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Time for Hutton North
by Rondi Adamson
20 February 2004Canadian Broadcasting Company

The United States has PBS and NPR, but those are child's play next to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

I have American friends who envy me my healthcare and that it is (relatively) hard for me to buy a gun. And these are good things about Canada, though I'm not convinced of the virtues of the former in its current incarnation. However, one thing Americans needn't envy their northern neighbors is our public broadcaster: Call it the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, or The Corpse (as a Canadian satire magazine does), or, as some of us have come to call it since September 11th, 2001, the Caliphate Broadcasting Corporation. Whatever one calls it, it shouldn't be something one covets. Oh, I know you have PBS and NPR, but those are really child's play next to the CBC.    

I have nothing against biased, sophomoric reporting per se. In fact, when I need a laugh, or when I feel my blood could use a good boiling, it hits the spot. But I do have something against being forced to pay for it. So it was with a certain thrill and sense of jealousy that I heard about the Hutton Inquiry. "I wish, I wish," I thought, "that the CBC would come under similar scrutiny." Following the release of the report, I watched a CBC program which purports to "watch" the media -- excluding the CBC, one concludes.

On it, the CBC's editor-in-chief of news declared that anyone who was "somewhat detached" (by this I gather he meant anyone anti-war) would view the Hutton findings as a "phenomenal whitewash" of the Blair government. Funny how he didn't seem to realize the level of smearing of Lord Hutton himself that comment implied. Or did he? I recall nobody suggesting when the inquiry started that Lord Hutton was unsuitable, and many journalists have said that he called it as the evidence told him it was. According to another guest on the same program, BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan got into trouble because "he used one source." Really? I thought he got into trouble because he distorted the facts to fit his beliefs. 

We want the media to be vigilant. But when it does so without regard for the facts, and without common sense, it is not beneficial. Where the BBC appears to have had it in for the Blair government, the CBC -- which was training ground for Peter Jennings -- generally has it in for the United States, and in particular has had it in for the Bush administration. Since September 11th this tendency has peaked. That morning I called my mother, wondering aloud how long it would take till the CBC started blaming the United States and making excuses for the hijackers. "A couple of months," predicted my mother, "once the bodies are cold." It took less than 24 hours, leading me to deduce, panic-stricken, that my public broadcaster had become an Al Qaeda cell.

Which shouldn't have surprised me. The CBC has long had an anti-Israeli slant, to the point of debating whether Hamas or Hezbollah and other such groups are terrorist organizations. Apparently it is enough to call someone who straps dynamite to himself and blows up Israeli children an "extremist" or a "militant," giving the impression that these people have some sort of respectable ideology a civilized soul might want to follow. As the Canadian government under Jean Chretien (from 1993-2003) had been reluctant to criticize any Palestinian actions without also taking a bigger strip off of Israel, regardless of the circumstances, the CBC has found their leaders to be of like mind. It remains to be seen whether the tone will change with new Prime Minister Paul Martin. One lives in hope. 

The CBC makes a career out of moral equivalency, and I must pay for this. It does not matter if I don't have a television, or if I don't watch the CBC. I have to pay for these twisted messages masquerading as "news." The week of Saddam Hussein's capture, one of the intellectually challenged passing for an informed commentator on the CBC said that "the problem" with the coverage was that we weren't getting "the victim's point of view." Oh, if we could only hear it from the "victim" Saddam, we'd see that he is just misunderstood. Whether one supported the war in Iraq or not, is it so hard to see the virtue in taking out one of the world's most brutal dictators?

With the war in Iraq, the CBC paid great attention to the suffering of Iraqi civilians and of course, to the Iraqi body count. There is nothing wrong with that, but, as best I recall, there had been, prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom, little or no attention paid to the suffering of Iraqi civilians, much less the Iraqi body count, at the hands of Saddam. Better to indulge an Arab dictator than an American liberator.

The recent WMD/David Kay headlines have brought the CBC to a near multi-orgasmic state. I listened recently as a high-profile radio reporter tried to press someone commenting on WMD and intelligence to agree that the existence of Weapons of Mass Destruction (I capitalize deliberately) was the stated reason for the war on Iraq. He brushed her back well, but had to keep at it, determined creature that she was. This eagerness to press one's own slant against the facts becomes annoying after a while. Especially when combined with lack of basic follow-through.

The most revealing thing I've ever heard about the CBC came from my mother. Mum was an up-and-coming poet and short story writer in Toronto after the Second World War and debate about our public broadcaster, with the advent of television, was in full swing. A poet friend of my mother's, now very well known (and laden with awards) in Canada, told her the CBC was necessary so "the elite can teach the little people." Fifty years on, this attitude hasn't changed. What would we little people know without our elite? That comment helps explain the sense of security, the smugness and the lack of accountability found bone-marrow deep at the CBC. Combine it with guaranteed funding at the expense of citizens and you have the roots of disgraceful journalism. Think carefully, therefore, before letting anyone tell you that a public broadcaster is necessarily a responsible voice, or that it has any less of an agenda than a news source which is funded privately.

Rondi Adamson is a writer in Toronto.

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