Sense and Sensationalism

cbc screenshotAs we know, talk of breed bans in Quebec and recent dog attacks have fed media fires over the last week. In our last blog post we explored how “pit bull attacks” are covered differently from attacks by other breeds, a phenomenon that many of us are familiar with.

Yesterday we were able to watch the progress of what seemed to be a manufactured “controversy” story across CBC media outlets. Read/listen for yourself and tell us what you think.

The morning of Monday, June 27, Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner joined Rick Cluff on the CBC Radio’s Early Edition (interview at 1:41:08). When asked about her response to recent dog attacks in the city, she said that she didn’t feel that bites were an “overriding problem”. However, she did intend to talk to City Council at that night’s meeting and recommend taking a closer look at the bylaw and convening an informed panel to see if it could be “strengthened and tightened”. Perfectly reasonable, right?

Several times, Mr. Cluff directed the conversation to “is it the owner or the breed?” or “pit bulls have a bad reputation”. Mayor Hepner gave balanced, reasonable answers each time, even though she indicated that she herself has mixed feelings about the breed (hey, that’s her prerogative; kudos to her for not letting it interfere with responsible policy making).

In her interview, Mayor Hepner said that she’s inclined to think that laws targeting owner behaviour will be more effective than breed-specific ones. She said that in the past, various breeds have been targeted and this changes with time. She said that if you start by banning pit bulls, another breed will become a problem and you’ll have to keep adding to the list. She also noted that Ontario’s ban hasn’t been effective.

It was not a bad interview. Yet when it was written up for the website, this is the headline they used:

Surrey to consider pit bull ban after latest attack. 

Wait….what? At no time did Hepner suggest that restrictions, let alone a ban, were being considered. While the article includes direct quotes from the interview, the overall message was that breed specific measures were on the table at that night’s City Council meeting.

This concerned us, of course. We visited the City of Surrey website and found no mention of animal control matters on the agenda. We called the city councillor’s office and were told that the dog matter was going to be a brief mention in a very full agenda.

Around 5pm, we received a call from CBC asking if we would be available for an in-person interview on the proposed breed restrictions and “concerns about recent pit bull attacks” in Surrey. We declined, as there was nothing, to our knowledge, to comment on. But we agreed to do a telephone interview following the Surrey Council meeting.

During the meeting, Mayor Hepner asked for Council’s support in bringing together a committee of experts to review the current bylaw. The Council voted in support of this. There was no mention of breed. There was no discussion. That was the end of it. On to the next item in the agenda.

CBC did not call us for that telephone interview. If they had, we would have told them that consulting experts to create evidence-based, common-sense legislation was a GREAT idea. But apparently, that doesn’t measure up as a news story.




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