Friday, June 1

Essay Contest Winners Write About Reasonable Accommodation and Blogs

Calgary is home to both winners of the 2007 Dalton Camp Award, an annual essay contest on the link between democratic values and the quality of media in Canada.

Calgary residents Audrea Lim and Gareth Lewis will receive their awards at a ceremony this evening at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences which is taking place at the University of Saskatchewan

Audrea Lim is currently a Masters student in philosophy at the New School for Social Research in New York and a graduate of the University of Toronto,where she completed a B.Sc. in physics and philosophy. She grew up in Calgary and has also lived in Taipei.

In her winning essay, Audrea Lim writes that partisanship on the part of Canada's two national newspapers limited an important national debate about multiculturalism after a decision of a small Quebec town raised the racially charged issue of reasonable accommodation of immigrant culture and customs in Canada.

When the town of Hérouxville in January this year published a code of standards for immigrants outlawing the circumcision, stoning and burning alive of women and declaring that in Hérouxville "the only time you may mask or cover your face is during Halloween", the controversy soon hit the frontpages.

But as Ms. Lim points out in her winning essay, rather than publishing a variety of points of view about the issues at hand, both of Canada's national dailies chose to publish editorials and commentaries advancing their own positions. Meanwhile, Ms. Lim notes, local media in Quebec fed the controversy in the months leading up to the Hérouxville story by sensationalizing "reasonable accommodation" incidents.

Ms. Lim concludes that "genuine dialogue - a necessary condition for democracy - will not occur" in these circumstances and that "the media cannot rest content as a bullhorn for partisan opinion".

Gareth Lewis is a recent graduate of the University of British Columbia. His passion for politics has led him to conferences at West Point USMA and to NATO simulations in Washington, DC. He is an avid filmmaker.

In his winning essay, Mr. Lewis writes that blogs are transforming politics, the media and democracy in Canada in a positive way that stimulates the flow of ideas and encourages participation in the political process.

In an era of fewer and bigger mainstream media owners, blogs are a new avenue for otherwise ignored perspectives to reach an audience, according to Mr. Lewis. They also provide new windows on the world, giving any interested person the opportunity to read first hand accounts of day to day life in parts of the world once open only to foreign correspondents working for big media companies.

Mr. Lewis also suggests that blogs are imposing new accountability on journalists whose work is corrected and commented on by blog editors.

Even with their explosive growth, blogs will not replace the mainstream media, according to Mr. Lewis. "Blogs are likely to coexist, infiltrate and supplement traditional media by increasing public debate, civic involvement and strengthening democracy. One can safely bet that the mainstream media will not only survive, but will become more accountable and contribute more to the democratic process than ever before."


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