Nov. 18, 2019

Does funding influence how news media cover Indigenous environmental issues?

Fulbright Canada Research Chair Greg Lowan-Trudeau investigates depiction of Indigenous activism in Canada and United States

In an era of fake news and attacks on the integrity of the press, Dr. Greg Lowan-Trudeau, PhD, believes critically informed understanding of media is more important than ever. As a Métis scholar of Indigenous environmental studies and education, personal experiences with news media and research-based insights led him to an interest in critical media literacy.

Lowan-Trudeau, an associate professor in the Werklund School of Education, will pursue this interest as the 2019-2020 Fulbright Canada Research Chair at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). He will be hosted by UCSB’s Environmental Studies program as he explores media portrayals of Indigenous environmental issues in Canada and the United States.

“The nuances of independent, Indigenous, corporate and government-funded media coverage of Indigenous environmental topics vary in Canada and the United States,” he says. “For example, I’m curious to explore the possible effect of different levels of support for publicly funded news outlets. I’m also interested in comparative coverage of trans-border issues such as the Keystone XL pipeline expansion and associated activism.”

Lowan-Trudeau believes Indigenous environmental activism, including the Idle No More movement or the Dakota Access Pipeline protests by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and their supporters, has been portrayed through a wide range of lenses on both sides of the border but that behind-the-scenes corporate and political interests may wield great influence at times.

“Asking questions such as: Who is creating this media? What is the intended audience? Whose voices are being heard? Whose are absent? will make us more conscious media consumers and creators. We must also consider conflicts of interest such as when media and industry entities are owned by the same or related corporations.

“If, for example, a news agency is owned by a financial conglomerate with investments in a resource extraction company that is the subject of an inquiry or activism, will that outlet be less inclined to present timely, extensive or critical coverage?”

Despite these ethical questions, Lowan-Trudeau feels the state of the profession should not be regarded as all doom and gloom. The continued proliferation of outlets, platforms and voices has resulted in more substantive reporting on Indigenous environmental concerns.  

“Some independent and Indigenous outlets have been very proactive in their coverage, quickly reporting instances of activism with first-hand accounts from activists who are involved. The increasing presence of Indigenous media outlets and Indigenous journalists is promising. I hope that this trend continues.”

Lowan-Trudeau adds that his work in California will not only focus on challenges, but also consider reportage of successful environmentally conscious initiatives, among them renewable energy developments and cross-border collaborations between Indigenous communities.

In addition to conducting research during his time as a Fulbright Visiting Research Chair, Lowan-Trudeau will teach a 10-week undergraduate course, have opportunities to deliver public lectures, give seminar presentations, participate in conferences and contribute to the intellectual life at UC Santa Barbara.