Canada’s national broadcaster and dominant news outlet, the CBC, occupies a place in the nation’s media environment roughly analogous to Britain’s BBC (an independent network primarily financed by the government) and America’s PBS or NPR (its programming centered on high-minded drama and public affairs series). The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation also has a longstanding reputation for the liberal leanings of its journalism, denounced in published works like CBC Exposed, Tower of Babble, The Valour and the Horror Revisited, and a stream of op-eds going back decades; cynics have often dubbed it the Communist Broadcasting Corp.
A sampling of headlines from the CBC website might convey its general tone: “Defeating Hate Takes More Than Remembering Tragedy.” “Skin-Whitening Creams Illegally Sold in Canada.” “When Donors Cross the Line: Charitable Sector Grapples with Sexual Harassment.” “Fear of Coronavirus Spreading Racism and Xenophobia.” “Ontario City Tells its Firefighters Calendar is Too Steamy.” “Hockey Players Are Finally Speaking Out Against the Sport’s Toxic Culture.” “How I Learned to Love My Afro-Indigenous Hair.” Extending the altruistic apartheid that obtains elsewhere in Canadian governance, the site also has a special section for “Indigenous” news, as distinct from Politics, Business, or Health articles, which apparently have no relevance to Native people. Some CBC stories of the future could include “Is the Zombie Apocalypse Unfairly Targeting the LGBTQ Community?”, “Alien Invasion Neglecting Women’s Voices, Say Critics,” and “Prime Minister Drake Calls For More Diversity.”
In other writings I have argued that charges of “media bias” are largely meaningless in a world of multiple cable networks and the internet. Today, indeed, Canadians can choose from numerous print and electronic platforms offering socio-political perspectives well to the right of anything on the CBC, including the PostMedia newspaper chain and the often inflammatory website Rebel News; for a few years there was even the Sun News cable channel, a heavy-handed bid to be Canada’s equivalent of Fox in the US. Yet the problem is not that there are no alternatives to the CBC, but that the CBC’s content is uniquely funded by, and comes with the implied approval of, the state. The broadcaster’s historic status (it was founded in 1936) and its management and budgetary structure (operating under the federal Department of Canadian Heritage) give a distinct sonority to the messages it relays to Canada’s population.
Because of this, resentment towards the CBC derives less from its perceived power – over the years, cutbacks and competition have eroded its market share – than from its barely concealed conceit of being the official voice of Canadian cultural standards and civic values. Thus the pained sensitivity to minority issues; the zeal for uncovering the subtexts of bigotry beneath hockey playoffs, plane crashes, or natural disasters; the gleeful pitting of enlightened-versus-intolerant positions in so many interviews and investigative reports; the apparent assumption of downtown Toronto as the demographic sun around which the country’s identity orbits; the breathless exposés of someone, somewhere, who once said or did something now deemed offensive; the constant sense that audiences are being baited to either approve of its reporting or be categorized as racist / sexist / homophobic / Islamophobic / transphobic / climate change deniers – these do not endear the CBC to the mass of the Canadian public. “No matter what form the current media’s self-image takes,” wrote Canadian journalist George Bain in his 1994 book Gotcha: How the Media Distort the News, “it always has to have that slightly puffed-up element.” Bain’s words apply nowhere more than to Canada’s national network.
Again, I don’t claim that TV viewers and online readers are having their opinions unwittingly molded by the sinister socialist agendas of CBC executives. The CBC is definitely biased media, but then so is every other. Yet its ongoing and obvious pose of social engineer, with a noble mandate of bettering Canadians and an approved regimen of Progressive Causes to browbeat them into adopting (at their own expense), means that if US-style polarization ever afflicts this country, the CBC will bear some of the blame. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s familiar motto rings more false with every season, every special, and every news cycle. “Canada Lives Here”? Don’t flatter yourself.