Something's Deeply Wrong With The CBC.
The CBC isn't going to be a shining beacon in an increasingly dark and dysfunctional mass-media landscape. But it can't long remain what has become, either.
I’ve tried to champion the cause of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Really, I have.
I’ll continue to insist that the CBC employs a great many hard-working and brilliant journalists: Adrienne Arsenault, Ian Hanomansing, Natasha Fatah, Evan Dyer, Erica Johnson, Piya Chattopadhyay, Matt Galloway. . . but the events of this past week exposed something that’s impossible to avoid.
The cause is probably lost.
What we’re dealing with here is a state-owned broadcaster run by bosses with the same avant-garde mindset and sense of self-regard as the governing Liberals who fervently defend the CBC to the point of spittle-flecked hysterics. That’s what occurred this week when a national rumpus erupted over three words: government-funded media.
Twitter mogul Elon Musk applied those words to the CBC’s account on his platform (which only about 15 percent of Canadians have anything to do with, to give you some sense of perspective), which pleased Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre to no end because it served to remind the Twitterverse about who butters the CBC’s bread.
The three-word outrage was among several provocations and pranks Musk was pulling at the expense of public news organizations around the world this month. You’d think some Bond villain had spiked the drinking water on Parliament Hill with hallucinogens and Poilievre was in on the caper. Prime Minister Trudeau himself led the call to arms (“they’re trying to attack a foundational Canadian institution”), unhelpfully sabotaging the CBC’s claims to partisan independence, and offering Poilievre free evidence for his argument that the CBC is a hive of Liberal bias that should be de-funded, all in one go.
It’s easy to go overboard and make all sorts of outlandish claims about why the Trudeau Liberals are so singularly obsessed with defending the CBC as some sort of indispensably vital organ in the bowels of Canadian democracy. There is similarly a common tendency to frothing histrionics about why a growing number of Conservatives tend to see the CBC as their sworn enemy.
It’s all very gripping, but set aside whether the Conservatives or the Liberals are right or wrong. This is a state of affairs that can’t be sustained in a democracy, and shouldn’t be. The CBC can’t carry on like this when nearly half the Canadian population subscribes to a point of view that sees the broadcaster as a purveyor of state propaganda.
That’s what I was trying to get across in my Postmedia column this past week. Headline in the Ottawa Citizen version: The Liberals' weird fixation with the CBC is the real problem. National Post version: Hysteria over CBC's Twitter tussle another sign it needs to go. Do come back and click one of those links when you’re done reading this newsletter.
Much of this Weekend Real Story will have to go on the far side of the paywall but for here and now and public consumption, to be clear: I still side with those who argue for a well-funded national broadcaster that nurtures and upholds a vision of Canada that treats all of us with some respect and leaves everyone with some dignity.
But I concede we’re losing the argument.
I also have to concede that I write for Postmedia, which takes in about six percent of its revenues from grants made available in about $600 million in federal subsidies distributed to a constellation of private news media organizations across the country.
The CBC dominates the Ottawa Press Gallery and swallows about $1.3 billion in its annual Parliamentary appropriation, which the corporation then uses to trespass and intrude upon the legacy media in new ways that suck money out of the marketplace, which in turn necessitates those subsidies to private-sector media, and around it goes.
The main thing that has to be understood about the current shouting match is that after they came to power in 2015, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals broke with a quarter of a century of bipartisan skepticism about the endurance and relevance of the CBC’s foundational purposes. Team Trudeau stepped in to create something new, and now they’re conjoined with it, hip and thigh.
Back in January I took a deep dive into this stuff: About trust in the media, especially the CBC. Real Story subscribers will know that the mangled state of the news media was a founding motivation for this newsletter and I occasionally go to lengths to describe the terrain and its various swamps and killing grounds, as in Some Overdue News About The News.
I have lost a lot of optimism from back in 2014, let me tell you, when the Harper government was turning down the CBC’s budget requests and I was making this case: In a world of propaganda, Canada needs a strong CBC. Fat lot of good I did with that argument.
Even the BBC World Service has been gutted. As of February, after 85 years on the radio, BBC Arabic was gone, and hundreds of jobs in other overseas BBC foreign-language programs are now gone too. On the bright side, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty is still beaming into the world’s police states, an endeavor made more necessary by the new Sino-Russian curtain descending upon the world - a tectonic event in historic and geopolitical terms that the CBC, incidentally, has barely noticed.
Even the news startups all those cool kids launched into cyberspace a few years ago are foundering on the rocks. Whatever you think about Buzzfeed, Buzzfeed News was a welcome addition to the journalism racket. The crew deservedly won a Pulitzer for its amazing investigative work on the the slave camps where the Beijing regime has interned hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. As of Thursday, Buzzfeed News is shutting down.
In the decades following its inception, the whole point of the CBC was to provide an informative, welcoming, entertaining and unifying place on the airwaves outside the raucous cacophony of the American mass media. It was to be a place where Canadians could get to know one another and to know about their country. And it did a pretty good job of it.
But now, the CBC brass has rebranded the organization along lines that blend seamlessly with the faddish haute-bourgeois obsessions the Trudeau Liberals’ have drawn straight from the culture wars that have so enfeebled the United States.
Rather than provide a place where Canadians can have their own conversations, the CBC’s $436,000-a-year CEO Catherine Tait (and her whiter-than-white board of governors and her seven vice-presidents, ten directors-general, her $900,000-a-year “strategic intelligence department” and her 143 executive directors) joined forces with the Trudeau Liberals in a multi-year funding package to mainline those American toxins straight into the bloodstream of Canadian culture.
At the very least, to a lot of people, it sure seems that way.
The CBC’s corporate culture has always been leftish, and “the left” has always been burdened by what George Orwell called “that dreary tribe of high minded women and sandal wearers and bearded fruit juice drinkers who come knocking toward the smell of progress like bluebottles to a dead cat.”
What’s new here is a weird sensibility that masquerades as “progressive” that’s a perfect fit with Trudeau’s self-professed determination to remodel Canada as a “post-national” country with “no core identity” and “no mainstream.” It’s a radical experiment born from the luxury of living under the American security umbrella and immense natural-resource wealth and the sacrifices of Canadians whose struggles it has become decidedly unfashionable to even remember.
What unites and binds the Trudeau Liberals with the CBC brass - and for that matter, with the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission, and the Canada Council for the Arts, and so on - is a mutually-reinforcing ideational package. . . please don’t make me say “woke.” What the hell, I said it. You know what I mean.
What I mean is an epistemology that supplants and replaces systems of knowledge and truth-seeking with rigidly-enforced systems of belief and ideology that purport to be “progressive.” It’s a phenomenon that is fatally corrosive to the disciplines we’ve always relied upon, in conversations and arguments among and between people of the “left” and the “right,” to establish broad societal agreement about what constitutes the truth.
It’s also those disciplines that allowed an understanding of Canada and its traditions as complicated and fascinating and worth holding onto and fighting for. Arrayed against those disciplines is this monstrous epistemology, and I found myself up against it last year after taking on that Year of the Graves assignment for the National Post. I wrote about the uproars here, in When Narrative Replaces Facts. Long story short: It wasn’t just that the facts didn’t matter anymore. It was that it didn’t matter that the facts didn’t matter anymore.
This is what should cause us all to be extremely skeptical of Ottawa’s looming online streaming law, which empowers the CRTC to enforce federal standards in the digital realm - YouTube, Netflix and Spotify and so on - to highlight Canadian content in line with the Liberals’ notions of “diversity, equity and inclusion.”
There’s been a good deal of exaggeration about the law’s implications, and I’m not against diversity, equity or inclusion, but one only has to recall the Laith Marouf scandal to harbour serious doubts about whether this will end well. Marouf is that Beirut-based antisemitic maniac and contributor to propaganda platforms run out of Moscow and Tehran who managed to hoover more than $600,000 over the years from the CRTC’s consultation grants without anyone in Ottawa seeing anything wrong with him.
It was exactly a year ago this week that telecommunications industry consultant Mark Goldberg blew the whistle on a federal Anti-Racism Action Program grant Marouf was awarded to teach federally-regulated broadcasters about - wait for it - how to be not-racist. Marouf’s $133,000 project was titled Building an Anti-Racism Strategy for Canadian Broadcasting: Conversation & Convergence.
It took months for the scandal to come to public notice, and it took weeks for the federal government to respond to it, and here we are, a year later, and nobody has been held accountable. No one.
And now I’m going to be a bit indelicate, which is why we’ve come to the paywall. By all means come on in, but you’ll need a ticket, here.