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The Crumbling Mainstream Press and Media in Canada. Part Three. The CBC. Public Broadcasting Goes To The Wall.
Robin Mathews, Vancouver BC
It was “The National” and it was April 24.
I don’t very often watch television, and so the experience was shocking – to watch on a large screen what is believed by many to be one of the most informative news productions in Canada.
Not a television watcher, I saw – perhaps – what others don’t normally see: “Infopropaganda” – a combination of show business, technological sleight-of-hand, “celebrity,” dress-up, make-up, and cut-to-time program shaping. “News” came last. “News” was buried under sentimental posturing and “expertise”. That show revealed, perhaps, major problems that haunt the CBC – problems to a large extent created and/or exacerbated by the hatred the Harper neo-liberals have for public broadcasting.
You could see it on “The National”; you see it on TV; you hear it on radio.
The CBC pretends it isn’t in a world in which government hates public responsibility, though that condition is visible everywhere. The CBC pretends it mustn’t fight back to preserve the integrity of public broadcasting in Canada. It mirrors an attitude often shown by Opposition parties – that it exists in a normal political climate not in a climate in which it faces a full-scale attack on democracy in Canada. It acts as if it isn’t in the sights of a neo-fascist government that wants to wreck all public responsibility and all public service institutions … on the way to unlimited power and unquestioned authority.
That was stunningly and embarrassing clear when Peter Mansbridge introduced the matter of the 2011 Robocall Report by Yves Côté, Commissioner of Elections Canada. His Report – Côté admits – was stymied by refusals to cooperate and huge, unnecessary delays, largely on the part of the Conservative Party. He declares there is not information enough to begin criminal charges in the matter. How can he know?
Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch says simply: “the Commissioner made the wrong decision”. The Commissioner couldn’t demand cooperation with the investigation (a huge flaw in Elections Canada powers), but he could have reported weekly throughout the investigation that he was being blocked, and by whom. Had he done that over the three years, he might well have received considerably more cooperation than he got. Instead, he acted, it would seem, like one of the boys in the club: make believe you’re able to investigate; make believe you can take no initiative; make believe you can’t speak about your investigation and the people blocking it; make believe you are much more hampered than you need be; then make a Report that looks as if it were written by someone in the Prime Minister’s Office.
The whole thing was as mawkish and
ill-handled as it could be.
Was it those things intentionally?
The only thing worse was the treatment that the release of the Report got on CBC’s “The National” on April 24.
All participants from Peter Mansbridge on acted as if the Report was all there is to say about the corruption involved. No one reminded the viewers that the Conservative Party of Canada pleaded guilty to election violations in the 2006 election – after fighting Elections Canada for five years.
No one reminded viewers that the Conservative Party of Canada was found in violation of Robocalling rules in 2013 and paid $78,000.00 in fines to the CRTC in April of 2013. Trying to interfere in the objective Electoral Boundary changes in Saskatchewan, the Conservative Party of Canada oversaw thousands of illegitimate Robocalls in Saskatchewan. The only reason it didn’t face criminal charges is because the Conservative government resists all regulation of electoral violation and the bringing of such violations clearly into the Criminal Code.
In the midst of the phoniest attempt at fraudulent legislation in the last half century – The (Un)fair Elections Act – Yves Côté produced what must seem to many, besides Duff Conacher, as the wrong decision in the 2011 Robocall Scandal “investigation”.
One would expect that “The National” would have provided an anatomy of election fraud and violation in the last eight years. (Peter Mansbridge’s 'Introduction'.) And … that it would have placed the Yves Côté decision within that frame. Not at all. What the public got was, to my mind, a piece of amateur theatre so bad that I thanked the gods of communication that I don’t watch television. Chantal Hebert, in my opinion, looking as if she just had her hair dyed black, acted as if she is a mixture of Shakespeare’s Falstaff and Lady Macbeth.
With the apparent cooperation of everyone else on the show – except the journalist from The Huffington Post – Ms. Hebert asserted that journalists make mistakes and they would all have to step back … and even apologize for their attitudes to the 2011 Robocall scandal. No criticism of Cote. No placing of the investigation. No facts. As she – metaphorically speaking – rolled her eyes and beat her breast the dreary little piece of theatre played itself out.
The representative from Huffington Post tried to enter criticism of the nonsense in front of her. But she seemed, obviously, to be considered of a lower order in the group that considers present issues. When she attempted to speak, Peter Mansbridge cut her off. No time.
I am describing a situation as I saw it. I mean no insult to the Huffington Post journalist. She seemed to me unfit for the job, inexperienced, too wordy, not able to dislodge the others though she had the best case. I couldn’t help but think that “The National” has no intention of placing a more excellent person in the place she fills.
That speaks to the larger game of the CBC. Its panels are tired, rarely using really sharp and informed people. There are hundreds capable … but they never get time on the CBC. Bloggers all over the country are better than most commentators/critics on CBC. Those non-CBC voices are never used on CBC.
Instead, Canadians watch Rex Murphy. He is a CBC regular who the CBC pretends is an independent, outside contractor. He provides, on the rare occasions I can bring myself to watch him, regular doses of reactionary commentary valuable to the Harper forces. No more need be said….
I have been saying things here as if all was impressionistic response. But a number of things are clear. The CBC won’t do its job. Whether from fear or for other reasons, it repeatedly, throughout its programming – from The Current, As It Happens, The 180, The Sunday Edition, “The National” … and on, and on – does the same thing. Whether speaking of Cuba, lawsuits involving El Salvador, issues in the Ukraine or Syria, Conservative violations of trust and decency in Canada, the CBC refuses to ask real questions informatively and responsibly. It refuses to have hard-hitting, historically informed commentators. That fact was screechingly clear on “The National”, April 24, 2014.
Just for instance, Jim Brown of The 180 allowed Preston Manning (Brown didn’t interview someone opposed, of course) to make outrageously reactionary statements without asking an intelligent question. (April 8, 2014) As Manning said such hyper-stupid things as that pipelines wouldn’t go through without demand and that decisions by government must be accepted by the people or the rule of law is undermined, Jim Brown accepted. In the face of a government that misinforms and gags Canadians every day, Manning insisted Canadians must obey a trust factor in relation to government.
Not a single probing question was asked by Jim Brown then (and when facing The Oil Industry representatives or people one might call ‘powerful’, my recording is that Jim Brown NEVER asks a probing question, ever).
When Anna Maria Tremonte finally had a good, intelligent analyst on the history that brought the Ukraine to the state it had reached by the April 9, 2014 broadcast, Ms. Tremonte got the speaker in and out without a serious question asked. It was as if she was afraid of letting the analyst say more for fear he might … upset … someone. Keep quiet. Get rid of the speaker as soon as possible. Don’t let anyone suggest the U.S./NATO have anything to do with the mess in the Ukraine. Don’t let anyone say the Harper attacks on Russia are the idiocies of a kneejerk Reactionary scarecrow waving his arms in a field where no crows fly.
Ms. Off, of As It Happens (April 2, 2014) interviewed in Mons, Belgium, a person from Command Centre of NATO who informed her that physical takeovers are no longer acceptable (in relation to the Crimea, I believe). Ms. Off didn’t ask what that meant about the War in Iraq, the smashing of Libya, the NATO War (unapproved by the UN) to take over Kosovo ... and the endless sabre rattling over Iran. From Ms. Off, not a probing or serious question!!!
The examples of huge CBC failure to inform Canadians multiply until one comes to believe the Corporation has thrown in the towel and is willing to crawl on its belly before the Harper cabinet. If that is the case, and the CBC believes it must abase itself, must flatter the Harper neo-fascists … then it has gone to the wall and is its own destroyer.
That is because the adversities of history have given the CBC a chance to do brilliant and heroic things and to be an invaluable part of Canadian history in the first quarter of the 21st century.
To answer the thuggish cuts to its funding, the CBC should cut where necessary to increase News staff, to launch rapier-like investigative reporting, to call in brilliantly informed and critical commentators, and to bare the democracy-destroying corruption in Canada.
If only the CBC would deal with the news that matters in Canada now – at this moment…. If two reporters at the Ottawa Citizen can expose the election corruption of the Harper goons, then the CBC could do fifty times more. Instead it masks, and fluffs, and pads, and sentimentalizes, and avoids, and misleads, and fails to report or to ask central questions.
Public broadcasting has gone to the wall, because the CBC hasn’t the guts to be what it should be for Canadians. Weep. Mourn. Wail. Tear your hair. Lament. You are cursed by the fear and self-loathing and cowardice of people who are especially chosen to protect democracy in Canada … and who refuse to do their job.
See Part 1 - The Crumbling Mainstream Press and Media in Canada. Part One. Looking at Andrew Coyne
See Part 2 - The Crumbling Mainstream Press and Media
in Canada. Part Two. The Globe(alization) and Mail.
Return to Robin Mathews page
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