Protesting a journalism award

A protest is scheduled in Ottawa on Nov. 14 to draw attention to a annual journalism award.

The award at the heart of the protest is the Ross Munro Media Award, which is presented by the Conference of Defence Associations (CDA), a lobby group in the Canadian defence industry.

According to the CDA, the $2500 award is given annually to a reporter “who has made a significant and outstanding contribution to the general public’s  understanding of issues relating to Canada’s defence and security.”

However, the group organizing the protest suggests the award is given “to a reporter for covering military issues favorable to their interests” and that the “CDA’s close association with the military plus the $2500 cash prize encourages pro-military propaganda.”

This year, the award will go to Alec Castonguay from Le Devoir and L’actualité.

The protesters point to an article in The Hill Times that refers to the award as “a media prize that few journalists may actually want to receive” this year. It refers to a controversy surrounding the award and a speech made by John Scott Cowan, the president of the CDA’s charitable segment. In the speech, Cowan said: “[The] media give new depth to the word ‘shallow.’ Unlike 40 years ago when journalists were amongst the best-educated and best-informed citizens, today many of them are neither literate nor numerate, and do us the huge discourtesy of assuming we aren’t either.” The Hill Times piece, written by Steven Staples, president of the Rideau Institute adds:

“The media award and the comments made by the CDA Institute’s
president reveal a deep-seated contradiction within the defence lobby:
it wants to reward coverage by journalists, but deeply distrusts the
journalists themselves.

It’s a common, and disturbing, trend in the discourse of defence
lobby groups that they feel that the desires of the public should have
little bearing on national security. If public opinion doesn’t agree
with their view, they blame the media and the government for not
“explaining” the issue properly…

But the fact is, not only does the CDA need media coverage to
support its policy goals, it also needs it as a condition of its
military funding.

In May, the terms of a five-year $500,000 funding agreement between the CDA and the Department of National Defence were released by the government and reported in The Globe and Mail.
The agreement requires the group to “attain a minimum of 29 media
references to the CDA by national or regional journalists and
reporters” and “attain the publication of a minimum of 15 opinion
pieces (including op-eds and letters to the editor in national or
regional publications).”

It’s easy to understand why some journalists may feel that the CDA’s
relationship with National Defence makes it less independent than it
appears. The agreement recognizes that “The Conference of Defence
Associations’ key objectives are: to consider the problems of National
Defence; [and] to support Government efforts in placing these problems
before the public …”

The protest is scheduled to take place on Friday, Nov. 14 at 5 p.m. at the Booth St. entrance of the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.

UPDATE: The protest is being organized by the Ottawa chapter of the Raging Grannies.