Right in the centre - Is complacency the goal?


By Ken Waddell

Neepawa Banner & Press

In recent years, a trend has developed among the so-called mainstream media. They have taken up two aims. One is to lull people into complacency and the other is to drive people into panic mode. One would think those two goals would be in opposition to one another, but they are, in fact, quite complementary.

Some news stories, by their very nature, are rather sleepy and if the reporter doesn’t dig very deep, it’s easy to pass over the few facts offered. Those kinds of stories will naturally generate complacency. 

Other stories may incite panic. They may be stories about war, mass shootings, COVID-19 and alleged political scandals. There are so many of these panic stories that people, labouring under a severe information overload and with no access to any recourse to actually do anything about the story, also lapse into complacency.

It may not be intentional on anybody’s part, but governments like complacency. Complacent people don’t ask questions, don’t rock the boat, don’t get involved. Obviously, 40 per cent of people are too complacent to even vote in elections. The longer a government or party is in power, the less they actually want to hear from the voters.

I am trying to adopt a co-worker’s advice and avoid major news media outlets and that includes large chunks of Facebook and Twitter. It has become a longstanding joke that if you watch Fox News, you get one story. If you watch CNN, you get an almost opposite story. That said, the two channels usually don’t even feature the same “top” story. It’s interesting that the channels seem to have different important things to try and panic us about.

We have four levels of government in Canada, so there is plenty of news to be uncovered. For Manitobans, the four levels of government are federal (Ottawa), provincial (Winnipeg), municipal and school board. The latter two have the most direct impact on us as citizens, so it’s important that we know about what’s happening at those levels. It’s also at those two levels that it can be hard to get the news out. Local newspapers can only have as many staff as their ad revenue can support. Some newspapers only have a staff of one, some have a few, but none have enough to get all the news out to the public.

Municipalities are required to post their minutes in their offices. To their credit, most municipalities are also posting their minutes online. Some websites are easier to wade through than others.

The Rivers Banner and Neepawa Banner & Press cover many municipalities. As of Monday night this week, Riverdale, Oakview, Elton, Town of Carberry, Glenella-Lansdowne, Alonsa and Ste. Rose had posted their September minutes. Harrison Park, Clanwilliam-Erickson, the Town of Minnedosa, North Cypress-Langford and Westlake-Gladstone had posted their October minutes. Unless I am reading the websites incorrectly, the Town of Neepawa had only posted their August minutes and Rosedale, their July minutes. Minto-Odanah’s website says their minutes are available upon request. McCreary’s last minutes that are on their website are from February.

The municipalities that have posted their October minutes are doing so with the understanding that their minutes will need to be approved at the next meeting of council, but they are getting the draft version out as soon as they can. That’s good. The ones that have only posted their September minutes are waiting until the minutes are approved by council. They could be getting the news of their minutes out in a more timely fashion. As for the Town of Neepawa, Rosedale and McCreary, I am not sure why the delay. Having covered council affairs for over 30 years and having served as a mayor twice, I know staff do get busy and posting minutes to a website may not seem too pressing, but municipal residents should be able to access council minutes as soon as possible. Admittedly, reading council minutes can be a pretty boring matter, but councils should ensure that the decisions they make are available to the public.

It would make sense for towns and municipalities to make a deal with local newspapers and publish their news in an ad. Some places do that. Swan River does it regularly. The Town of Neepawa does it once in a while. All municipal governments advertise mandated items, such as zoning changes and some by-laws, but it would serve the taxpayers well to see what’s happening around the council tables. It’s impossible for a newspaper to attend all council meetings. Local newspapers may have anywhere from three or four councils up to a dozen in their coverage area and the time and cost factor prohibitive.

The province of Manitoba occasionally informs people about what they are doing with our money, but rarely. The federal government rarely advertises what they are doing except when they send money to California for ads on Facebook. 

The system seems generally geared to spreading complacency, which is really sad. One would think that governments at all levels would want to tell us what’s going on, but that isn’t proven out by their actions.

The problem is that lack of information and the complacency it generates doesn’t make for a strong democracy.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this column are the writer’s personal views and are not to be taken as being the view of the Banner & Press staff.