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Media Report


by Arthur Weinreb

August 4, 2003

Much of the Toronto media, especially The Toronto Sun and 680News, have taken to using the name "SARS-stock" to describe the concert held in Downsview on July 30, in aid of helping Toronto overcome its image as a disease-ridden city. There’s no doubt that a short cutesy name was needed to describe the event, and SARS-stock is a good takeoff on Woodstock, the concert to which the Rolling Stones-led event might be compared to in the future.

But the media is doing the city of Toronto no favour by continually referring to the concert as SARS-stock. If the concert does become another Woodstock, which will still be talked about 25 or 30 years from now, Toronto will be forever linked to the disease that put everything into motion. If the disease is eradicated quickly, it will appear in the future to have been more serious than it actually was, branding Toronto the center of a previous plague. And if SARS continues to wreak havoc on the world, Toronto will remain associated with the disease, even if it makes no further appearance here. By using the name SARS-stock, the media has done nothing to help the image that the city has gone through in the past few months.

Making the term "SARS-stock" popular is just as damaging as reports in the foreign media which, at the heart of the outbreak, gave the impression everyone in the city was walking around wearing a mask and waiting for the inevitable.

And speaking of the concert, in an interview given to the National Post, Mick Jagger described the criticism of the proposed event by a Toronto newspaper as "whinging."

Stated the aging rocker in a telephone interview from Hamburg: " I think that there is one newspaper whinging and moaning. I don’t quite know why. I don’t know what the whine is. I mean, I don’t know what’s gone wrong so far, but lots of people seem to have bought tickets. That’s always a good indication. If that particular newspaper doesn’t enjoy it on the day--too bad for them." Jagger also added: "To be honest, I’m not concerned with the negatives of one small newspaper. I’m sure that it’s really meaningless in the context of the show. I hadn’t even heard about it till today and I don’t really care about it."

The "one small newspaper" that Mick Jagger was speaking of was, of course, The Toronto Star. Jagger described the country’s largest mass circulation daily as small, but if he meant it to mean "small-minded," he’s more than just a pretty face. He’s probably never read the Star, but managed to grasp the essence of the newspaper. Former U.S. Vice President, Spiro Agnew, had probably not read the Star back in 1970 either, when he described the press as "nattering nabobs of negativism", but that expression comes to mind in the context of their coverage of the Rolling Stones led concert. If Mick Jagger and the others took the Star seriously, the concert would have been scrapped. Then again, if the Toronto Blue Jays paid any attention to the Daily Whine, they would have traded Roy Halliday and Eric Hinske for a bunch of non-white players to be named later.

The media, including the Star, was right to point out that putting such a huge event together so quickly was not ideal. And the media was right to point out the ridiculous rules governing what was acceptable and what wasn’t, and they were instrumental in having the powers to be change some of those rules, such as doing away with the prohibition against bringing blankets onto the site.

But the Toronto Star was non-stop with its negativism. It whinged about the fact that some Americans were brought up to work behind the scenes and take jobs away from Canadians (immigrants don’t take jobs away from Canadians--only Americans). The Star quoted security experts who said that the concert was a disaster waiting to happen. The Star moaned about the safety of the crowd, whined about how traffic would disrupt the entire city, and described the fact that police were going to be present in the crowd of 430,000 as a "mini-police" state. Oh dear, oh dear.

Although there were a few arrests, and a few medical problems from the heat and overdoses, it was, as Toronto Police Chief Julian Fantino said, not much different than an ordinary night in Toronto’s entertainment district. There were some traffic problems, but the roads were not as bad as the summer weekends when the expressways are closed for repairs. And people were able to leave the site far quicker than initial estimates said that they could.

The day after the concert, the sun rose in the east. And while the sun was rising, the headline in the Toronto Star, was "Satisfaction!" The paper seemed really surprised.