making it harder for the poor?

I was not in favour of welfare reform.

I grew up in a very poor household but was able to go to the University of Toronto because of various government policies. In fact, they have kept me from destitution. You have written about a culture of contentment that prevents further social reforms. Will it whither?

Those of us who have been associated with the welfare state have made a lot of people comfortable, happy and conservative. We have undermined our own political influence by our success.

Do you think current levels of high unemployment and economic stagnation might erode that contentment?

No, if we suffer another recession there will be a desperate effort to have the government do something about it. The present conservatism is an aspect of good times. We had it in the 1980s under Reagan.

Are we still in good times?

We still have a lot of people who have a problem. We should have sympathy.

Do you see any political parties in Canada who defend the welfare state?

I’ve lived all my life in the the United States and I’ve always avoided coming back to give Canada advice. As I said in my lecture, anybody who does that should have stayed in Canada for his own lifetime. Let Canadians look after their affairs in Canada.

You said the socially concerned don’t seek income equality. I guess that is where you split with socialists?

I accept the inevitable, that people are going to be different in aspirations, ability and luck and probably different in parentage. All of this is going to mean differences in income.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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TV’s Moral Guide In Question – Again

By David South

Id Magazine (Canada), November 28-December 11, 1996

Television programmers are under attack once again. Thanks to Guelph activist Patricia Herdman’s Coalition for Responsible Televsion (CORT), two violent television shows – Poltergeist (CTV) and Millennium (Fox/Global) – have lost several advertisers in recent weeks due to pressure from CORT. It’s just another wave in a new assault on the immorality of television.

Positive Entertainment Alternatives for Children Everywhere (PEACE), a Montreal group founded after the murder of 14 young women in that city in 1989, staged a press conference last week, complete with sweet-faced children, to announce its “Toxic TV” list. Who is toxic? Old favourites like Bugs Bunny, Batman and Robin and The Simpsons. PEACE also produced a list of “Positive” TV shows. It included a wrist-slashing selection of insipid programming, such as Barney and Friends, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Kratt’s Creature.

But critics of television overlook the strong and often simplistic moral messages that infuse most programming. Some even argue the mostly Judeo-Christian morality comes at the expense of atheistic and agnostic perspectives.

University of Guelph philosophy professor Jay Newman argues that religious moralists are making television the scapegoat for all of society’s ills.

He argues television, rather than being a moral vacuum, is heavily influenced by Judeo-Christain values – often in shows many people don’t suspect.

Newman sharply criticizes religious moralists, who he says, neglect to observe the same contradictions in their own beliefs that they see in television.

In Newman’s view, religion shares many sins with television. Religion promotes passivity (“The meek shall inherit the earth”), disrupts family life (who needs to talk to that “immoral” gay brother/sister?), does a questionable job of moral education, invents celebrities (the saints), sacrifices spiritual wisdom for meaningless ritual and entertainment (the Mass), and promotes violent behaviour (who can forget the Crusades or the Spanish Inquisition?).

Leaning back in his chair at his University of Guelph office, the irascible New York-born Newman enthusiastically defends television.

“When we assess TV as bad,” he says, “I’m not convinced religion is the only moral teacher, and it has not been the best moral teacher. Religion has been a very important force of hatred, whereas Star Trek teaches us to respect other cultures.

“TV has been of great value in promoting pluralism and an increase in tolerance.”

Newman isn’t talking about gore-soaked TV like Poltergeist and Millennium, shows he says speak more about their producers than about the medium of television. “Wanton slaughter can’t be blamed on TV. But I do agree with psychologists that some television inures us to violence.”

He sees Star Trek as a moral force for both pluralism and tolerance, strong values that are essential to democracies with many ethnic, cultural and racial groups. “This show promotes tolerance towards people who appear different. It shows aliens have aspirations and desires just like us.”

Newman does take offence to one race of aliens on the popular series: the Ferengi. While the Ferengi are supposed to be the equivalent of used car dealers in Star Trek’s universe, they draw criticism from Newman for their anti-semitic undertones. But even here, says Newman, TV can’t beat the pantheon of Christain anti-semites.

As for the bumbling antics of Bart Simpson and his dad Homer, Newman says The Simpsons also contain positive morals. “The Simpsons teaches us to accept the foibles of others and empathize. It does it in a gentle way without passing a very austere judgement.”

Newman even sees hope in the dreamy world of daytime soap operas. They teach people to develop empathy. They also use negative role models to show that hatred and contempt backfire on people; that promiscuity and adultry don’t come without a cost.”

As for Seinfeld, a sitcom about a group of friends who seem to never do anything, Newman says, “I’m a New Yorker and I can’t sit through it.”

Newman, an expert on religious fanaticism and hypocrisy, has responded to religious critics of television in his new book, appropriately titled Religion vs. Television. Newman sees religious critics of television as at best hypocrites, at worst specious claimants to higher moral ground.

“[Religious leaders] make judgements to show the usefulness of their institutions in an attempt to restore the lustre of religious authority.”

Newman believes the debate surrounding violence on TV is misguided. He believes the root causes of violence should be dealt with first.

“Television is a convenient scapegoat. Its criticism parallels religious bigotry. They don’t focus on the individual, just the medium. And this is accepted by people who call themselves liberal!”

TV immoral?

But critics of TV say any decent moral messages that slip through are undermined by television’s subservience to a higher God: consumerism. For Rose Anne Dyson of Canadians Concerned About Violence in Television (C-CAVE), this corrupted morality can’t be ignored. “There is only one over-riding religion today: consumerism. Its main purveyor is TV.

“Television is a major socializer today. Parents and teachers are key to modifying that influence. But most if television is very bad and just teaches consumer-driven values. There isn’t a single children’s programme that isn’t infused with commercial values.”

Dyson believes the negative effects aren’t just psychological. “Watching too much TV is bad – it causes obesity and hyperactivity.”

Dyson’s claims were recently backed by a new study showing unhealthy minds may lead to unhealthy bodies. A study conducted by Columbia University claimed the more that children watched TV, the fatter they got. Researcher Dr Barbara Dennison found children who watched 14 hours of television a week had diets with 35 per cent of their calories from fat. The study blamed the high representation of junk food in television ads and the fact they promoted couch potato dining. Canadian children on average watch 18 hours a week of television.

Dyson does agree with Newman’s criticism of organized religions’ spurious claims to higher ground. “Judeo-Christian religions have gotten us into a lot of trouble!”

To control this morally wayward TV, Dyson looks forward to more entertainment conglomerates self-regulating their programming. “The cornerstone of democracy is to obey rules.

“A lot of cultural studies people tend to underestimate the impact of TV – there is too much of a value-free approach.”

Id was published in Guelph, Ontario, Canada in the 1990s.

Further Reading:

Channel Regulation: Swedes Will Fight Children’s Advertising All The Way

From Special Report: NMM (New Media Markets) Spotlight On The Emergence Of Satellite Porn Channels In The UK

Undercurrents: A Cancellation At CBC TV Raises A Host Of Issues For The Future

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021