Lecture turns spotlight to long-ignored trial

Western News file photo

The story had all the right ingredients – two high-profile names pitted against one another; calls of defamation and slander; a resultant court case that ended in a $260,000 payout. But the trial went largely uncovered as it unfolded.

This month’s Faculty of Information and Media Studies (FIMS) #PublicInterest Lecture unfolds the legal battle of Canadian journalists Don Martin and Arthur Kent, examining the coverage the trial received as well as its implications for the media and public. The lecture aims to address the consequences of inadequate reporting and downsized newsrooms, exposing the economic realities of media ownership in Canada that influence news coverage.

In 2008, Martin published, in two major Canadian newspapers and dozens of online publications, an unflattering article of Kent, then running for the Conservative Party in Alberta’s provincial election. The article – which Martin contended was an opinion piece but was ruled a news piece in court – called Kent a “dud scud” and raised serious questions about his abilities and his character. A major defamation suit followed; testimony was captivating but Canadian newsrooms left the trial nearly untouched, with only one media organization sending a reporter to cover the story.

“The tone (of the article) was caustic and sarcastic. The content was very damning and Kent charged that his reputation was harmed,” said FIMS lecturer Meredith Levine, who will deliver the #PublicInterest Lecture, Where Have all the Reporters gone? Hook-ups and Break-ups in the Canadian Media, at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 29 in the London Public Library, Masonville Branch, 30 N. Centre Road.

Levine examined court transcripts alongside the available coverage and found gaps and biases present in reporting. Theoretically, this is something we attribute to conglomeration and the downsizing of newsrooms, she noted, but there are great implications for this outside of the media sphere.

“It’s the consequences of ignorance – we don’t even know now what we don’t know. You have people deeply interested in the media and the news, who were not really aware that a very consequential trial like this was going on,” Levine said, noting when she spoke at the Canadian Communication Association in Calgary this past spring, there were local media and journalism scholars in the audience who didn’t know about the trial.

“What wasn’t covered was going on in Alberta’s own back yard. We’re really putting our democracies at risk.”

Part of the third annual FIMS #PublicInterest Lecture Series, in partnership with the London Public Library, Levine’s will be the first lecture of this season.