Covering the fake summits

fake-conference-g20.jpg A reporter asks a question to a larger-than-life Dimitri Soudas, whose image is beamed from Huntsville, Ont. into the international media centre in Toronto. (Lianne Elliott/CBC)

By Lianne Elliott, CBC News

lianne-elliott-52.jpgSome 3,000 journalists from around the world have arrived in Ontario to cover the G8/G20 summits, but most of us will never get anywhere close to the leaders' meetings at the Deerhurst Resort near Huntsville or the Metro Convention Centre in downtown Toronto.

Instead, we're holed up at the Direct Energy Centre, a cavernous concrete convention centre at Exhibition Place in Toronto, several kilometres west of downtown, and several hundred kilometres south of Huntsville.

For us, this is a fake summit.

We have a fake lake, fit with a fake dock, to make it feel like we're in cottage country with the G8 leaders. We have images of Muskoka wilderness beamed onto TV screens all around us, to make us feel like we're out on the wild, rather than stuck next to the Gardiner Expressway.

We have a fake downtown Toronto - blocks of video screens flashing Toronto city lights and scenes from around the city. 

We even have fake press conferences, where we get to interview leaders and officials in Muskoka using two-way microphones and giant video screens. They can see us, we can see them, but we're nowhere close to each other. Luckily the HD quality on the TVs are so good that we could see the flies buzzing all around prime minister spokesman Dimitri Soudas. 

"Muskoka is three hours away, but it could be three days away," says Patrick Watt, of First News and Save the Children in the United Kingdom. "I've been to other summits where they cordon you off from the leaders, but this is taken to new extremes."

His colleague Kathryn Rawe figures everyone could have saved money and environmental impact by just covering the event from home, getting updates through the Internet.

"If you're going to be streaming it here, you could be streaming it anywhere," she said.

Here's a look at the fake summit, in pictures:

fake-lake-g20.jpgMuskoka chairs beckon at the fake lake, but so far no one has tried to take the canoes out for a spin. (Lianne Elliott/CBC)

It could be a swanky downtown Toronto bar, with purple mood lighting and all. Too bad the random scenes of Canadian wilderness overhead break the cool urban mood. (Lianne Elliott/CBC)

fake-working-g20-300.jpgIf you have a really good imagination, it's almost as though you're working on your laptop at the edge of the lake, rather than in the concrete jungle that is the media centre. (Lianne Elliott/CBC)

An expresso bar, downtown Toronto style, right in the middle of the convention centre. (Lianne Elliott/CBC)

I'm not really sure what this is supposed to be. Maybe skyscrapers? (Lianne Elliott/CBC)