_the newspaper_ (University of Toronto)
April 8, 2004
My name is Noel Semple, and I’m a campus pressaholic. I lurk beside news-stands in libraries; I memorize publication schedules. There are dozens of U of T student papers, none of them are too obscure or too typographically shoddy to be worth picking up. There’s only one paper that even I won’t read. You’ve probably seen it, towering in forlorn, untouched piles-the University of Toronto Bulletin.
The Bulletin is produced by paid employees of the University’s Department of Public Affairs. A quick glance through its bleached white pages, and you’ll notice that it has a nicer print job and fewer typos than any other U of T paper. Read an article or two, and you’ll also notice that it’s unmitigated administration propaganda, mendaciously disguised as a legitimate newspaper.
Like most modern propaganda, the Bulletin reads like literary chloroform. The March 22 issue dedicated three columns to the “Steacie Fellowships,” obscure government grants recently awarded to U of T scientists. Any journalist worth their salt would know that this story is simply not news-worthy. There’s no conflict, no controversy, no relevance to readers. However, the story contributes in some minor way to the Administration’s dogged, tedious “Harvard of the North” public-relations campaign. That’s all it takes for a story to meet the journalistic standards of The Bulletin.
The U of T Administration certainly has the right to present its message. Most organizations do so with press releases, which responsible and independent journalists consider along with opposing viewpoints before writing balanced stories.
The Bulletin skips the responsibility, the independence, and the balance. It publishes-verbatim-U of T press releases, but dresses them up with the familiar trappings of newspapers: pictures, a masthead, and by-lines. But lipstick on the pig doesn’t change the nature of the beast.
The beast oinked loudly when the Bulletin covered the University’s 2004-2005 Budget projections last month. The hard-hitting headline screamed: “University takes Prudent Approach.” Headlines usually telegraph editorial bias, and this was no exception. The “article” was nothing but a series of quotes from administration mouthpiece Vivek Goel.
In a free country like Canada, disguising propaganda as legitimate journalism is unacceptable. The CBC is a crown corporation, but it’s rigorously independent from the federal government. Suppose Ottawa obliged the CBC to limit its federal budget coverage to slavish paraphrase and unquestioning quotation of the Finance Minister. That would put Canada in a league with China and Cuba, where public media are mere extensions of the government misinformation machine. So what does the Bulletin’s unquestioning support for the administration say about free speech at U of T?
Detailed university finances are kept secret, so it’s impossible to know how many of our tuition dollars are being used to bring the Bulletin to the masses. But even the advertisements from local businesses in the paper damage U of T journalism. Student publications like the newspaper and your college paper compete for this same pool of advertising to survive. Every ad dollar which supports the Bulletin’s camouflaged propaganda campaign could be and should be supporting the independent student press.
If Simcoe Hall wants to attempt indoctrination of the faculty, that’s their business. Put an email from the Public Affairs department listing every last research grant and lauding the glorious prudence of Provost Goel’s budget in every staff member’s inbox. But dressing up press-releases with pretty pictures and pretending it’s journalism is an insult to Canadian traditions of press freedom. Using tuition money and undermining student newspapers to fund this production adds insult to injury. It’s time to close the propaganda press at U of T.