Listen Up! Should taxpayers underwrite the media? Absolutely not.


Hugh Mackenzie
Huntsville Doppler

At what point should the government be subsidizing journalism? I would say at no point but that ship left the harbour a long time ago. It started innocently enough, at the beginning of the last century, when broadcasting first came on the scene. The Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) was set up, regulated and controlled by the government. At that time, it was the only game in town so the government paid for it.

Well times have changed, but subsidizing the CBC has not. This year they will receive $675 million of taxpayer’s money, an increase of $150 million. Now I know the CBC is a sacred cow to many people and there is certainly a case to be made for Canada’s cultural and artistic interests to be protected and promoted. CBC Radio is particularly good at this. However, the CBC is no longer a monopoly and over the years the Canadian Radio and Television Commission, have required applicants, as a condition of licensing, to provide a “Promise of Performance” to include a commitment to promoting Canadian culture through programming, music and supporting Canadian talent. They do this on their own dime.

While I understand a limited amount of public subsidy for CBC Radio, I do not feel the same way about CBC television and I certainly believe that any news or public affairs functions of the CBC should NOT be financially supported by government. If nothing else, it is a conflict of interest. Almost blasphemy. I know, but that is how I see it.

I still remember Peter Mansbridge, the anchor of CBC National News, practically salivating over Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when he obtained the first exclusive interview after Trudeau’s election. Even the P.M. appeared embarrassed. And it confirmed to me what many people have known all along: that as a news outlet, the CBC is left of centre. A Conservative scandal in the Senate is likely to be of much more interest to them than Liberal corruption in the same place, even though there is much evidence of that. The CBC is soft on a Liberal government. Historically, it has gotten more from them than from a Tory government. Simply put, one party feeds them well, the other less so. They will not bite the hand that feeds them.

The problem is not that the CBC leans left. Many media outlets have their politics. The problem is that the CBC is subsidized by the government. They should not be. It is a conflict of interest for both parties. The CBC should call the shots as they see them, with prejudice, or otherwise. But they should do it on their own dime, without subsidy, just like everyone else in the business.

Now, of course, there are others wanting on the bandwagon. Recently, there was a debate, part of a series, ‘Great Canadian Debates’, sponsored by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. The topic of this particular debate was, ‘Should Government act to save journalism?’ Believe it or not, the federal government is studying how to support the news business!

One of the participants in this debate was John Honderich, Chairman of Torstar, which owns The Toronto Star, a number of other daily newspapers, Metroland (which owns the Huntsville Forester and dozens of other community newspapers) and, at least until recently, Harlequin Romances! And guess what? He was asking the government for a hand out! He made the case that “newspapers are vital for a democratic society, arguing that because of the industry’s badly broken business model, government action is necessary to prevent their disappearance.” What arrogance. Would the government bail out any other private entity because they had a badly broken business model? Besides which, journalism is not disappearing it is simply moving to the internet where the people are. Print media just did not see it coming.

At the Macdonald-Laurier debate, Honderich also stated that traditional media (read print journalism) “remains best positioned to hold governments to account, pursue deep investigations in the public interest and give voice to the less powerful.” And yet he is asking the same government(s) to give them a handout? Doesn’t that become a bit of a conflict? There goes impartiality down the toilet, if, of course, it was ever there in the first place.

According to an article in the Toronto Star in February, the Public Policy Forum released a report that outlined a decline in advertising revenue among Canadian media organizations. (This is particularly true for print media.) It recommended a series of tax changes and the creation of a $400 million fund by the government to support the industry. And the government is studying this! It’s scary stuff folks!

It is true that print journalism is in trouble. They have not moved with the times. But it is arrogant to suggest that they alone are the backbone of effective journalism. They have been, but they are not now and that is the simple truth.

Journalism is not dead; far from it. New Media will not be ‘new’ for long. It is becoming the status quo where information is gathered, investigated, disseminated and debated in fast time. The opportunities for creative journalism are endless. ‘Traditional Media’, as Mr. Honderich calls it, needs to go with the flow. And they need to do it without taxpayer bailouts, just as everyone else has, except of course the CBC!

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  1. John K. Davis on

    Hugh you are spot on with these comments. The answer to your question is Bombardier, a sacred French cow. Time for the CBC child to stand on its own two feet. Can the Liberals survive without their propaganda machine? This is the true question. Perhaps it could become the Canadian Public Broadcasting Corporation funded by the people for the people?

    • Gloria Woodside on

      The public broadcaster is important to all Canadians. We are a geographically large country. The CBC helps to keep us connected and informed. I only wish that the financial support would be increased so that advertising could be eliminated on television.

    • Brian Thompson on

      JOHN, in addition to the ongoing bailout of Bombardier, there was also significant assistance to General Motors and Chrysler after the financial crisis in 2008. And apparently Canada’s major banks were also reassured by the Federal Government in the event they required help as well.
      But it appears that Canadian taxpayers are doing more than their share to help enterprise in this country. A report by the Fraser Institute-Government Subsidies in Canada “40 years 1974-2014”-reveals that total government support at the Federal-Provincial-Municipal levels amounted to 684 billion dollars in that 40 year span. The data came from Statistics Canada as well as Industry Canada and FOI. These subsidies were made to private enterprise as well as Government Business Enterprises, including Crown Corporations.
      As for government assistance to private media, I agree with Hugh….don’t go there…although an article by Andrew Coyne in the National Post suggests its too late…that horse has already left the barn. I would argue that it is essential that funding be continued for parts of our National Broadcaster, especially CBC Radio1. I would like to see some of the money allocated to CBC Television spent on CBC Radio to help eliminate the reruns of their better programs. As for local news, websites like the Doppler seem to be the best current means of getting the information out.

  2. There is such a totally dishonest level of reporting that we see today. The mainstream media have devolved into a biased media that withholds the truth to shape opinions as they desire and as a number of subversive groups expect such as the Globalist crowd with their nation-destroying agenda. The CBC, paid to operate by the taxpayers and supported by our Globalist, anti Christian, invasion-supporting prime minister Trudeau, is just one of a majority of news sources. To me this is the ultimate treason against the sovereignty of the people. The mainstream media today strongly support left wing socialism which is just a cover up for a small group of people in this world that are trying to set up a world government with themselves in charge. Even in education we are into the second full generation of teaching curriculums bent toward the socialist left. This indoctrination is alarming particularly given the preference it is giving to the adaptation and promotion of the values and cultures of new immigrants over the established Canadian values and cultures. These established values should be presented to our children with acknowledgment and pride not diminished.

    BJ Greaves-Walker

  3. Right on!! Another great commentary. Change a few words and this could equally apply to the U.S and PBS. Remove the news gathering function of CBC and PBS, and let them stick to their high quality documentaties, drama, and comedies and I would support some limited taxpayer support. As it is now, I turn it off when their so called news, which is full of liberal bias, comes on.

  4. Right on!! Another great commentary. Change a few words and this could equally apply to the U.S and PBS. Remove the news gathering function of CBC and PBS, and let them stick to their high quality documentaties, drama, and comedies and I would support some limited taxpayer support. As it is now, I turn off when their so called news, which is full of liberal bias comes on.

  5. Jean Bagshaw on

    Personally, I like the CBC and its content, most of the time. I would like them to continue to receive public funding because I believe that the CBC is the nervous system of the country connecting one part of the nation with another and providing an outlet for our talented and creative peoples. Perhaps there should be more oversight to ensure unbiased, fact-based reporting that covers all sides of a story. I enjoy Canadian content and I would like to see more of it on a well supported public broadcasting system.

  6. Dave Stewart on

    Cut their subsidies , cut news from their mandate , let a smaller CBC survive on their 5th Estate and other excellent documentaries. For Cdn. news content tune into CTV or our national papers , either print or on-line. Personally, I no longer kill trees to read the news.

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