Enter Stage Right hands out its awards...

The Earth is Flat Award

A celebration of the inane, insipid and asinine...

web posted January 24, 2000

I could be tempted to give this week's Earth is Flat Award to Canada's media, but what would be the point?

This week saw some interesting coverage of events by our media. The biggest story may have been a package of $12 million in tax relief offered -- and then rescinded just days later after caterwauling of protest by everyone -- to Canada's six NHL teams so they don't flee to cities like Portland. The second story was a move by the federal government to mandate new graphic cigarette packages, ones that will include warnings of impotence for men and pictures of diseased lungs and rotting teeth to warn the last person left on Earth who didn't know that smoking wasn't healthy.

Both are important stories but almost forgotten in the mad rush over the Ottawa Senators and cigarettes was untold money which might have been misspent by Human Resources.

Yes, an internal audit of the ministry revealed had it handed out funds without checking who they were going to and how the money had been spent.

The audit, which reviewed 459 projects in seven programs which are worth roughly C$3 billion a year, uncovered a mass of slipshod paperwork and sloppy supervision.

It discovered that in 80 percent of cases, no one had bothered to check whether the government grants had been used as intended. Two-thirds of files did not explain why a project had been accepted or rejected. A staggering 25 percent of files did not contain an explanation of what the requested grant was for while 15 percent of requests for money had been granted without an application form being submitted first.

There was also evidence that money intended for job creation schemes had instead been spent on gifts, bonuses, travel and expensive meals.

Worse of all, perhaps, is the fact that Human Resources Minister Jane Stewart knew about the problems in her backyard in August 1999 and repeatedly denied there were problems to her bosses, the Canadian public.

So who gets the award? The media or the federal government. Does it matter?

web posted January 17, 2000

National Geographic isn't the type of magazine to court controversy and start new trends, but a number of years ago it did exactly those things.

The magazine's editors decided to digitally alter a picture of Egypt's Sphinx so that a pyramid appeared where one did not actually exist. The move prompted predictions of a Blade Runner-like future with high-tech tools used to create whatever reality a media organization wanted to present to viewers. News outfits, however, swore strenuously that they would never use the technology irresponsibly.

As a journalist I believe that the technology should rarely -- if ever -- be used. The job of a news outfit and the individual journalist is to present reality. Admittedly, any representation of reality is subjective in nature since our personal biases sometimes sneak themselves in and "distort" the picture we are trying to paint, but the use of digital technology to make something more real than real is a whole different ball game.

The New York Times reported last week that CBS News uses digital technology to project images during programs like The Early Show and 48 Hours. It also used that technology during its coverage of New Year's Eve celebrations in New York's Times Square where the image of a billboard ad for CBS News was inserted over a Budweiser ad and the large NBC screen under the New Year's ball.

Of course, it isn't the first time that such technology was used during news coverage. In 1994, ABC journalist Cokie Roberts appeared in front of a picture of Capitol Hill. Wearing a coat indoors in the network's Washington bureau, Roberts was introduced by ABC News anchor Peter Jennings as reporting from the Capitol. Neither network viewers nor Jennings knew that Roberts was indoors.

What makes the technology noxious is the fact that no one is told when it's being used. Logos and digitally altered imagery are everywhere on television and digitally altered photographs have even appeared in newspapers. As I write this, the broadcast of a football game on Canada's Global TV features a digitally created blimp flying over the stadium...complete with corporate logos. Does it exist? Some people have been fooled. So much for reality.

The use of digital imagery in news broadcasts is a trend that has to stop. The media's name is already smeared by cries of bias and the last thing it needs is to promote that bias by creating a virtual reality, the very thing it is supposed to fight against. Tell the truth and show reality the way it is.

The Vinegar in Freedom Award

There is an old Serbian proverb that says vinegar in freedom tastes better than honey in slavery. This award is meant for events and people Enter Stage Right considers to be positive.

web posted January 24, 2000

Somebody had to say it and no one could be more appropriate then the perennially irascible Senator Jesse Helms.

On January 20, 2000, the self-described southern gentleman went to the United Nations Security Council and gave them a polite and firm dressing down. It seems that Helms has had enough of the U.N.'s dreams of governing the entire planet and some people's efforts to make the United States subservient to the U.N.

"They see the U.N. aspiring to establish itself as the central authority of a new international order of global laws and global governance. This is an international order the American people will not countenance. I guarantee you!" Helms told the Security Council and 100 ambassadors.

"[T]the American people will never accept the claims of the United Nations to be the sole source of legitimacy on the use of force in the world."

After years of the U.N. sometimes acting against the interests of freedoms and attacking the U.S. for its occasional unilateral actions, it was refreshing to see a straightforward and unapologetic rebuff to the international body's unspoken agenda. Although Helms has sometimes been a thorn to more moderate Republicans who see him as an uncomfortable reminder of past attitudes, Helms should also remind people of a time when the sovereign authority of the United States -- and every other member nation -- was more important than that of the Secretary General's.

Someone, after all, had to say it to say it.

Have someone you want considered for the Earth is Flat Award or the Vinegar in Freedom Award? Email ESR with your candidates!

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