Response to Don Peat's Article on Catherine Frid's Homegrown

I’ve never written for the Toronto Sun, but it must be fun coming up with all those flashy covers. Words like “Perv”, “Killer”, and “Terrorist”, (especially when spelled with exclamation points!!!) are great for grabbing people’s attention and keep the paper flying off the stands. Photos of scantily clad women also do the trick. My personal favourite is when they combine a photo of a partially nude woman with some word like “Murder!”, which actually references a completely different story. Way to sell papers! These folks really are geniuses.

In his story in the July 30th issue writer Don Peat took on the Summerworks Festival, and specifically the new play Homegrown by writer Catherine Frid. The piece is an autobiographical work which tells the story of Frid’s experience meeting and interviewing Shareef Abdelhaleem, one of the convicted members of the Toronto 18; the group which hatched an unsuccessful plot to blow up targets in Toronto. Peat tells his readers that the play is a “sympathetic portrayal” of a terrorist and insinuates that Frid is anti-Canadian. He points out (in the headline no less) that taxpayer dollars are supporting the play, and then lists in the body of the article the support that Summerworks gets from various levels of government.

I know that Peat and the rest of the Sun editorial team have a difficult task selling papers in today’s dwindling media market and that putting a photo and headline like this on the front page is a surefire way to get people to pick up the paper. But seriously, don’t you want to have a least a little bit of journalistic integrity?

Peat has written an opinion piece (disguised as a news story) about a play he has not seen or read. He also obviously didn’t do any research into the financial workings of the Summerworks festival if he thinks that the operating funding they get somehow gets passed on to the artists for the purposes of producing their work. A quick phone call to the festival would have told him that artists pay a fee to participate in the festival and then take home the box office. Maybe he should consider becoming a Canadian correspondent for Fox News. They love this kind of under-researched, poorly written, shock journalism.

Is this actually what our cultural discourse is coming to in Toronto? I understand and appreciate freedom of speech and I think Peat is perfectly entitled to his opinion. He is not, however, entitled to his own facts. Journalists have a responsibility to research the subjects they are writing about and regardless of whether or not they want to present an argument designed to swing the reader’s mind one way or another, they absolutely cannot just make things up because they want them to be true, even if it sells papers.

Oh course this article is likely to fuel ticket sales for Frid’s play, as well as the entire festival and we all have Peat to thank for that. But the larger question of whether or not tax dollars should be spent funding the arts has reared its head again and, judging by the comments on the Sun website, there is still a huge amount of work that the arts community needs to do in terms of educating the general public on this issue.

Funding culture in Canada (including all art forms, publishing, television, and radio) is not about lining the pockets of lazy artists who make work that is not successful enough to be financially viable. It is about protecting and promoting Canadian culture. Funding culture in Canada is an act of patriotism. It is about loving our country and wanting to see our stories, our ideas, and our viewpoints both represented and challenged.

Perhaps Mr. Peat thinks that Canadian culture should only be NHL hockey and American television? If so, then I would say that he is one who is anti-Canadian.

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