The Week That Was at The CBC

Here is my article from The Prince Arthur Herald

This week, a cloud will hang over the CBC’s official celebration of what was supposed to be a landmark occasion, the 75th anniversary of the crown corporation’s founding. Instead, jokes surrounding journalistic integrity, as well as the relevance of public broadcasting in Canada, will represent the watchword among the chattering classes in Canada. From a princess warrior gone awry, to access to information hearings, last week was certainly interesting for the CBC, as two seemingly disconnected events helped to highlight the hubris inside the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Originally, the raison d’être of the CBC was to provide a Canadian voice in broadcasting from coast to coast. In fact, one of the call signs for the CBC in the 1970s was: “When you watch, watch the best”.  This statement brings us to the present, and the events that transpired over the course of the past week, as the CBC engaged in practices that wouldn’t muster a passing grade in a first-year journalism ethics course.

First, the comedy sketch show This Hour Has 22 Minutes attempted an ambush-style interview early Monday morning at the home of Toronto mayor Rob Ford. Shortly after, the comedy stunt backfired on the broadcaster; in response, they spread misinformation about Ford’s statements to the 911 operator during the event. “Watch the best”, I don’t think so.

In addition, the Ford incident proved yet again the double standard apparent when it comes to the treatment of Conservatives in Canada’s media. Although we have a Conservative federal government, this does not make the party and its supporters immune to immature and baseless attacks by Canada’s own publicly-funded broadcaster.

More to the point, there is a growing chasm between the small cadre of CBC true believers, and the growing chorus of Canadians calling for some sort of accountability from our government broadcaster. When the public pays a subsidy of over $1.1 billion yearly, as part shareholders and more importantly as taxpayers, we deserve transparency. This week, the crown corporation has proved yet again that it is less than forthcoming in terms of transparency. In fact, the integrity commissioner Suzanne Legault, who at one time gave the corporation an “F” when it come to replying to access to information requests, said that she is still “extremely concerned” about the CBC’s level of openness.

Canadians deserve better from their public broadcaster. There do remain certain defenders of the CBC, ones who vigorously argue that the broadcaster has made key contributions to Canadian culture and the Canadian sense of self, as well as manufacturing icons galore. But friends of the CBC rely heavily on nostalgia to make their arguments while, at the same time, conveniently ignoring or obfuscating the facts right in front of their face.

 Although things may look bleak for fundamental reform to Canada’s public broadcaster, there are rays of hope on the horizon. In Ottawa there is the annual Free Thinking Film Festival that promotes ideas of liberty and freedom. This year, the festival is showing their first self-produced documentary about the anti-Conservative and anti-Israel bias within the CBC. Additionally, the Conservative-leaning National Citizen’s Coalition continues its powerful crusade towards the privatization of the CBC.

These campaigns and events are slowly moving the barometer of public opinion in Canada towards reform. Their net effect has been to put the brass at the CBC on notice, that they can no longer be mere nabobs that are responsible to no one. Paraphrasing Milton Friedman, you cannot wait to elect the right people to do the right things. We must create an environment in which the most slippery of public policy wonks are faced with the fact that the CBC needs to drastically reform the way it does business, or get off the public payroll.