Journalists Indulge In Celebrity Narcissism

power-and-politics

Everywhere you turn, people are telling you that traditional TV news reports with anchors have been gradually fading away because nobody watches TV news anymore. In a highly digitized world, more and more people, particularly the millennials, have been cutting their cords and turning to the internet and social media as their sources of daily news. We boomers might be staunch supporters of TV news still, but even we have our doubts.

First and foremost, can we trust journalists anymore? I, for one, have begun to lose faith in them. Journalists are supposed to report the truth, analyse issues objectively and serve as watchdogs on government and businesses, enabling us to make informed decisions on the issues of our time.  But in the past 12 months, scandal after scandal has occurred in both the U.S. and Canadian news landscapes and we’ve suddenly come to realize that journalists have become celebrities in their own rights and, like celebrities, they have indulged in their own narcissism. In fact, they have become so narcissistic that they can no longer tell the difference between right and wrong, truth and falsehoods, and they no longer have the professional ethics to be the watchdogs on anything!

And these scandals evolved around journalists who were very successful in their own rights – NBC‘s Brian Williams, ABC‘s George Stephanopoulos, Fox News‘s Bill O’Reilly, CBC‘s Jian Ghomeshi, Amanda Lang, Evan Solomon and Global TV‘s Leslie Roberts. These were seven of the most successful and most trusted TV/radio broadcasters of our times who were fired or suspended and fell from the apex of their prime career to eternal shame and embarrassment, if not oblivion.

Let’s try not to further discuss Ghomeshi for now, because his criminal charges are now being played out in courts and we cannot assume that all journalists are potential sexual deviants like this one-time radio host.

Ten-year news veteran Brian Williams of NBC made a number of inaccurate statements about his own role and experiences while covering events in the field. Just before he fell from power as a result of his false embellishments of his role in covering an Irag war story, Williams was the most trusted nightly news anchor in America. After suspending him for six months, NBC has recently demoted him to cable by reassigning him to breaking news coverage at NBCUniversal‘s cable news outfit, MSNBC, beginning August.

Last month, ABC‘s Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos apologized to viewers for donating US$75,000 to the Clinton Foundation and failing to disclose it earlier. Even though ABC has not announced any plans to discipline him, both Stephanopoulos’s and ABC‘s credibility have been tarnished.

Similar to Brian Williams, Fox News‘s Bill O’Reilly has come under fire for allegedly fabricating a number of stories regarding his reporting in the Falklands War, El Salvador and Florida, surrounding the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Recently, O’Reilly has also made up a story about a trip to Northern Ireland in 1984, during which he said he witnessed terrorists bomb Irish citizens. Unlike Williams, O’Reilly never admitted that he was wrong and, instead, blamed these accusations as an attack by the liberal media. The fact that Fox News stood by their man indicated that Fox is only interested in representing the elderly whites who make up the majority of the viewers of The O’Reilly Factor. These angry white men are not interested in hearing the truth – they rejoice in seeing O’Reilly fighting, criticizing and being angry all the time.

When we look closer to home, all three disgraced Canadian journalists were in trouble because they apparently did not understand what conflict of interest means. Former Global TV News Anchor and Executive Editor Leslie Roberts was first suspended and later resigned from the network after a Toronto Star investigation found he is secretly the part owner of a small public relations firm BuzzPR whose clients – lawyers, small businesses and others – appeared on his show. According to The Toronto Star, Roberts helped clients with pitches and media training and has tweeted positive comments about some of the clients to his 20,000 followers on Twitter.

In January this year, CBC‘s TV host Amanda Lang was found to have tried to influence a story about RBC by convincing colleagues during a conference call that the RBC outsourcing story was not significant news and should be dropped. The media website Canadaland published a report revealing that Lang was in a “serious relationship” with an RBC board member at the time the story ran. On January 22, CBC announced that it has banned on-air talent from accepting paid speaking engagements. Later that day, Lang conceded in a piece in The Globe and Mail that she should have made on-air disclosures about her connection to RBC and stated that she agreed with the speaking engagement ban. Even though Lang is not fired or suspended, could we trust her on-air reports and analyses anymore?

But, to me, the biggest blow came with the recent firing of CBC‘s TV host Evan Solomon. Once again, it was a Toronto Star report which claimed that he took commissions from the art sales to people he knew through his television work, without disclosing to the buyers that he was being paid. Solomon entered a business arrangement with Bruce Bailey to arrange art sales and take a 10 percent commission. Two of the buyers included Bank of England Governor Mark Carney and former Chairman of Blackberry Jim Balsillie. Both Carney and Balsillie have previously appeared on Solomon’s TV show Power and Politics. Carney refused to comment while Balsillie said that he did not know Solomon was involved in the transactions.

Not only was Solomon one of the most respected younger TV journalists, but it was also widely conjectured that he would be replacing Peter Mansbridge as the chief correspondent for CBC News and anchor of The National.

As journalists or former journalists who clearly understood their roles as watchdogs for the public, how is it even possible that these professional news anchors violated the public trust by telling lies and succumbing to personal desires and greed? The only reason I can come up with is that news anchors and reporters have been indulging in too much celebrity culture. Their fame has led to their narcissism and these seven people all believed that they were above the law and were invincible. Some of them are still reporting; others might be able to make a comeback after an apology, a disciplinary action or a trial. But the problem still remains: can we trust them anymore or should we believe in resilience?

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Time to Introduce Universal Drugs Plan Is Now

Photo Credit: globeandmail.com

Photo Credit: globeandmail.com

I read with interest that several provincial and territorial health ministers said earlier this week that Canada should have a national pharmacare program to help people pay for prescription drugs, and that they would make this a key issue in this fall’s federal election.  These ministers include Ontario’s Minister of Health Eric Hoskins, Newfoundland and Labrador’s Minister of Health Steve Kent, New Brunswick’s Health Minister Victor Bordeau and British Columbia’s Health Minister Terry Lake.

Unfortunately, the federal government did not accept an invitation to attend a roundtable meeting on June 8 with these provincial and territorial ministers, academics and other experts in pharmacare. According to The Globe and Mail, the federal government issued a statement saying it wants to work with the provinces and territories on bulk purchases of drugs before “spending more money” on a pharmacare plan. The spokesman for federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose, Michael Bolkenius, said that there are hundreds of millions of dollars that could be saved and hopefully improve access. The provincial and territorial ministers said they were examining studies that show it could save taxpayers $11 billion a year through bulk purchasing to reduce the price of medications.

As posted before on this blog, Canada is the only industrialized country with universal health insurance that does not offer universal prescription drug coverage, and statistics show that one in 10 Canadians cannot afford to pay for their medications. When people do not take the drugs they need, there is a cost to health and to medicare when our hospitals are already overwhelmed.

Ontario’s Health Minister Eric Hoskins has always been taking an initiative in leading a crusade to make universal pharmacare happen in Canada sooner rather than later. In an OpEd article published in The Globe and Mail on October 14 last year, he said, “Over the past several years, Ontario and the other provinces and territories have embarked on a successful joint initiative to improve access to drugs. Together, we’ve created a pan-Canadian cancer drug review process to ensure equitable access to new medications.” Hoskins pointed out that they have also made significant progress in getting better prices for new, life-saving drugs by negotiating as a bulk buyer with drug companies through the Pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance – an initiative that will now have a permanent office hosted in Ontario through his ministry.

Hoskins seems to be targeting Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017 as the most ideal date to launch a national pharmacare program. It’s heartening to see that Ontario has been taking a leading role in making this a reality and that the federal government seems to be interested in supporting this initiative. Canada’s universal healthcare system needs a major reform and incorporating a universal prescription drugs plan would be a clear priority in light of an aging population.

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Why We All Miss Mad Men

Mad Men

By now, all the critics’ analyses of the final episode of the seven-season-long TV drama Mad Men have died down. But the yearning still remains – there will be nothing anymore on TV on Sunday nights to look forward to; no more disputes about the interpretations of what each episode meant; and no more nostalgia of the ’60s and ’70s fashion!

I’ve always loved this TV drama because it was not just a nostalgic piece for us boomers, but, rather, a cross-cultural and cross-generational, pop-culture masterpiece that has created controversy and generated different interpretations of the story development and the viewers’ affinity with its characters.

I watched the final episode twice in order to get into the full essence of what creator Matthew Weiner wanted to say. And here’s a spoiler alert: do NOT read on if you haven’t yet seen the final episode and are planning to watch it on Netflix! I think as loyal followers of this TV drama for the past seven years, we all thought Don Draper was going to die towards the end. From the illustrations at the beginning of each episode about him falling down a skyscraper building of Manhattan to Jon Hamm’s (the actor playing Draper) hint about his character’s destiny on TV talk shows, Draper’s death seemed like an inevitable end to a dark drama like Mad Men.

Yet, the brilliance of Matthew Weiner lies in the fact that he wanted the entire TV drama to end like the satire of the whole show – it’s a satire of the advertising industry in the ’60s and ’70s and, therefore, it should end with a brilliant commercial of its times. The “I’d like to teach the world to sing” Coke commercial has always brought goose bumps to the marketing world, and with Don giving us a smile and smirk in his final scene on top of a cliff while participating in his group meditation, we’ve come to realize that Don has come to recognize and identify himself as an advertising man after all his torment and soul-searching. Coca-Cola was so undeniably McCann-Erickson that it’s natural that only Don Draper could be the creative genius that invented this wonderful commercial after McCann has acquired Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.

Although Peggy has always been the feminist on the show, it’s most appropriate to have Joan, the former secretary constantly harassed by the male characters in the drama, be the ultimate woman who achieved independence and quit McCann and her rich beau to set up her own company while raising a young son at home. What I don’t understand is why Weiner had the most despicable ad executive on the show, Peter, be on the road to fame and wealth by giving him the most enviable job from a private jet company. Perhaps, one of the creator’s key messages was that all successful advertising executives could be somebody like Peter – slimy, social-climbing, womanizing, lazy and manipulative while sucking up to their bosses and clients!

We will all miss Mad Men, but I’m sure the TV drama will, in no time, become one of the classics to be studied at universities and drama classes because not only did it trace the historical milestones of that era (the assassinations of JFK and Martin Luther King); it also tracked the roots and rise of feminism; it portrayed racial and sexual discriminations within the office environments of the advertising world; and it depicted lies and deception with great depth and irony!

I don’t know about you, but this is the only TV drama that’s worth watching over and over again. I, for one, will start watching all seven seasons again over time on Netflix and savour what I’ve missed when viewing it the first time!

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Let’s Give Uber Conditional Support

Photo Credit: The New York Times

Photo Credit: The New York Times

I’m a huge fan of Uber, the car transport share-ride company based in San Francisco. As a consumer, Uber is a unique brand that demonstrates democracy to its fullest by offering consumers many alternatives to the city’s taxi services. Within the Uber umbrella brand, there are five options to pick from – UberX, UberXL, Uber Black, Uber Select and Uber Taxi. For people who are regular taxi users, but do not want to pay the full price, UberX is quick and convenient and offers them at least 20 percent in cost savings when compared to a traditional cab ride. For business users, Uber Black offers bigger and more luxurious cars, more professional drivers in uniforms, and can he ordered to impress clients and VIP guests.

The biggest benefit is that by registering your credit card with Uber the company, you can then book a ride through the Uber app on your smartphone without any exchange of cash or paper between the driver and the passenger. Once you’ve booked a car, you will always know whether a car is really coming to pick you up or not; where the car’s exact location is; and the estimated time of arrival. The driver’s name, photo and car licence plate will show up on your app upon your Uber request, and if, for any reasons you don’t like the driver or the car, the request can be cancelled immediately and you can request another car. You can also request an estimate on your ride before you start the request. Once you arrive at your destination, you would just say goodbye and thank you to the driver without paying cash and you will receive a receipt on your smartphone a few minutes later.

Uber also gives both the passenger and the driver the opportunity to rate each other on a five-star system. So if you see a driver with a low rating popping up on your app, you can choose to cancel the request for the ride. Similarly, if the driver does not want to accept your request for the ride, he or she can also do that based on the rating of the passenger by other Uber drivers. But, frankly speaking, passengers still have the upper hand because most Uber drivers want the business before they join the pool.

Uber is also truly a global brand as it is now in 270 cities around the world. In cities like L.A., where hailing a cab on the road can be challenging, Uber is particularly useful. In Manhattan, apparently, there are now more Uber cars than the omnipresent yellow cabs.

Gone are the frustrations of trying to hail a cab in adverse weather conditions; and the anxiety of waiting for a Beck or Co-Op cab after your call to the taxi company and wondering very often whether the drivers are going to show up or not. Also, gone are the days when you have to worry about whether you have enough cash for your cab ride and forgetting about asking for a receipt after your ride in order to submit as a business expense.

Uber X cars are usually cleaner (particularly in winter) and the drivers, although relying all too often on their GPS for directions, are usually friendly, professional, speak proper English and know what they are doing and where they are going. For the occasional drivers who are unprofessional, there’s always a channel to complain with very prompt feedback and apologies from the Uber company.

As a consumer brand, Uber is also extremely innovative in coming up with more choices for consumers. Uber Eats was just launched yesterday to pair up restaurants with diners for Uber drivers to deliver lunches ordered by consumers on their apps. A pilot program was tested by Uber and Loblaws about a month ago to deliver groceries on demand. Uber has also been encouraging women to sign up as their drivers. As a marketing specialist, I’m loving Uber because it is innovative, non-traditional, creative, international and still providing affordable choices for consumers.

Of course, Uber is not perfect. You see negative publicity of the company almost every day. Yesterday, Quebec tax authorities raided the Montreal headquarters of the company saying that Uber may have violated provincial tax laws by not collecting taxes from the drivers of its most popular service, UberX, and does not require its drivers to have a tax number for GST and provincial sales tax collection. The raids further underscore the difficulty Uber is experiencing securing legitimacy in certain cities where it has come in and disrupted traditional taxi services. In Toronto, the taxi drivers are also up in arms because they claim that the technology company is killing the taxi industry. Uber is also facing charges in Toronto’s courts alleging that the company is not requiring legitimate commercial licences and insurance for its drivers and is, therefore, putting passengers at risk. For these and other reasons, many European countries, such as Germany and Spain, have banned Uber from their cities.

Uber is not for everybody. If you tend to ride the subway more often than taxis, then this company’s service is not for you. But for all other consumers who would prefer to take a taxi than driving in the gridlock, and for others who want more choices than the traditional cabs, Uber is a breath of fresh air. But I would continue to support Uber only on condition that they play by the rules and abide by provincial and city regulations on taxation, commercial licences and insurance, and protecting both their drivers and passengers at all cost. To use the excuse that it is currently a technology company, not a taxi company, is irresponsible and not going to solve Uber’s problems in the long run!

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Can Our Votes Be Bought?

oliver-finance-minister-joe-oliver-stands-in-the-house-of-co

Everybody has been talking about how the recent federal budget introduced by The Conservative Party was designed to appeal to seniors and boomers who will soon turn seniors. So when we boomers see a new tax policy that increases the maximum contributions to the Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA) from $5,500 a year to $10,000; and the mandatory minimum withdrawal of the Registered Retirement Income Funds (RRIFs) is reduced to 5.28 percent from 7.38 percent for people aged 71 onward; should we feel so delighted that we will naturally vote for the Conservatives come October?

According to Margaret Wente of The Globe and Mail, Canadian senior citizens are among the most affluent people in the world. Fewer than five percent of seniors live below the poverty line – one-third the rate of children who do. Since 1999, the median net worth of seniors has jumped 70 percent. We boomers are better off financially than our parents, and we’re far better off than the struggling millennials who will never enjoy the job security, the pension plans and the high house prices and stock returns with which we’ve been enjoying.

The strategy for politicians has always been how to get people to vote for them. With the upcoming October 19 federal elections coming up, Joe Oliver’s budget is blatantly appealing to the older voters. The Globe and Mail pointed out that three-quarters of all 65-year-olds voted in the last federal election, but less than half of 30-year-olds did. That’s why this recent federal budget has been dubbed a seniors’ budget because politicians can’t afford to antagonize seniors and retiring boomers.

But with very few policies directed at young, unmarried, new-to-the-work-force voters, young people will continue to be apathetic and participate less in the democratic process. The less the political parties reach out to them, the more disengaged they become. I see young Canadians behaving like what I did in Hong Kong when I was growing up as a young adult – by not voting at all and not participating in democracy! So as Canada’s population ages, there is no succession plan for the future of democracy and that is scary!

There are also very few budgetary measures directed at improving our ailing universal healthcare system. There continue to be no reforms for universal pharmacare for the country in spite of ongoing advocacy by medical associations and medical professionals. With the recent budget announcement by Ontario’s Liberal government, nurses are further put in an impossible working environment where the nurse-patient ratio in our province has now become the lowest in the country.

I recall immigrating to this country some 25 years ago because I wanted to live in a progressive country like Canada where freedom of speech, universal suffrage and democracy, and universal healthcare were its most attractive attributes. I guess all these qualities still remain, but they have been gradually eroding throughout the years. So before I vote in October, I will have to be less selfish, and not only look at how the current government is trying to win by wooing me as a voter. Instead, I should be considering which political party will introduce the most beneficial changes to our society and truly make Canada an even better place to live!

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