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Dishonest News Practices

For the most part newscasters, reporters and news producers spend a lot of time and effort trying to be accurate, clear and informative. As in all professions some do it better than others but it is important to understand that contrary to much of what the public thinks the people involved in making a newscast want their stories to be honest and fair.

That being said there is one Canadian television news practice that throws the honesty down the drain in an effort to look “Canadian.” Worst of all it is a practice that regularly comes out of our two most trusted news operations, CBC and CTV.

What I’m referring to is the ridiculous lengths to which Canadian network news will go to pretend they have reporters on the scene all over the world. It happens mostly on weekends but I have seen it every day of the week. A foreign correspondent, usually in London or Washington, will be asked by the desk to file a report on a story they did not cover.

I’ll make up an example to show you how it works. There is a train crash in Italy. Dozens are dead and many more are injured. CBC and CTV do not have reporters in Italy but this is a big story. The desk in Toronto calls the reporter in London and tells him or her they need the story. I’m sure you think that means flying off to Italy. No it does not. It means picking up the story from BBC News and or ITV News in London. Then the reporter strips the voice-over, the British reporter’s script, from the report and replaces it with their own voice, many times not even bothering to rewrite the script. The only thing the Canadian reporter produces is the closing stand-up, that’s the part where the reporter is seen on camera talking to the audience. That’s tacked on to the end and guess what? It looks like CBC or CTV had a reporter covering the story.

The producers will tell you the reporter signs off from London therefore there is no inaccuracy involved. That’s just semantics. The practice is a deliberate attempt to deceive the viewing public. And for what reason? What’s wrong with running the BBC report? Do we not trust the BBC to get it right? Of course not. If we didn’t trust them we wouldn’t use their story. It’s showbiz. Look, they are saying, we are covering the world. We are great big news organizations with a worldwide reach. But they are not. CBC and CTV are very small potatoes in the news world.

CBC takes the “Canadianization” of its news to the ludicrous. They will not run any American or British stories. What they will do is take U.S. and BBC news and cut it up and have it voiced over by Peter Mansbridge or whoever is filling in for him. That’s okay if it’s not an important story but Canadians are missing out on the details of major news stories because it looks bad to run a BBC or NBC story on a Canadian newscast. It’s nuts.

Ask a news viewer whether he or she would rather get a complete story produced by the BBC or a half-baked re-cut produced by CBC and you and I know what the answer will be. Why bother to watch the news if you don’t get all the news? I believe the CBC owes the viewer the best newscast it can produce and if that means the coverage of Iran has to come from a BBC or NBC reporter, so be it. Unless the CBC can produce a better story, which without a reporter on the ground is impossible, run the damn BBC story.

I’m as patriotic about Canada as anyone in this country but I don’t know what the Canadian angle is on the election and post-election rioting in Iran. If the CBC wants to follow a BBC story with reaction from the Canadian Prime Minister and the Iranian community in Toronto that’s great, but let me see the whole news item from Teheran in its original form. It won’t diminish me as a Canadian, it will help me understand what is going on 10,000 miles from where I live. I will thank The National not think less of them.

I would love to know where this idea, that we can’t show foreign produced pieces on our national newscast, came from. When I worked in news, CBC regularly ran NBC and even CNN items. I don’t remember hearing or reading a single complaint from the viewers. In fact, CBC’s ratings were much higher then.

CTV is guilty of the some of the same practices but not the religious zeal that takes them to crazy ends. CTV News does, however, have its own form of dishonesty. They lop off the U.S. stand up and cover all the American news logos with their own so we don’t know it’s an American produced item. Why? Like I said, showbiz.

CBC, CTV I’ve got some news for you: serious Canadian news viewers want their news unadulterated. They don’t want the abridged version we are getting. Showbiz is okay so long as it doesn’t interfere with the quality of what you are delivering. It’s time for Canadian news producers to grow up, Canadian news viewers did a long time ago.

Filed under: Media Commentary, , , , , , , , , ,

About the Author

Howard Bernstein is a former TV producer. He has worked at CBC,CTV, Global and has produced shows for most Canadian channels as an independent producer.

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