30 Day Television Challenge: Day Eight

A show everyone should watch: The National

Brace yourselves. This is the post where I get up on my soapbox and tell everyone to eat their vegetables – or, rather, their Canadian bacon.

Recently, the CBC has been accused of liberal bias have been asked to defend their relevance before Parliament. Although Jean Chretien was responsible for some significant cuts to the CBC’s budget, under Steven Harper, Canada’s local broadcaster has been under even more intense scrutiny.

So, what purpose does the CBC serve? Well, beyond Canadian content, which is whole other can of worms, I’d like to focus on it as a publicly funded news show. Vis a vis The National. I pick The National because it is CBC’s flagship news program. However, there are many other worthwhile news programs on CBC. I use The National and the CBC (insofar as it is relevant to news) in general through out the post.

One the main arguments against a public news program is: why should taxpayers fund something that private media outlets can do?

Well, firstly, private media outlets are beholden to ratings. They need to pull in the largest number of viewers as possible so they get more money for ads. Simple capitalism. Public broadcasting, on the other hand, aren’t so tied to ratings. Because it is publicly funded, CBC can afford to be less sensationalized than something like CTV, for example.

This of course has its downsides. Oftentimes, watching The National, I feel like their coverage is too vanilla; that anchors like Peter Mansbridge ought to hold his interviewees’ feet closer to the fire. But this would invite accusations of bias, which is obviously dangerous territory for a publicly funded entity.

As the relevance of television grew, Governments have become increasingly hostile towards the CBC. They feel like Canada’s media outlet should be more like another liaison to the public, as opposed to an autonomous journalistic enterprise. However, if we look at some figures, we see that the CBC is actually quite balanced in their coverage:

(For more info check out the source of these figures. Also, here is a pdf on the independent study.)

There are two things I take away from these graphs. Firstly, based on the first figure, we see that CBC actually leads CTV and Global in time given to members of the federal government. So, if there is a “liberal bias” in the CBC, they somehow sneak it in with the other quarter of coverage they give to the opposition.

Secondly, which I think is most significant is “tone”. CBC is very much in line with the other major media outlets in their approach towards the Government and opposition. Also, it makes sense that the opposition are slightly more neutral and the government is slightly more negative. After all, it is the government making policy, which means they are inevitably more scrutinized.

However, balance and “fairness” should not be ends in themselves when it comes to journalism. Accordingly, I applaud CBC when they have people like Terry Milewski, David Suzuki, and Bob McDonald come out and take a stand on an issues using *gasp* facts. To dismiss these journalists as “liberals” is ridiculous because all they’re doing is making decisions based on research and data as opposed to ideaolgy. Moreover, there are plenty of conservative voices on CBC. People like Rex Murphy, Andrew Coyne, and Kevin O’Leary are each fairly libertarian.

Unfortunately, these voices are fairly liquid in their partisanship. McDonald and Suzuki are scientists so they’re going to sway which ever way the data points. Milewski, Murphy, and Coyne have different convictions – and I agree and disagree with each depending on the issue – but rarely do they surrender to blind partisanship.

This is unfortunate because CBC doesn’t really have someone they can hold up as a “conservative voice”, thus leaving them open to attack. But this is bullshit. The worse moments on CBC are when they have party MPs arguing on an issue. They never stray from the partisan line and we get no real debate. The same goes for media pundits. This is the ultimate failure of middle-brow journalism, this obsession with “balance”.

A bunch of competing voices pushing different private interests is not a debate. A debate is an attempt to reach some kind of consensus or determining what’s the best perspective we can possibly adapt. In the case of partisan debates, we have people arguing in bad faith. No matter how convincing a counter-argument, neither side will retort with something that diverges from their party’s opinion.

Conservative: “The sky is purple!”

Suzuki: “Well, actually, it’s blue.”

Liberal: “You’re both wrong because it’s burnt sienna!”

You get the point.

Obviously, the “goal” of these spectacles is to let the viewer decide, but all we are getting is more talking points and party policy. All of these things can be discovered on the party’s website. Really, it’s just a waste of time. What we need are professional journalists breaking down the issues or at least challenging a politician’s diatribe. But the second you apply even a modicum of pressure on an MP you’re labeled “liberal” or “conservative”.

(Rex Murphy is my fucking idol)

Ugh. But I digress. Back to the main point of this post. Why should everyone watch The National? (Or whatever your relevant news outlet maybe in Australia, South Africa, Mexico, etc.)

As I referenced in my post on The Newsroom, the key to a healthy democracy is a well-informed electorate.Unfortunately,  there are some many issues that my fellow Canadians are either totally ignorant of or are woefully informed. Aboriginal issues, the situation in Quebec, the crime rate, the environment, tuition costs, and the economy are but a few.

And the politicians want it this way. The less you know, the more plausible their rhetoric becomes. To arm yourself against the silver tongues of politicians you need are facts. Knowledge is the shield to seduction. So, when Harper and Vic Towes tell you that establishing more mandatory minimum sentencing and stiffer penalties will keep you safe, just remind yourself that Canada’s crime rate has been steadily dropping since the 70s.

The second reason is that the CBC is more besieged than ever. Sun TV is gunning for them. There’s rumblings that some are trying to repeal the Canada Radio Act’s rule against passing off heavily editorialized opinion off as legitimate reportage, thus reducing Canadian news programing to what we’re seeing in USA with Fox News. (source)

We need a publicly funded media outlet like the CBC because of its inherent market inefficiency. We need a program that is not run like a corporation because we need someone to report the news without trying to pander to audiences. Sure, the CBC isn’t perfect. Its public funding prevents it from becoming too controversial. Nonetheless, this is a valuable asset. A program like The National is a great starting point for citizens to become informed on Canadian issues.

(a well-informed electorate…)

Now I’ll get down from my soapbox.




~ by braddunne on September 16, 2012.

One Response to “30 Day Television Challenge: Day Eight”

  1. You would think with the amount of kissing and hugging Mansbridge has bestowed upon Harper,things would have gone a little better for the CBC. Then again , Harper will do, say, lie, cheat and run roughshod over anything and anyone that /who gets in the way of his kingdom.

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