What CBC already knows, but won't tell you

Russell Wangersky
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Sometimes, your biggest strength ends up being your biggest weakness. And for the CBC, that painful truth means that, even though its management and staff may have extremely sharp and legitimate opinions about the recent budget-cutting actions of the federal government, those opinions are staying resolutely out of their coverage.

The irony here is that the CBC is extremely professional — so professional, in fact, that the Harper government is counting on that professionalism to prevent the CBC from saying publicly what is obviously true.

I don’t have any of those strictures — opinion is what I do. So I don’t have any problem in stating what should be abundantly obvious, and that is that the current federal government is deliberately singling out the CBC for heavier budgetary punishment because the Harper government does not like the coverage it gets.

Now that they hold the majority reins, they are taking extreme pleasure in laying on the whip.

Face it: if the current federal government could find a way to close down the political news-gathering side of The Globe and Mail and Postmedia, they’d do that, too. If they could pick off individual editorial writers — the ones who aren’t consistently glowing, for example — they’d jump at that, too.

Because this is not Bob Stanfield’s Conservative party. It’s not Joe Clarke’s. It’s not even Brian Mulroney’s.

No, this is a government that believes the end justifies any means — and in case you’re confused about that end, it’s simple. That end is keeping a Conservative majority in place long enough to change Canada to something that reflects the image of the 36 per cent or so of Canadians that actually back Harper et al.

It means killing off balanced coverage and salting the Senate, the judiciary and federal agencies, boards and commissions with as many like-minded right-wingers as possible. And it means bulldozing anyone who has the temerity to point that out.

The CBC, dependent as it is on federal dollars, is an easy target. And chances are, even if this latest round of cuts doesn’t kill the public broadcaster, it could well cripple it, either by having its fixed costs put a huge pinch on its ability and therefore its products, or else by effectively putting a chill on the work it does.

Are there things that drive me around the bend about the CBC? Of course there are — and I don’t really have a problem with pointing that out, because I also pay for part of the broadcaster with my tax dollars. Do I think that by making its journalists and anchors into “personalities,” it has weakened its value as an objective news source and has, perhaps by fiscal necessity, strayed into the land of the private radio morning personality talking heads? Yes. I’d like more news and less theatre.

Is the CBC a peculiarly rarified place, especially as far as salaries go? Sure it is. By and large, CBC journalists — outside of major urban centres like Toronto or Vancouver — are substantially better paid and equipped than their fellows in private media.

But public broadcasters also have some significant benefits, particularly when it comes to consumer journalism.

They, quite simply, can take chances that the privates aren’t keen to get involved in, and never will be. Nowhere is that clearer than in regional news and current affairs — not only are the regions a training ground for new national reporters and anchors, but CBC regional operations, especially in radio, are providing a service that the privates have been creeping out of for years by not replacing staff who leave.

The argument that private broadcasters will leap in to replace the CBC?

Laughable. You can count on private broadcasters to quickly leap in anywhere there is a profit — and, equally, you can count on them to quickly run away from any areas that are expensive and that they cover merely to do their best to try to keep up to the CBC’s standards.

Years ago, NTV’s owner told the CRTC that he’d run his station with two technicians and a broadcast tower, if that’s what it took to stay in the black.

That is a pretty low bar. It’s also a pretty honest appraisal.

Here’s another one. (CBC won’t tell you this, even though they know it’s true.)

The CBC is getting a particularly raw deal, and will continue to get a raw deal, because the Harper government doesn’t like it and because that government feels it has the power — and therefore the right — to do whatever it wants. Nothing more, nothing less.

You might not worry about that right away. But how would you feel if the Harper government decided it didn’t like you or your employer? And if that were to happen, keep in mind you won’t be able to make your case in the independent hands of the CBC.

This clock will not go backwards.

Last time I looked, the CBC served all Canadians. Meanwhile, the current federal government continues to serve itself and the interests of its fractional support. Maybe that’s why we have a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and a Harper government.


Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s

editorial page editor.

Email: rwanger@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Globe and Mail, CRTC

Geographic location: Canada, Toronto, Vancouver

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Recent comments

  • Justin Case
    April 24, 2012 - 08:39

    There's a rumour going round that David Frum has been invited to appear on the fall season premier of 22 Minutes -- an "As it Happens" sketch on cuts to the CBC, entitled "Going for the jugular", featuring Greg Malone as David's mother Barbara Frum and Mark Critch as Alan Maitland. Can't wait.

  • Come on Prime Minister Harper please make the province of Newfoundland and Labrador an equal Province in the Canadian Federation
    April 24, 2012 - 07:39

    Over the years the Ottawa Government could only be described as a quasi-Dictatorship since the province of Newfoundland and Labrador has been a component of it, but under the Harper Government it has graduated distinctively into the realm of Dictatorship. I don't know if this was done purposely or not. There has been a lot of exploitation done to our province over the last six decades of Canada and it was not all done by this present Ottawa Government. All the, exploitation, cuts and slashes to our province helped tip the province into the present situation, where we have so little say into anything or control over our resources, that we can only describe the form of Federal government that we are being ruled by as being a real Dictatorship. When a province such as Newfoundland and Labrador which holds Canada's complete Eastern periphery and blessed with so many great natural resources, large Ocean area, large Air space all situated on and over the North Atlantic to have ended up as it did, without creating any appreciable infrastructure or economy out of its resources, but having created great economies for other parts of Canada from the exploitation of its raw natural resouces, should that not be the test to prove the case? And given the fact the Harper Government has taken so much from us that belong here because of our Geography, like SARs, the Search and Rescue Center and other vital services, there is no doubt what type of Government that the province of NL is being ruled by, it is a Dictatorship, it is no other way for a Newfoundlandrer and Labradorian to describe it. I am not blaming this entirely on PM Stephen Harper, the man, I am assigning as much blame to his and the other ruling Canadian government's Bureaucrats and Ministers, over the past 63 years who have terribly exploited our province. Prime Minister Harper can fix it if he wants to. Can't he see that we are one of the prime provinces of Canada simply because of our geography with its complete Eastern periphery? We could have been a strong country given our geography and natural resource base situated on one of the two most important landmasses and ocean acreage in Canada if we hadn't been disrupted in 1949, when the World was on the cusp of creating 21 Great Economies. It is still not all lost for PM Harper, if he wants to overturn some of the skulduggery that has happened to our province by Bureaucrats, Minister and Prime Ministers and himself over the years, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador would welcome it with open arms and he would not be seen in the awful light that a lot of us view him in today. Come on Prime Minister Harper make us an equal Province in the Canadian Federation, we have the resources to do so, but we want part of what your government hands out such as Federal Region Offices, Military and Naval bases, etc., that all the other provinces have been padded with that has helped to sustain their economies greatly, AND we definitely want our Search and Rescue Unit back in this province.

  • Terry Rowe
    April 22, 2012 - 14:51

    I was working for the CBC in early 90s when the government of time shut down a number of station. The CBC needs to be on own and run by the people who work there...get out of the hands of any political party and it will do just fine

  • CBC - NOT MY CANADA again
    April 22, 2012 - 04:49

    They may have a few conservative voices at the fringes, but watch the news and most of the commentary and you will a big slant. For example, how many pro-choice ppl were on the news about sex selected abortion vs pro-life voices?

  • Daisee
    April 22, 2012 - 03:28

    UnCanadian and the path to dictatorship. Who will reverse it in 2014?

  • KnotMyCanada
    April 21, 2012 - 20:22

    "Until they stary to include more socially and fiscaly conservative voices to better represent Canada, they deserve no public funds." Great idea. They should start by hiring Don Cherry, Kevin O'Leary, Andrew Coyne, Amanda Lang, Rex Murphy...

  • CBC - Not My Canada
    April 21, 2012 - 16:28

    The CBC should represent all people as it is paid for by all people, but it does not. The CBC is very very socially and fiscally liberal. Until they stary to include more socially and fiscaly conservative voices to better represent Canada, they deserve no public funds.

    • Andrew
      April 21, 2012 - 18:56

      Rex Murphy, Don Cherry, Kevin O'Leary, etc.

    • Robyne Goldberg
      April 22, 2012 - 13:28

      Seems like YOUR Canada is more like the US. Get a life buddy and put down the banjo.

  • Workaholic
    April 21, 2012 - 14:31

    You must be a PC employee lol.I like the CBC they tell it like it is.I will give you 1 instance where the Harper gov"t has used the media.Ran an attack ad on Ignatieff saying he would raise GST when Harpers party gave us GST.Anyone can form thier opinion but I don"t think this is the best gov"t that ever came out of Canada.Anyway I guess the gov"t is broke anyway billions and billions of dollars of deficit I guess..Brother can you spare a dime lol.But in my opinion some of the things he has done I like and maybe through the global collapse he did what he had to do and maybe he has a plan for Canada where we will be better off as a nation I certainly hope so and I guess all we can do is wait and see.I can say this though I am a little disappointed in the economic state of Canada like the NDP leader out of Ontario stated billions of dollars were given in corporatre bailouts and not 1 job was created.Here"s poor old Steve flying to China to tray and get trade can any companies do this.Like how did we start in business as a nation.Did we wait ar54ound to see what the gov"t was going to do no we picked up the phone and said do you wanna buy an s man.I have never seen Canada in the state it"s in and I can say frankly I"m a little disappointed but it is up to us as a nation to creat the kind of nation we want.They use the media to spin the unemployment rate it seems as well acting like theres all kinds of jobs people running around all over the place looking for wqork.Anyway I guess the governments broke and she"s slow and no I don"t think the employment situation rests merely on the federal gov"t but is a shared responsibility of all business.Where do we go from here.

  • bigbob
    April 21, 2012 - 14:20

    What they won't tell you is that they have an executive heavy structure compared to similar organizations and poorly negotiated union contracts that result in the use of excessive people to gather the news. Go to any event including a simple press conference and CBC will have more media there than any other media outlet.

    • Dave Nine
      April 22, 2012 - 12:26

      Bigbob. Look at any recent CBC org chart. Read any of the CBC's collective agreements. Then I might accept any of what you're saying. The reason you see "more media" at a major event is that the CBC is covering television, plus radio, plus online services - in English and French (plus native languages in the North). No one else has to do that. You get pretty good value for your thirty bucks a year. You spend more than that at Tim Horton's in a month.

  • sealcove
    April 21, 2012 - 13:58

    Dave some people have short memories

  • Canadiansense
    April 21, 2012 - 13:20

    An annual subsidy of a billion dollars for my employer? Where do I sign up? Read Tower of Babble by Richard Strusberg. Numerous complaints and poor report card by Privacy Commissioner against them? A pity you omitted the Liberal cuts of $ 400 million, senior Liberal push to have Terry pushed off APEC story.

  • DaveL
    April 21, 2012 - 12:11

    The Liberals cut wider and deeper from the CBC budget back in the 90's Ideological bent of the Gov't has nothing to do with it.

    • NoelOne
      April 21, 2012 - 13:56

      And the other papers haven't taken potshots or operated an agenda against any particular party? Does the name 'Suncor media" ring a bell? CBC is _still_ the fairest reporting body in Canada and they are not beholden to any political party. I'd like to point out they have also taken some pretty hard shots at the Liberals and NDP over the years and, saying otherwise would be.... incorrect. NO ONE has come after the CBC the way the (Reform) Conservatives have. Of course, Stephen Harper is also the only (Reform) Conservative who ever publicly avowed his purpose as not to win an election but to "destroy the Liberal Party." Not that anyone would _ever_ accuse Mr Harper of carrying on a vendetta....

  • Kingcambie
    April 21, 2012 - 11:54

    Russell: I'll agree with you that the gov't isn't losing sleep about how the CBC will manage its cuts, but lets not pretend the animosity isn't a two way street. In fact that animosity goes back a loooong way. The CBC has taken plenty of pot shots at PC, Reform and Conservative politicians in the past in ways that were not at all 'professional', and now the chickens are coming home to roost. If the CBC wants a fairer deal, they'll have to act in a fairer way. That simple.

    • shane bryanton
      April 21, 2012 - 15:07

      The CBC pussy-footed around Harper the entire election. If Harper doesn't like the coverage his party is receiving maybe they should stop breaking the elections act, miss-directing voters with robo calls and lying to parliament and the Canadian people about a $10,000,000,000 "accounting error" in purchasing useless jets to play war with the US! Harper hates the CBC because it uncovers his hypocrisy and lies. He hates the CBC because he can't shut them up by buying them off so he has to shut them down by cutting their budget Without the CBC as a voice for Canadians the only voice we'll hear is the shrill voice of big money.

    • Mediarmy
      April 23, 2012 - 09:08

      The purpose of news media is not to give everyone an equal voice. It is to spend far greater resources than the average citizen can afford to, in the pursuit of a deeper understanding of the situations that affect us collectively and individually. The conservatives may seem to get a disproportionate amount of criticism — but actually, there is just way more shady business to be exposed. If you don't think it's shady, and you can express that articulately, you will get a voice at the CBC table. But if you want to rant about free markets with all the depth of perspective of a toddler, you will probably not be consulted. It doesn't bring us any closer to the truth.