We have very few independent stations in Canada. Independent, that is, from the monopolies of the major communication companies. Independent from their capacity of censure, from their conflict of interest, and their attempts to gouge already overburdened Canadians.
I recognize that there is some concern about the CBC being funded by the government of Canada, some suggestions that it is not as impartial as it claims to be. Is this true? It is certainly possible, though I've heard no credible evidence as of yet and so reserve passing a judgment (feel free to link to some evidence in either direction - I'm happy to review it). However, I do find the argument a little confusing, allow let me elaborate...
The foundation of the assertion "the CBC is biased" comes from the knowledge that it is paid for in part by the government. The suggestion is that this financial backing influences CBC reporting on political events and leads to a bias in favor of the government of Canada. The reactionary proposition is that we should reduce government funding of the CBC, thereby reducing bias, and improving the standard of reporting in Canada.
Unsurprisingly, the majority of this "liberal bias" criticism has been coming from Conservatives – parroting the complaints of the Republicans. Being that the Conservatives have been forming government for the pat few years, and being that they had already been in government for 3 years before the budget cuts of 2009, why weren’t they able to manipulate this organization? Why is it that the liberal parties are so effective, whereas Stephen Harper – a man who had (at the time) rendered the Liberal party wholly ineffective in every other capacity – was incapable of bending them to his will? We can only draw one of three conclusions:
1. Stephen Harper is arrogant and feels that there is no requirement to bend the ear of the Canadian people using one of the most powerful media organizations in Canada.
2. The CBC always prefers the Liberals because they have historically won more seats and in the long term will – supposedly – always win (leading to more funding if they show bias)
3. The governing party, and in turn the government, has no influence on how the CBC reports.
First, Harper has never backed down from manipulating any system at his disposal to adjust the Canadian political system in his favor. His attempt to reduce party subsidies for the votes received is wholeheartedly undemocratic attempt to control the elections process and bankrupt other parties. If you think that he’d steer clear of influencing the CBC when/where possible then you’ve severely underestimated Harper’s will to power – the guy is using the RCMP to throw out veterans, you can bet he’d place a couple of phone calls to a company funded by the “Harper Government”. The “President of Canada” bows to no man.
To the second point, an inherent bias in favor of the Liberal party due to some form of one-party dominance, I humbly submit to you Rex Murphy’s lambasting of Ignatieff in 2009: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yya1YjSDYK4
I think that leaves us with a fairly clear picture regarding where I stand with the third conclusion: I think it’s right. I don’t think that the governing party have much, if any, influence on the government outside of how hard they make it for the CBC to do their jobs. Harper has spent most of this campaign restricting the number of questions he’ll take and shutting out journalists and media. I don’t know any person, much less any journalist, who feels that this is a good thing for Canadian democracy.
Let it be said then that I am not convinced that the funding of the CBC leads, in and of itself, to any bias within the CBC.
Furthermore, I remain steadfastly unconvinced that independently owned organizations are intrinsically less biased than those that are government-backed. Following the English Leaders Debate on Tuesday, the Toronto SUN published an article that had a rather biased spin to it indeed:
The Toronto SUN proves that privately owned media is without bias...
This front page story was called "Iggy channels Chairman" and featured a full-page picture of Ignatieff, with a very large but slightly blurry picture of Mao Tse Tung in the background. Mao, of course, was a brutal and terrifying dictator whose vicious and merciless tactics included unusually brutal torture methods and the end of hundreds of thousands of lives across China. It was blurred to the degree that I actually didn't notice it at first, instead greatly focused on the offending headline. One friend suggested to me that it may have been intended to be subliminal and I must admit that, in a newspaper known for its recklessly alarming style of reporting, this occasion for subtlety appeared rather suspect. One must also wonder why this image was not used on the website, as I’m sure it took many minutes to paste together. So, why would the Toronto SUN make a comparison between one of our most accomplished citizens and one of the most hated men in recent history (second only to Hitler, in my opinion)? During the English Language Debate, Ignatieff was arguing that Harper needed to let other voices breathe, that he needed to “…let the flowers bloom”. The SUN claims that this was a direct reference to Mao’s “Hundred Flowers Campaign”. However, as one commenter put it:
“’Let the flowers bloom’ is no more Maoist than the phrase "freedom of speech". The Maoist term, which holds similarity only in that it is usually translated using both "flowers" and "bloom" is a result of the "Hundred Flowers Campaign". For all of Iggy's faults there is no evidence that he is a Maoist. In fact, he was a well known academic prior to running for office, and his political theory is available for all who are interested. But in a campaign of slurs and slanders one gets the idea that people are more interested in falsifying than falsification. As Christopher Hitchens recently said about the Tea Party and the Birthers' claims about Obama, with these sorts of people "any slur will do.”
So, on what foundation do we suggest that privately owned news operations are less biased? I would say that, in Canada, we find ourselves on a thin wedge teetering between confirmation-bias and ideological post-rationalization.
There is a balance to be struck here, between government-backed news and private news organizations. The best democracy has both - as we currently do - and I think it is in the interest of every Canadian to keep it that way. Let us not hand both reigns of the media to the telecommunication companies, let us support one of our most cherished institutions. Let us support the CBC.
Steven Bradley Scott