MEDIA WATCH

Discovering the great Abroad

‘It is certain that more Canadians have been assigned overseas in the past year than ever before—even during the two world wars’

GEORGE BAIN January 22 1990
MEDIA WATCH

Discovering the great Abroad

‘It is certain that more Canadians have been assigned overseas in the past year than ever before—even during the two world wars’

GEORGE BAIN January 22 1990

Discovering the great Abroad

MEDIA WATCH

‘It is certain that more Canadians have been assigned overseas in the past year than ever before—even during the two world wars’

GEORGE BAIN

The Great World Outside has not historically been a strong interest of Canadian journalism. Until recently, most foreign news came via outside agencies, including the London-based Reuters news service and, in the United States, Associated Press, United Press and The New York Times. In the middle 1930s, to send a staff reporter abroad was so rare an event that when The Evening Telegram in 1936 assigned Robinson MacLean to cover the doomed Ethiopian resistance to Italy’s invasion, the war of Evelyn Waugh’s novel Scoop, the newspaper hailed its reporter’s safe return with a grand celebratory dinner, at which he was presented with a set of rawhide luggage. (As he was not then, nor did he become, a career foreign correspondent, the choice of gift was purely symbolic.) Even postwar, only a few of the largest Canadian newspapers, news agencies, magazines and broadcast outlets maintained staff correspondents abroad, and those mainly in London and Washington.

That Situation has been changing slowly over a long time, but with a spurt in the exceptional circumstances of the past year— the events in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, the downfall of one authoritarian regime after another in Eastern Europe and such less apocalyptic occurrences as attempted coups in the Philippines, the badly judged U.S. invasion of Panama and more of the endless violence in the Middle East. No figures are available, but it is certain that more Canadians have been assigned abroad in the past year than ever before, two world wars included. Jim Poling, managing editor and vice-president/news, of The Canadian Press, said, “I just have to look at my budget.”

Reaction to events is not the whole story. The number of Canadian correspondents posted abroad has grown—“posted” as distinct from being sent for a few days or weeks on spot assignment. In 1973, as guest speaker at the CP annual meeting, Mitchell Sharp, then external affairs minister, chided the media for not giving

Canadians more world news as seen by Canadians. “It would be a great contribution to the intelligent discussion of our international affairs,” he said, “to have a greater proportion of our international news reports written with a Canadian readership in mind.” In the 17 years since, for one example, Southam News, which serves 15 Southam newspapers and seven nonSoutham newspapers in Canada and, indirectly, 50 others in the United States, has more than doubled the scope of its world coverage. It maintains bureaus in London, Washington, Moscow, Hong Kong (jointly with The Vancouver Sun), the Middle East, Latin America, Africa and, opened on Jan. 16, Warsaw.

The Globe and Mail, which for a long time had three bureaus, in Washington, London and Beijing, now has nine, with 11 correspondents. CBC TV news has five—London, Washington, Moscow, Beijing and the Middle East—and two referred to as ad hoc bureaus, in India and South Africa. But the itineraries of some CBC TV correspondents covering just the Eastern Europe story for The National illustrate best how that turmoil scattered correspondents: Claude Adams, East and West Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary; Patrick Brown, Poland, East Germany, Roma-

nia and Hungary; Joe Schlesinger, from Washington to Czechoslovakia; Jean-François Lepine, reporting to both Englishand Frenchlanguage networks from East Germany; Gillian Findlay, Czechoslovakia and Romania; Michael Mclvor, London-based radio reporter, filing for television from Hungary, East Germany, Romania and Poland; Don Murray, reporting from Moscow; and Peter Mansbridge, anchor for The National, at the Berlin Wall and, for the visit of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, in Moscow. That leaves aside reporters for such programs as The Journal and Sunday Morning.

The question that will test the dedication of the Canadian media is, “What now?” History shows that the implicit suggestion of “revolution,” a short, sharp break with the past, is false. The Bolshevik Revolution is dated October, 1917, but the dispersal to Siberia in the late 1920s of prosperous peasants who refused to join collective farms and Stalin’s purges of millions of alleged dissidents in the late 1930s were related aftershocks. The French last year celebrated the bicentennial of their revolution in 1789, but with various subsidiary upheavals, including the restoration of the Bourbons midway, the process could not be said to have been completed within 60 years. The U.S. Declaration of Independence is dated 1776, but an American historian speaks of “the decade of the revolutionary constitution-making.”

There is every reason to believe that what has occurred in the newest great revolution has been just the beginning. Not only are political parties and governments having to be formed where there is no experience of either for more than 40 years, but in some cases, including Romania, in countries where no democratic tradition exists. On top of that, most of the countries involved have severe economic problems. The big dramatic stories taken care of, what remains is to make understandable the prosaic, but even more important, stuff of how the promise of the recent change is to be secured—if it is.

The Toronto Star has already posted Alan Ferguson as its first resident correspondent in Budapest; coverage of Europe as a whole will be shared between there, London and Moscow, with Ferguson’s prime focus the East. The head of Southam’s new Warsaw bureau is Kitty McKinsey. She is a multilingual Ottawan who has been in Eastern Europe for the Detroit Free Press. The Globe is postponing the opening of a Middle East bureau to put another person, not yet named, in London to beef up coverage in Europe. At least two newspapers with neither the resources of the Star nor the national aspirations of the Globe, The Vancouver Sun and the Winnipeg Free Press, have announced plans to send staff reporters soon to Eastern Europe on short-term assignment. There probably are others. Both CTV and the CBC are looking at covering the Eastern Europe story as it unfolds not in terms of whether, but from where and with whom. Similarly, Maclean ’s.

It may be that Canadian journalism has jumped the fence and finally, irrevocably, discovered the great Abroad. Pity, though, that proprietors have stopped handing out rewards of rawhide luggage for successful assignments.