Should Journalists Report on Reality or Censor Viewers?

Oswaldo Perez Cabrera of CiTR radio has worked in Canadian and Latin American media. Photo by Mathilda de Villiers.

Looking at the journalistic differences between Canadian and Latin American broadcasting.

By Desirée Garcia 

Flipping through channels in Latin America, raw footage of shootings, torture and violence is as common as Saturday morning cartoons.

Anyone who has grown up in a Latino-Canadian household has experienced the divide between the two styles of newscasting.

The default Canadian coverage differs dramatically from the Latin American channels, and for those who subscribe to both, the difference is stark. On a Canadian channel you might see a story about the rise of homelessness in Vancouver; on a Latin American television station, you could see security footage of a man being shot mid-robbery.

Canadian news traditionally filters out graphic photos and videos from their newscasts, while news in Latin America fights for viewers by producing sensational broadcasts to draw the eye.

Part of that is convention: in 1994, private Canadian broadcasters agreed to a code of ethics that bans gratuitous scenes of violence. In countries such as Mexico, those types of broadcasts can be seen often and throughout all hours of the day.

Oswaldo Perez Cabrera is a journalist from Mexico City who now lives in Vancouver, working as a host for radio station CiTR.

“Canadian news is more polite, more politically correct,” says Perez Cabrera. “Sometimes Mexico doesn’t care too much about political correctness.”

In Mexico, Perez Cabrera started out with an interest in writing fiction before he became a news writer.

Since moving north, he has worked for several community newspapers, magazines and radio shows–– some in Spanish, English or both.

Perez Cabrera says that in Mexico, media consumers enjoy the drama and gore of newscasts. In Vancouver, he had to learn to be more conscious of what he was reporting.

In a study conducted in 2017 by the University of Havana, Martín Oller Alonso and a team of nine other researchers analyzed the differences in news coverage in several Latin American countries—specficially, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador and Mexico.

Journalists from these countries were asked to define which journalistic values were most important to them. At the top of the list of values was “reporting reality” and reporting on things “as they are.” Second and third on the list were providing analysis of current issues and letting audiences express their views.

Duncan Anderson is a recent graduate of Langara journalism now living in Costa Rica. He believes there may be several reasons why Latin American news coverage is commonly more graphic—including the high magnitude of violent crimes within Latin American countries, coupled with consumers being drawn to the pure shock value of violence.

Latin America consists of eight per cent of the world’s population, but accounts for 33 per cent of homicides, according to a report published in April 2018 by the Igarapé Institute––a Brazilian think tank focused on security and development issues.

While violence might be a common reality in Latin America compared to Canada, Perez Cabrera says there is more to Latin American television than brutality. He says there is a balance to the prominence of violence.

“You also have the cultural news,” he notes. “So you have people that go really in depth into one issue or one topic. In Canada, we don’t get that.”

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