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John Doyle: After the Ghomeshi exposé, where’s the media analysis?

Obligatory full disclosure: Like others, I never liked Jian Ghomeshi much. Coldly polite when encountered, it was clear he was highly sensitive to criticism, perceived or imagined, and super-aware of any mention of him.

In his longest letter of complaint to me, a few years ago, he declared, "You're not a fan of anything i do and have made it clear repeatedly over the years. In your columns you have made fun of my clothing, my words, the way i walk (!), my name, my tv show, my appearances on the hour, and now my stint on radio." Then came a reference to soccer.

It was bizarre. None of it was true. I checked, and there were two sustained references to him in nine years. Since this column appears five days a week, nine years is a lot of columns.

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I wrote back, thanked him for the feedback and said: "But, heavens, I think you exaggerate your role in my columns." I pointed to the two substantial mentions in nine years and concluded, "You can rest assured that you are far from my thoughts."

Now he's in everyone's thoughts. But the revelations about alleged appalling behaviour amount to an exposé, not sustained media criticism or analysis. And that's what we need in Canada. We need it desperately.

We have a relatively small media in Canada. And most of it exists inside a bubble. To call it insular would be an understatement. I was recently in Ireland where the media world is even smaller and has been described as rather like "a gated community." The term applies equally in Canada.

Some analysis has appeared, in this great paper and in other venues, on the work and management culture inside CBC Radio and related issues. These are essentially in reaction to the Ghomeshi story and nail what we lack on a sustained basis – independent analysis and probing of how media organizations operate, how they fail or succeed in coverage.

Most media-related coverage appears as a business story or an entertainment story and adheres to the blueprints of both types of coverage. It's not enough, and sadly, there isn't much support for true analysis. On occasions when this column has interpreted TV coverage of politicians, elections and the relationship between government and TV, there is small applause but a louder noise of disapproval comes from inside Canadian TV itself.

Ghomeshi had no monopoly on hypersensitivity to criticism. The TV industry, from execs to writers, can react with ferocity to analysis or even blunt reviews. And some readers react angrily to the TV critic interpreting political events as they unfold on TV. We're just not used to it. Perhaps we're not up for it.

Some journalism schools offer up their staff to do media analysis, but that usually amounts to interpreting "spin" in a hot news story, which essentially means talking about PR, not journalism or media. Me, I have more or less stopped talking to the student-written Ryerson Review of Journalism because the writers seem to have conclusions wrapped up in advance and have no curiosity about anything that challenges their existing views about television. Besides, most want into that gated community of Canadian media.

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One issue that needs examination is the hierarchy and influence of major Canadian media. My feeling is that Ghomeshi's importance and influence in Canada was highly overestimated, just like his own sense of importance. Charles Adler and what unfolds on his radio show is vastly more relevant in grasping the country. If you're in the PMO and keeping tabs on what Canadians think, you're paying attention to Adler, not to CBC Radio's Q.

Time was the PMO paid close attention to CBC's The National, CTV National News and to The Globe and Mail. Now it pays closest attention to Adler and the most-watched TV local newscast in Canada, which is the local CTV News in Toronto. Analyze that.

We have a long way to go, post-Ghomeshi. Consider that a lot of the work on the story was done by the freelancer Jesse Brown, a guy with a website and a podcast. Admirable work. But is that all there is?

Obligatory full disclosure: After I received that note of expansive complaint from Ghomeshi, another complaint arrived in my inbox, from a senior CBC Radio producer who was the boss at Q at one point. Written from a personal e-mail address, it too complained about my attitude to Ghomeshi and to George Stroumboulopoulos in particular and essentially claimed I was against CBC's efforts to gain a younger audience. It was scolding, serious and the writer claimed to be hurt by my columns.

Now I wonder about the motivation and the meaning behind it. So much has been exposed, but more stern analysis is what's really needed. If anybody is up for it.

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About the Author
Television critic

John Doyle is The Globe and Mail's television critic. His column appears in the Review section Monday to Thursday and on Saturday. He has been the paper's critic since 2000. More


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