The last few years of sensationalized reporting on the apparent demise of Canwest has been unwarranted. A lot of the hype is rooted in the context surrounding the issue being presented in technical terms and information being explained in black and white.
The characterisation of Canwest as a company going bankrupt, for example, is preposterous. Canwest never filed for bankruptcy protection or bankruptcy. It actually filed for creditor protection. Is this just a technical difference and I’m being anal? No. The difference in definition means the difference between Canwest sinking or swimming, “Do not confuse court-ordered protection from creditors (commonly referred to as bankruptcy protection) with a bankruptcy filing. Under court-ordered protection, the company is trying to continue operating. In a bankruptcy filing, an insolvent company is liquidated by a trustee” reads a report by the CBC. The situation got so bad it caught the attention of Canwest management. “This is not bankruptcy,” the company’s vice president John Douglas said, “Bankruptcy is liquidation and this is not at all what this is.”
Look, the business section can be, at times, boring to read. But altering the news to make it more controversial for the purpose of arousing interest, when it means pretending a company is going bankrupt when it is merely restructuring, is no solution.
It’s scary how media outlets – large and small – have failed to exercise sagacity in regards to the use of terms. The New York Times published an article with a headline that reads “Canwest Newspaper Unit Files for Bankruptcy.” That’s plain disturbing. Although, in accurate fashion befitting it’s high standards, the Times eventually asserted Canwest filed for bankruptcy protection rather than bankruptcy in the body of the article. But why have a heading that evokes the conglomerate committing suicide, which is the function of a bankruptcy filing rather than staying afloat as is the case with bankruptcy protection? The semantics belonging to each term are in diametric opposition to one another.
In light of the current recession, business journalism should focus less on being controversial and more on being informative and detail-oriented since they’re reporting events that affect people with families and children to feed. On this note, the CBC report on the reorganizing process of the company was right to say, “Canadian companies under CCAA [the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act – which governs court protection} usually must abide by existing [labour] contracts,” because it legitimately suggests employees won’t have to endure further mass layoffs like the ones that took place across Canwest outlets in 2007.
In bad times like these, we need good news. The truth of the matter can not get lost in concise but inaccurate terms. Or in silence.
Media should make more mention of a possible restructured and profitable Canwest, talk more about how Canwest’s generous amount of court-protection is akin to the now profitable, but formerly court-protected company Algoma Steel.
Perhaps this country’s news reporters should emphasize Canwest’s profitability and soothe undue panic among employees, like the one issued by McMillan LLP, the legal counsel to Canwest debt holders, which reads, “It was determined there is value in acquiring the whole of Canwest LP business.” And adds the restructuring process “would retain substantially all of Canwest LP’s employees and would assume all existing collective bargaining agreements and obligations related to rank-and-file employee pensions and benefits.”
Black and white reporting on matters such as the “demise” of Canwest should be left alone. It conveys an excessively gloomy picture on the very bread and butter of a company’s employees and stakeholders. Journalist Grant Robertson of the Globe and Mail quoted an analyst with regard to the survival of Canwest: “they’re fucked,” he said. Unfortunately, the careless use of important definitions by other journalists simply regurgitates this inaccurate message.