Over the past several weeks the CBC has once again come under fire from Conservative politicians and conservative rabble rousers for their perceived bias. This has been a regular occurrence for decades. I was with The Journal when Brian Mulroney became Prime Minister and quickly began attacking the CBC. He hired a former CTV newsman and executive to look into the pro-Liberal leanings of the staff and management of the national broadcaster. Since there was never any action that resulted from the inquiry I have to guess that the powers in Ottawa could not find what they were looking for.
At the time I had only been at CBC for a short time and I was surprised by what I had found. I too believed there was a liberal bias, that is, until I arrived and started working with the CBC. Sure there were Liberal and NDP supporters on staff. There were also many Conservative supporters working at The National and The Journal. And guess what, the conservatives were actually the people in power, the decision makers. Barbara Frum would never admit to it, but she was always pushing the conservative viewpoint. In fact she would call her husband, a devout Conservative, and ask his advice before most political interviews. I never asked Mark Starowicz who he voted for but he always struck me as leaning to the right. There were similar stories at The National. As any reasonable person should suspect, there are people of all political stripes working throughout the media and all we should care about is there ability to do their jobs as professionals, not who they may vote for if an election were held today.
More to the point though, I was generally impressed with the fact that the stories that got to air were not particularly affected by any personal bias of the reporters, producers and writers. The staff were, in fact, professionals who were attempting to get their stories right with no time for the political games that politicians or fanatical viewers want to perceive. There have been the odd exceptions but those exceptions have popped up on all the networks and on all sides of the stories.
Now along comes Stephen Harper and his hatchet man Doug Finley along with Conservative Party President John Walsh to renew the CBC bashing when the going gets a little tough for his party. I suppose attacking the CBC might make a few people ignore Afghanistan and Guergisgate, but I suspect that CBC news has slipped far enough from the consciousness of Canadians that the ploy won’t do the Tories any good.
The Harperite attacks should have been ignored by the brass at the “corpse.” They were not. In fact CBC management has over-reacted big time. The CBC’s defensiveness will do more harm to their cause than anything the Harper minions could accomplish themselves.
The first big response was President Hubert Lacroix commissioning a study. How Canadian. Lacroix announced that a team of outside experts would conduct an independent review of its news gathering and delivery. How’s that for a vote of confidence in your staff? The results are due in the fall. How does one measure such things? If the CBC covers Helena Guegis are they being anti-Tory? What about covering a Liberal policy conference? Is that pro-Liberal? It’s a mugs game that will provide the answers that Hubert Lacroix wants or needs. If he needs an excuse to hammer his people into being easy on Harper, the panel will find a pro-Liberal bias. If he wants to back his peeps, guess what? There will be no bias at all. I can’t imagine anyone accepting the results of the study unless it agrees with their preconceived notions.
For 25 years in news I was called too far left by conservatives and too right wing by liberals. I always considered this a badge of honor. Nobody likes the coverage when they are dealing with a negative story about themselves. In the case of Parliament, the party in power always takes more hits than the opposition. Heck, they are making the policy and thus they are open to criticism. Lacroix should understand this and not respond in any other way than to show confidence in and watch the backs of his professional team of journalists. Any other response only leads to more charges and the growing of the story.
Unfortunately the CBC did not stop at a study. In response to the charges that CBC is using a Liberal pollster, Frank Graves, someone at the CBC went really overboard and opened the corporation to far more questions from both within and without. They went out and hired former Harper aide Kory Teneycke just weeks after he left the PMO. Inquiring minds have a question about Kory Teneycke’s new job…NDP MP Charlie Angus’s question to the Ombudsman was how CBC justifies hiring him when there is supposed to be a 2 year “cooling off” period. This is indeed the question that is raised most with the people I know.
But there is another question…who exactly hired him? Nobody I spoke to at CBC ever heard of one person being hired on what we can only presume is one contract to do a multitude of appearances on SEVERAL different programs. Did all the news and current affairs producers just happen to get together and try to entice him to accept such a deal. The ones I spoke to had not been contacted about the hiring. Or, as seems more likely, did CBC management hire him, and then proceed to ram him down the throats of CBC executive producers? Once upon a time, program producers decided who would be guests on their programs.
The CBC is being run by “the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.” Every move they make seems to result in another hole in their feet. If Hubert Lacroix really wants to fix the CBC he should begin with a long and hard look both in the mirror and at the folks running the place and leave the politics to the politicians.