OTTAWA – The selection of Luka Rocco Magnotta as Canada’s 2012 Newsmaker of the Year lit up the country’s social media and news web sites on Sunday with a cyclone of outrage and condemnation.
The alleged killer, who now sits in a Montreal detention centre as his case goes through the legal process, was the subject of a global manhunt last spring after a Chinese engineering student was killed, his body cut up and remains mailed to four different locations in Ottawa and British Columbia.
The event, including Magnotta’s capture last June at a Berlin internet cafe, was splashed across newspaper front pages and Web sites all over the world.
Magnotta was chosen in the annual poll of the country’s newsrooms by The Canadian Press.
Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae was among the first to express his anger and disappointment on Sunday, tweeting to 33,361 followers that the “Canadian Press reaches a new low with its naming Magnotta as ‘newsmaker of the year.’ Truly disgusting.”
After being challenged about the news value in a response by one his followers, Rae went on to say The Canadian Press had resorted to “cheap sensationalism” and that “lots of people had more impact and made more news.”
Toronto Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett tweeted the choice was “awful,” while Conservative MP Jay Aspin, who represents the northern Ontario riding of Nipissing—Timiskaming, called on the news agency to retract the selection.
“I appeal to decency & better judgement of the Canadian Press and ask them to rescind their choice of Luka Magnotta as Newsmaker of the year,” Aspin tweeted.
Heritage Minister James Moore was more restrained, suggesting The Canadian Press find a different way to pick its Newsmaker.
“Newsmaker of the year” ought not simply be the person with the most Google news hits due to morbid curiosity. Revisit the criteria #2cents,” Moore tweeted Sunday.
Magnotta was the choice of 22 per cent of the editors and news directors who cast ballots sent to them by The Canadian Press. The second place choice with 18 per cent of the votes was Amanda Todd, the B.C. teen whose suicide sparked a debate on bullying. NHL president Gary Bettman and players’ union head Donald Fehr was third choice with 15 per cent of the votes.
The news agency’s editor-in-chief noted that over the past few decades the poll has recognized other offensive newsmakers and events.
“The Newsmaker of the Year survey has been conducted by The Canadian Press since 1946 and over the decades, the country’s newspaper editors and broadcasters have at times made some controversial selections,” said Scott White, who pointed out that Olympic sprinter Ben Johnson, who was disqualified after a doping scandal, was voted Newsmaker in 1988 and convicted murderer Russell Williams was selected Newsmaker in 2010.
“The Newsmaker isn’t an honour or a popularity contest. It’s a determination by the journalists in Canada — the people who make up the front pages and put together the daily newscasts — about what Canadian made the biggest impact on the news that year. The stories we all cover are sometimes unpleasant and ugly. This choice reflects that reality,” said White.
Magnotta has pleaded not guilty to all charges against him. A preliminary hearing for his case is scheduled for March to determine if there is enough evidence for a trial on the allegations against him.
The Canadian Press received a flood of emails throughout the day on Sunday expressing outrage with the choice and social media was abuzz with the story.
“The media sensationalizing these stories is part of the problem,” tweeted Luc Bouillon, a realtor from Montreal.
“Great nose for news, CP,” sarcastically wrote Brian Banks, in Toronto.
Still, others said Magnotta’s alleged victim, Jun Lin, was being demeaned by the choice and Aspin was not the only one calling for the selection of Magnotta to be rescinded. An online petition was circulated Sunday demanding The Canadian Press take back the choice.
“In our society, impartial and timely news reporting is important, but national recognition to someone who incomprehensibly dismembers a living person, posts it on YouTube, and cowardly flees the country, sends the message to Magnotta and villains to follow, “If you perform such a heinous act, you might just become, “Man of the Year,”” wrote organizer Andrew Schiestel on Sunday.
“As this decision was one of subjectivity, not impartiality, voted by editors across Canada, a different, more productive figure could have been nominated. This decision, not only distasteful to the vast majority of Canadians, is disgraceful and deeply inconsiderate to Lin Jun’s (the victim’s) family.”