Sunday, May 25, 2008


Sometime over the past decade or two the CBC lost its standing as the people's network, the place where Canadians could turn on television or radio for an interpretation of their country and the world through a Canadian lens that was often a progressive lens. The CBC now feels the way a public sector corporation does as it is being prepared by its management for privatization, which for CBC television at least, will be its fate if the Harper government wins a majority in the next election.

Managers of publicly owed corporations have always made a killing in the transition to private ownership. Those who do a good job shedding labour, thereby appearing to raise productivity usually at the cost of lower quality, can expect to be hired on with a much fatter pay packet as the first managers of the new private company. Whether it's a railway, an airline, a water utility, a telephone company, or a petroleum company, in Canada and in Britain, the experience has been that the new shareholders do brilliantly, while the old owners, also known as the citizenry, get hosed. The same will be true if CBC Television goes on the block.

Since the programming results are much the same, it's hard to know whether the executive producers of news and public affairs shows such as the National or Politics, are trying to inoculate the CBC against privatization or to prepare for it,. The other night I sat through another double-double of the much touted At Issue Panel followed by the wit and wisdom of Rex Murphy.

The regulars on the At Issue Panel range ideologically from the near to the hard right, from Harper apologists to right-wing ideologues, from Chantal Hebert, through Allan Gregg to Andrew Coyne. From time to time, when the need is felt for even more right-wing muscle, Don Martin, from the Asper Empire papers, or David Bercuson, a historian at the University of Calgary, who never encountered a war he didn't want to fight, are welcomed to the set. (Of course, if I want programming with greater balance, I can always tune in Wolf Blitzer at CNN's Situation Room.)

Perhaps the producers at the National would make the case in their defence that we live in a post-ideological age in which differences between right and left are out of date. Therefore, who needs anything as old-fashioned as balance? This right-wing clunker of an argument, of course, is nothing more than the insistence that we now live in a world in which all the basic socio-economic questions have been settled leaving only personalities, scandal and political tactics to be gossiped about. Might I suggest they rename this item, the Post Issue Panel.

Then comes the chaser---Rex Murphy, whose verbal acrobatics apparently make him the appropriate and sole mortal privileged to present his personal and dependably right-wing viewpoint night after night. Back in the days when Earl Cameron hosted the National----you have to be of a certain age to remember him---viewpoints were presented by many individuals, with diverse outlooks. Admittedly some of them didn't know how to look into a camera with Rex Murphy's angry stare, presumably an argument for dispensing with other voices.

But all is not lost. Every afternoon, those who desire a dish of politics can tune into Don Newman's show. The warhorses---here partisan balance is observed---are lined up to explain the daily tactics of their parties in Question Period, Parliamentary Committees and on Votes of Confidence. Whenever a guest inadvertently says something that resembles an idea, Newman gavels the offender back to the trivia of back room game playing. The guests who are not party hacks opine in conventional ways about the economy or the state of the world.

All that is genuinely political, having to do with alternative visions of the state and society, is expunged from the broadcast, whose motto should be: Where The Spin Never Stops.

In its day, the CBC was a stunning Canadian creation. It opened a Canadian dialog that made it possible for the people of a vast country, living in the shadow of American media, to learn about each other, to critically examine ideas on a vast range of subjects, and to see the wider world through eyes that were non-American.

The CBC helped offset the predominantly right-wing bias of Canadian newspapers. The extreme concentration of newspaper ownership in this country and the ever greater domination of the printed page by the political right---I love the right-wing line about the liberal bias of the media---poses a direct and serious threat to Canadian democracy.

We need to face reality. Serious political discussion is almost never encountered on the CBC today. While the CBC may return one day from the dark side, we urgently need to contribute to the creation of progressive media. Two of the best voices, in my view, are and Let me urge you, right now, to log onto one or both of these sites to take out memberships or make donations.


bigcitylib said...

James, its okay. The facts are Liberal. Having all the right-wingers on is just an attempt to balance that all off via intellectual affirmative action.

janfromthebruce said...

I quit watching the CBC for exactly this reason. Now when I get mail for "friends of CBC" I just think, what are they trying to keep propped up?
That said, I think it is strategically for this reason, by remaking it just another centre and right wing media site that ensures that CBC gets privatized. Those like, the "friends" have moved on to straightgoods and rabble a long time ago.
Remember, this started under the Liberals who prefer starving programs rather than in your face politics of Harper Conservatives.
But as usual, it all ends the same.

Anonymous said...

How about The Real News Network?
They are ex-CBC producers and have had a good start, and though now Internet-only but soon (with our help) are planning to move to cable as well.

James Laxer said...

Thanks for letting me know about The Real News Network.

Anonymous said...

(Of course, if I want programming with greater balance, I can always tune in Wolf Blitzer at CNN's Situation Room.)

lol :D

If you want an American news source with greater balance than the Wolfman, check here:
Democracy Now

I have to admit, with regards to the Situation Room, I do like Jack Cafferty's segments :)

John Murney said...

"Sometime over the past decade or two the CBC lost its standing as the people's network, the place where Canadians could turn on television or radio for an interpretation of their country and the world through a Canadian lens that was often a progressive lens."
Thank goodness for that! Now it can be a media outlet just like any other, and report unbiased news.

Northern PoV said...

As far as CBC-TV news is concerned I completely agree with you. The media sphere - first in the US and now increasingly here - has been dragged so far to the right, that un-biased reporting is tagged as "hopelessly left wing" in the continuing assault on the few voices left to tell the truth.
CBC-TV is most shameless on their Afghanistan coverage (cover-up is more like it). Mansbridge is a puff-ball.

CBC radio still seems to have some integrity. For how long?

Anonymous said...

Yes, it's about time we faced reality. The Harper government is subjecting the Corpse to a review and the CBC's response is to embed its reporters and commentators in the "Mission" in Afghanistan -- notice Mansbridge won't call it a war. The only time we hear criticism of the war, it's from the perspective of John Manley. When Manley came out with his report the only war skeptic was outflanked by hawks. And on it goes.
Yes, I believe a progressive strategy is to look to Rabble, the Guardian, Interpress, etc. But first, let us confront the Corpse.
In vain, I wrote to Linda McQuaig about the malaise.
Laxer, you have some status. Why not expand your article and get it published in the Star, etc.?

Wally Brooker said...

Sadly, CBC Radio may not hang on for long. At Radio 2 Canadians are facing the end of CBC classical music competitions, the closing down of the CBC Vancouver Radio Orchestra (the last CBC orchestra), the reduction of classical music airtime to 25 hours per week (from 125) and the end of the CBC Records classical music program. There's a connection here with the rightward shift in news programming. Both represent a betrayal of the CBC's original mandate by the ruling class and its mouthpieces in government and CBC management.

kim@rabble said...

Hi Jim, thanks for the plug for Canadian independent media!

Since you've made the opening here, rabble is trying to recruit 2000 new members at $5/month. For that $5/month, a member gets to choose one of 14 terrific independent print magazines (like Canadian Dimension, Herizons, the Progressive, ricepaper...), plus right now they get entered into a draw to win prizes. And we all get stronger alternative media choices. See for details.

Deb Prothero said...

sad but true. All the more reason for the Liberals to get their act together and present a winning case. Then we'll have to put the pressure on to get our network back.

Anonymous said...

Thank you James for eloquently articulating my own frustations with the CBC. Last year I wrote the CBC ombudsperson to complain about the very same thing - the lack of balance on the At Issue panel and Rex Murphy's Viewpoint.

I was assured by the ombudsperson that my concerns would be looked into and received a response from the executive producer of The National. He asserted that there really was no such thing as "Left" and "Right" anymore, but, in any event, they do feature Janice MacKinnon as a pundit on the At Issue panel from time to time.

Give me a break. Just because you were once a New Democrat in a province where the NDP is the natural governing party does not make you a social democrat, never mind a socialist. But I digress...

Not only would the CBC be more informative if progressive viewpoints were given voice, but think how much more entertaining the At Issue panel would be if Judy Rebick, Jim Stanford or James Laxer were part of the panel!

Anyway, I was told by the ombudsperson that my complaint would go forward and be investigated but I haven't heard anything since.

Anonymous said...

After watching the CBC coverage of the "coalition" debates, I think you are being a bit unfair. Thank God for Don Newman, Keith Boag and Peter Mansbridge pointing out the Conservatives' many blatant lies. Far outshines the CTV competition!!

Anonymous said...

It's amazing how almost all those who commented almost unanimously said the CBC is rightist. I completely disagree; I find the National is, and always has been, an incredibly progressive news program.

As for all the commentators on the "At Issue" Panel, it is true that they sway occasionally to the right, but you have also forgotten their harsh criticism of the Harper government's standoff-ish relationship with the opposition parties and with the media.

And we must equally not forget the alternative to the CBC's flagship news program... CTV. The horror! Have you ever seen how slowly the news ticker scrolls at the bottom of the scream? And how uninteresting and monotonous the reporters are? I think I'll stick up the good old National, thank you very much.

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