No Coverage for #NoDAPL Protests

Update Sept. 5, 9:30 a.m.: Standing Rock protests have earned more coverage in the last 24 hours due to violence. A private security firm attacked peaceful protestors with dogs and tear gas. About 30 people were pepper-sprayed, and 12 people bitten by dogs. This post was written before the influx of new coverage.

Since August 10, seven Sioux Nations in the United States have gathered to defend traditional territory from invading oil interests.

Thousands of people are camped out along the Missouri River at the construction site for the North Dakota Access pipeline. If built, the pipeline would run beneath the river less than a mile north from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

Have you seen anything in the news about it recently?

This is a story about conflict, one that seems to ring true for Indigenous people across North America. I’ve had a number of friends make the trip to stand in solidarity at Standing Rock. People are likening this land defense to that of the 1600s, when colonizers first began forcefully taking North American lands.

Conflict is one of about eight newsworthiness values that journalists use to gauge interest on news stories. If a story hits more than half the newsworthiness values, it’ll probably get reported on.

Newsworthiness

the #NoDAPL hits at least half, including conflict, human interest, impact, timeliness, proximity, and currency. Human interest refers to the personal, the human aspect of the story. There are entire families living at Standing Rock. There’s a head chef preparing food for thousands of people. People are maintaining a strong community in the name of keeping water clean.

Impact refers to the reach and weight of the story. If this pipeline is built, it will affect the United States, and possibly the international community. A pro-pipeline argument is that it would decrease dependence on foreign oil. There are local impacts for every settlement that the pipeline passes by. If the pipeline is built, things could change nationally in the US. And people could risk losing fresh water, healthy plants and animals across the countryside. If it’s not built, the Standing Rock Sioux can keep clean water and healthy land. People all along the pipeline could retain a healthy countryside, at the expense of the US maintaining current oil relationships. Lots of possibility.

Timeliness, proximity and currency refer to where, when and how topical a story is. Newspapers close to Standing Rock ought to cover the big event in their area. As the protest continues, it retains timeliness through new developments, like the recent violent attacks of a private security firm on peaceful protesters using dogs and tear gas.

Conflict

The conflict is clear: big oil interests vs. the interests of Indigenous people. This could be translated into a few different understandings, depending how you look at it. If you consider systemic racism, the conflict is Western values (profit, progress) vs. a marginalized population. If you’re considering the political economy, the conflict is state interest vs. minority population. From a feminist lens, the conflict is forceful development vs. the necessity of consent.

Realistically, the conflict encompasses all of these. The money behind such a pipeline is provocative enough for people in positions of power (read: politicians, international business) to forge ahead, regardless of the laws requiring consent on reservation land. But the environmental risks are enough that literally thousands of people have left behind their daily life for the past month to proclaim their right to life and necessity of clean water for a good life. Proper feminism includes all perspectives, from classism to racism to the question of consent and the overall narrative of the “other”, where one group of people is considered less-than for being different.

Rhetoric of the “other” is common and dangerous. It’s the rhetoric that equated Jewish people to rodents in the 1930s, creating a conceptual framework in the public’s mind that permitted massive slaughter. It’s the same rhetoric that permitted thousands of “well-meaning Christians” to endanger or take the lives of Indigenous people throughout colonization.

Coverage

So, with all the conflict, and other forms of newsworthiness, why isn’t #NoDAPL on the news?

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 3.20.53 PM
Taken Sept. 4 at 3:20 p.m. I was surprised to see the Toronto Star, but considering the recent violence, the timeliness factor must have increased.

These are the first hits. I scrolled through two pages, and the only big news outlets reporting were the Toronto Star, CNN, and The Guardian.

Most of the coverage I’ve seen is from smaller Indigenous media networks, like Indian Country Today Media Network, Lastrealindians, Red Power Media, and the camp’s own Sacred Stone Camp Facebook page. Democracy Now was recently on the scene as well, being one of the first (if not only?) national news outlets to bring a real TV camera to the protest.

Lots of coverage has come through Facebook live.

Canadian coverage

Since I’m Canadian, I want to look at the CBC coverage of this protest. I have found one article on the protest. It’s an Associated Press article, meaning CBC didn’t write it. It offers a quick overview of the situation, without too much detail about the daily events of the protest.

The article answers general who, what, when, where and why. It explains the extent of the project, the ground it would cross, dollar value, the desire for the pipeline and the reason for the lawsuit against the pipeline. It also covers if the pipeline safety plan.

The safety part tripped me up. I understand why people don’t want their water poisoned by an oil spill. They need fresh water for plants to grow properly, and for the animals that eat those plants to live healthy. And as people who can live off the land, eating poisoned plants and animals is eating poison.

The CBC article offered one line on the safety of the pipeline.

Is the pipeline safe?

The company said the pipeline would include safeguards such as leak detection equipment, and workers monitoring the pipeline remotely in Texas could close block valves on it within three minutes if a breach is detected.

This threw me off. As a student journalist, I’ve learned that providing fair and accurate coverage requires getting every side of the story. In terms of safety, the CBC only has what the oil company says.

Besides the fact that these safety precautions are likely still not enough (see Husky oil spill in Saskatchewan River), the journalist behind this story should have spoke to more people. If you ask people on one side of the story what the safety is like, you’ll get the answer they want people to hear. Their interest is in building that pipeline. They want it to go through, so they will assure people that it is safe. But again, these precautions are not always enough, as seen in the Husky oil spill in Saskatchewan.

So where’s the fair, accurate, unbiased coverage that democratic society expects?

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Photo of Standing Rock protest, posted Aug. 17 on Sadie-Pheonix Lavoie’s Instagram. Used with her permission.

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