has journalism abandoned its objective pursuit of truth for political advocacy regarding marijuana legalization?

Has journalism finally been supplanted by advocacy? It sure seems that way particularly when you look at the bias in the media today.   I couldn't help thinking about this after reading several articles published in the Ottawa Citizen during March of 2017 by Jacquie Miller of the National Post.  Perhaps other good readers may have similar questions. In the examples below, I think the conclusion will become self evident.

the original cannons of journalism

It is said that the cannons of journalism are truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness and public accountability.  Now more than ever, inquisitive readers of the Ottawa Citizen may be thinking of these ethics as they assess the body of articles written on this topic over recent years concerning the very important topic of whether to legalize marijuana.

By the nature and repetition of the messaging in virtually every single article written on this topic, the question of whether the profession of journalism as abandoned the principles of truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness and public accountability begs to be asked.  Please pardon my use of the word "virtually". However having tried my best, I cannot find a single article from The Citizen that asks the obvious questions that arise while reading these articles.  Perhaps some lonely articles exist, somewhere.

Suppression of opposing evidence, sloppy journalism, or innocent oversight?

What becomes clear very quickly is that each article expounds the purported benefits of consuming marijuana as a legitimate "medicine", without any clinical studies or having been rigorously vetted by our long established pharmaceutical review process - unlike any other drug legally sold to the public.

And this is often repeated despite data from Colorado showing 69% of "medicinal" marijuana users being male claiming general pain.  Or statements of equivalency between having a glass of wine with dinner and smoking a joint. For the safety of the public, much homework remains to be done.

No questions are ever asked about whether the persons described in anecdotes regularly using marijuana are dependent and have a substance abuse problem.  Stories showing the pain and suffering of youth who fell into addiction and whose lives were ruined with permanent health effects are non-existent.  Nor are there stories about how users who had disastrous experiences were helped by sheer luck, love of family, or medical intervention to stop using and regained productive lives.

painting A rosy picture

We are told  of benefits of running a marijuana retail business selling to as many people as possible and offering satisfying career paths where "bud-tenders" are the new sommeliers. Yet not a single question is raised by journalists about the ominous conclusions from longitudinal studies over twenty-five years from Sweden and the UK showing undeniable correlations with long term use of potent pot and psychosis and schizophrenia. What social good is intended to come from the mass production and consumption of this substance? Is it just to allow a very small minority of adults a more convenient way to purchase their drugs?

No questions are asked about the legal challenges of prosecuting impaired driving by drug.  No educated explanation to the public is provided about how much more difficult it is to convict and easier to defend based on the very different biochemistry and physiology of marijuana in the body. No questions are asked about the troubling trends observed of stoned driving and combined alcohol and marijuana DUI figures rising in tandem with increased marijuana use.

Nor is the public told about surveys of high school students who say that when marijuana is illegal it is more difficult to obtain than when it is legally sold in a store like alcohol.  These surveys and studies are readily available and yet journalists ignore them.  This is curious. Why would this be so?  Does data like this oppose the narrative they may subjectively support? Or is it simply not newsworthy?

A recent "60 Minutes" showed a thriving black market economy in Colorado feeding into the increased demand from legalization. They simply sell for less than a legal retailer.  Medical doctors are trying to tell the public about the spike in numbers of babies being born with marijuana in their bodies and brains because the mother was using throughout her pregnancy. The mothers tell the doctors that they thought it was not harmful because the government legalized it. Is this surprising?

the cost of media bias is the integrity of journalism

More importantly, for the sake of the integrity of public discourse, is there really only one perspective on this issue? 

From the examples cited, there is no shortage of investigative angles that journalists could, should and must pursue if they are to be adherents of the guiding principles of their profession. The alternative is that journalism becomes advocacy. 

Let us all think deeply about this for the very heart, the integrity and the future of journalism is at stake.

About The Author
Richard Bergman (BComm, LLB) is a former law enforcement officer with the RCMP and has worked on local and international investigations from street level drug dealing, to stock market fraud, money laundering and large scale organized crime syndicates.