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Media Beat: As Divisions Grow Wider, CBC Is Still Worth Defending (Column)

Canada's public broadcaster routinely takes a drubbing and the worst part is that it's too often deserving of the criticism — but without it, what then?

Media Beat: As Divisions Grow Wider, CBC Is Still Worth Defending (Column)
Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

Like It Or Not, The CBC Is Our Essential News Source

Wordsmith and media critic Rick Salutin counters Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre’s Let’s Crash and Burn the CBC electioneering rhetoric with a Toronto Staropinion piece where he gives his vote of confidence for the Old Dear we too often love to pillory in public assembly.

Salutin’s praise is delivered more as a backhanded compliment than unconditional praise, but any support for the public broadcaster these days is a cry of mercy in a cruel sea that cries out for defenestration.


Ever himself an entertaining and imaginative journo, Salutin explains that “the CBC was created as an existential necessity for Canada,” and reservedly adds that it “probably remains Canada’s strongest and most reliable news source, crappy as it is and has always been…”

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And there you have it.

A crappy necessity.

But is he being glib in his assessment and his defence of the CBC?

More likely he’s postulating in a fashion that balances entertaining the readership with some factual counterbalance, going on to acknowledge that the age-old argument the news services the CBC delivers are bought and paid for by taxpayers, ergo the ruling party in Parliament. But there is a separation between church and state that prevents wilful political tampering with the news process. It’s a delicate balance both halves of the equation walk in getting on with the day-to-day, but in the balance, it has worked well over the decades and there’s no reason to believe the division wall can’t continue to operate as intended in years to come.

Amplifying criticism of the CBC is the private broadcaster community, followed by some print media organs such as Postmedia. Arguments in favour of castration fall into two categories:

1 – The government-funded TV services siphon off a diminishing pool of advertising dollars that aren’t already being sucked up by the likes of Meta, Google and Amazon.

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2. – In the ratings game that ad agencies live and die by, private broadcasters find themselves battling against CBC outlets in all major markets across the country and all too often find themselves playing second fiddle to the government-funded broadcasters.

Salutin addresses this in his editorial: “I’m aware of dangers in governments exerting influence on news sources dependent on them, though I’ve never understood why that’s worse than the influence corporate advertisers exert in the private ads model. In either case, you can erect ‘walls’ between sectors that will succeed only partly, at best.”

He's also in praise of another government-funded news network: “… Al Jazeera, funded by the oil revenues of Qatar, is probably the best, healthiest news outlet in the world. You might want to be wary when it reports directly about Qatar but on everything else it’s pretty good. (Its vast English network was set up by CBC news vet Tony Burman over a decade ago.)”

Depending on your political persuasion, you’re either for or against the pubcaster and there’s little anyone can say to budge those on either side of the divide; however, well-funded news organizations, however funded, are a dying breed. They are costly to operate and the payback versus costs of service are growing disproportionately wide. Self-anointed/appointed pundits spring up in today’s online landscape like mushrooms after a spring rain. And the divisions between us grow ever wider, whether it be political, social, sexual, religious or ethnic.

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Fox News wins the day in ratings in the U.S. by a country mile and other right-wing megaphones such as Tucker Carlson Network, Breitbart News, Epoch Times, Newsmax and The Western Journal are slowly carving up audiences into bite-sized adherents. Then there’s the fact that many now count social media platforms such as TikTok as primary sources for news, and the algorithms employed further dissuade unity and foster segmentation in society.

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So, whether the CBC provides a balanced feed of news becomes increasingly unimportant as the years roll by. Arguments have been made that as mainstream news services wither, so the building blocks that underpin democracy fall into disarray.

It’s a bleak horizon, but, for now, we have the CBC. Perhaps we need to show it more respect than we do and see Poilievre’s bluster for what it is – electioneering hubris.

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