On Sunday March 18 over 30,000 people marched on the streets of Montreal in support of the student protests. Publicized as a “family protest”, families walked in support of students fighting the Charest government’s proposed tuition fee increases and educational policies that will make universities more dependent on generating revenue from the private sector.
Le Devoir covered the demonstration with images of people festooned in red, carrying balloons and banners. Analyses accompanied coverage of the march. In contrast, The Montreal Gazette covered the St Patrick’s Day parade with nary a mention of the demonstration. It was as if it didn’t happen or was inconsequential. The absence of images or discussion in the english-language paper spoke volumes of the way The Gazette more generally covers protests and demonstrations, giving them attention only when they turn violent (as in their coverage of the anti-police brutality march), a set of stories that systematically ignored the involvement of protestors themselves in trying to control and contain the actions of a handful of protestors. The Gazette typically focuses on how demonstrations disrupt the smooth flow of traffic, causing terrible inconveniences for the ‘average citizen’. The stories cover the use of police force, but legitimate it through the emphasis on acts of violence that must be quelled to protect commerce and ‘the public’.
The paper’s position on the student demonstrations, and fee hikes, was made manifest in an ‘article’ by Henry Aubin titled “As students protest the rest of us pay”.
Hardly an objective piece of journalism, the ‘article’ argues that the price of extra policing for demonstrations should be assumed by the demonstrators, who should be allowed one or two demonstrations (for free) but not any more “on the public dime”. The position of the students, which is clearly collectivist and critical, are dismissed as “being for profit”- they want to line “their pockets” at “our expense”. In line with this dismissive attitude, and logic of “us” and “them”, student actions yesterday (Mount Royal Park) were condescendingly referred to as “a caper”.
Absence of coverage; partisan editorializing masquerading as an “article”. These news stories, of they can be called news at all, point to the rift in the english and french language media over the coverage of the student strike these past two weeks.