a weekly blog for all interested in professional communications issues

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Why didn't Canadian media touch this Toyota safety story?

Since there has been a lot of criticism in this blog about how people communicate through the media, let's shift attention to the media's performance this week.

Last Thursday, the New York Times ran a story about how Transport Canada has been handling the safety issue that has been dogging Toyota for the past eight months.

Written by the paper's Ottawa correspondent, Ian Austen, the story revealed that while Transport Canada publicly applauded Toyota last November for its protection of consumers, the department's own employees wrote memos that said the exact opposite. The story was based on internal e-mails and it was very thorough.

"Toyota Canada's action seriously undermines this safety issue," wrote a Transport Canada field inspector last October in an e-mail concerning floor mats.

Yet a few weeks later, a departmental news release declared: "Transport Canada applauds Toyota's action to protect consumers" over the same issue.

As shocking as this story may be, Canadian government departments have a very long history of valuing commerce over simple truth and ignoring what their own officials tell them.

Almost 20 years ago, Health Canada told Canadian women silicone breast implants were completely safe when its own scientists were telling the department they weren't. More recently, the Department of Foreign Affairs chose to pretend Afghan detainees weren't being tortured despite warnings from its own officials.

Canadian media are well aware that government department behave this way yet continue to allow them to get away with it.

Although last week's New York Times story was given very prominent display, there was no coverage by Canadian media even though the quoted documents were publicly released by a House of Commons committee.

The Times speculated that the auto industry's importance to the Canadian economy was the reason why Transport Canada has been taking a far softer approach to Toyota than its American counterpart.

Perhaps the Canadian media also value commerce over safety. Or perhaps Canada's overly severe libel laws have left a lasting and chilling legacy.

Whatever the reason, Canadians deserve better from their media.


This posting marks a return after a one-week hiatus. It's my policy to post every Tuesday. My apologies for missing last week.

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