Keeping the Media Occupied

When was your last déjà-vu moment? Mine happened just this morning as I opened my mailbox. The most recent issue of l’Actualité had arrived. The cover, announcing a special report on the Occupy movement, seemed vaguely familiar.

Then it hit me — L’Actualité’s Anglophone cousin, the esteemed Maclean’s, had just featured the same story. A comparison is inevitable: these two major Canadian current-affairs magazines follow the same format, are owned by the same company and right now they’re tackling the same issue. But their approaches are very different.

The Maclean’s cover depicts the protesters as an anonymous nocturnal horde armed with rude signs. By comparison, its Quebec counterpart displays an attractive, bearded young man, smiling in front of his tent. He calmly sips a cup of coffee against a charming autumnal background. This guy could be your local barista.

The differences continue inside. While l’Actualité provides a balanced portrait of the occupiers and their demands, Maclean’s offers a pointed opinion piece by Andrew Coyne. He chastises the occupiers for their envy, for their attack on Canadian meritocracy and for their unsophisticated economics.

It’s tempting to see L’Actualité’s friendlier treatment of the occupiers as reflecting the strong social-democratic tradition of the Belle Province. But bear in mind that the first (and as of this date, the only) elected official to order the expulsion of any Occupy protesters is Régis Labeaume, the mayor of Quebec City.

The French, as well as the English articles are worth reading. The Occupy movement is responding to a real problem, namely social inequality. The protesters’ numbers and enthusiasm may fluctuate, their tactics may change and the effectiveness of their actions might vary. But the movement is forcing the news media to focus on some frequently neglected issues. It’s also giving birth to new forms of political participation and engaging a whole new generation of citizens — precisely the kind of young people so often accused of apathy.


Translated from the original French by Jamie McLennan. © 2011 Gaston Murdock

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