OTTAWA, ON (March 8, 2023): In recent years, traditional news media has undergone a transition owing to the rise of digital platforms, the flight of advertising dollars, and increased competition from “alternative” news sources. Overall, contemporary surveys show a decline in the public’s trust in the media: the most common critique being the change in focus of many news media outlets in recent years.
In this paper, titled Northern awokening: How social justice and woke language have infiltrated Canadian news media, David Rozado and Director of Domestic Policy Aaron Wudrick undertake a quantitative analysis to test this critique by looking at changes in the language used by news media in Canada, with data from 14 major Canadian news outlets for the 2000 to 2021 period.
“In this report, we ask the question of whether the increasing prominence of prejudice themes and related social justice rhetoric that we have characterized previously in American, British and Spanish news media are also present in Canadian news media,” write Rozado and Wudrick.
Terms displaying the starkest increase in prominence are those relating to gender-identity prejudice, which saw a staggering 2285 percent increase. In contrast, terms referring to sexual orientation prejudice have decreased in prevalence. Some terms like sexism or Islamophobia peaked close to the middle of the decade, while racism or transphobia seem to have peaked later in the decade. Notably, anti-Semitism is the only term that does not display a clear upwards trend in the 21st century.
The report also shows how Canadian news media pioneered the increasing use of social justice terminology, and is also much more focused on Islamophobia than US news media, which, in contrast, is much more focused on anti-Semitism. It also reveals no substantial differences between right- and left-leaning Canadian news media in the prominence of the topic of prejudice in their content. This is in stark contrast to American and British news media where the topic of prejudice tends to be more prominent in left-leaning publications.
The authors suggest that the post-2010 explosion in the Canadian news media’s use of terms associated with social justice has six possible catalysts:
- Canada’s news media may simply be mirroring news media trends in America because of the dominant cultural influence of the United States;
- Media coverage is reflecting an increase in societal prejudice in recent years;
- Modern societies are likely more adept at detecting and denouncing prejudice than they were in the past;
- Media trends are the result of an increasing ideological skew among news media professionals;
- Cultural shifts feature increased incentives for individuals and groups to appeal to an identity as a means of gaining social prestige; and
- Trends may arise from the existence of financial incentives for news media to use highly emotional language in order to maximize digital “click-throughs.”
“Perhaps the main question arising from this report is whether the Canadian news media’s increasing focus on the topic of prejudice reflects an uptick in prejudicial attitudes in Canadian society… or if, instead, news media content does not reflect social attitudes but instead primes them,” write Rozado and Wudrick.
“The impact on public opinion of a higher prevalence in the news media of terms that signify prejudice warrants further exploration.”
To learn more, read the full paper here:
David Rozado is an Associate Professor at the New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology. His research interests are institutional content analysis, algorithmic bias and ethical AI.
Aaron Wudrick is a lawyer and the Director of MLI’s Domestic Policy Program.
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