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Postmedia, Mike De Souza, and the oil industry

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Mike De Souza laid off

Mike De Souza laid off

So Mike de Souza was laid off by Postmedia this week.  Postmedia is the Vancouver Sun, the Province, the Montreal Gazette, and many other papers.  Very sad.

I suppose it was predictable.  Reporters covering the environmental beat tend to be laid off depressingly regularly (think of Ben Parfitt, for instance); and Postmedia is hemorrhaging money and laying off staff, including reporters.    

But there is something special with respect to the De Souza layoff.  It comes as the Vancouver Observer reveals the very intimate links between the oil industry and Postmedia.  Postmedia is to work closely with CAPP to “put the spotlight on the oil industry” and address the issue that “while Albertans may be acutely aware of this fact, the rest of the country often fails to grasp the fundamental role the energy sector plays in building and sustaining economic prosperity.”  In other words, desperate for money, Postmedia is offering to shill for the oil industry.

This is regrettable, since critical energy reporting is needed for a good public understanding of the issues, especially for hot topics like the oil sands, the pipelines, or natural gas from the Peace area.  But the oil and gas industry is its own worse enemy, sowing distrust by manipulating information.

This is why reporter like Mike De Souza play such a vital role.  Many of De Souza’s articles were based on ferreting facts using legal recourses such as Freedom of Information requests, information that wouldn’t see the light of day otherwise.  And it is information that often exposes the cozy relationship between the government and the oil industry, and the shoddy environmental or safety practices that result.

Here are some examples:  De Souza reported on how the feds were failing to address safety for oil shipped by rail; how environment minister Aglukkaq refused to endorse her own ministry’s report that climate change was serious and mostly due to human action;  how 500 jobs and $100M were cut from the departments in charge of protecting our waters;  how Ottawa’s failure to enforce its own laws is putting species and habitats at risk; how minister Oliver edited a report from his own department in a climate change report, or how references to climate were deleted from the Transport Canada website; how the oil sands are endangering caribou or birds;  how the feds admit asbestos is hazardous, but fight labeling it so.  The list is nearly endless; but a full list of his articles can be accessed here.

Knowing the situation, now, when I read any article from, say, the Vancouver Sun about the oil sands or the pipelines, I dismiss any positive news because I reflexively assume that these are propaganda pieces from the industry, uncritical press releases accepted and published as is.

And that is really unfortunate.  From a technical standpoint, there is much to be proud of in the oil sands industry, including recent improvements in efficiency and greenhouse gas emission reductions.  But the collusion of the federal government, mainstream media, and the oil barons themselves has poisoned the dialogue; there is now little chance of anything other than an adversarial relationship.

I believe that the oil industry, including the oil sands, have an important role to play in our economy.  We need to decarbonize our economy, but it is unrealistic to expect an overnight change.  What is needed as a sober, realistic consideration of all the options; for that, we need complete transparency and full information.  Instead, we are getting manipulation and distrust.  I expect even the oil bosses will come to regret that, and wish there were many more Mike De Souza types around to keep them honest.  There cannot be long term prosperity without honesty.

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Written by enviropaul

February 7, 2014 at 10:39 pm

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