Dare to Be Great

  • June 01, 2017
  • Tony Wilson, QC

BarTalk Nothing Official By Tony WilsonTony WilsonIn defence of the CBC in a world of “fake news”

One of the more interesting museums in the world is in Washington D.C., right next door to the Canadian Embassy. It’s the Newseum, and it’s dedicated to journalism and freedom of the press. In addition to an exhibit of Pulitzer Prize winning photographs and rooms filled with old radio and TV broadcasts, there’s an entire room featuring a section of the Berlin Wall and an East German watchtower from Checkpoint Charlie (where I passed through in 1968 as a 12-year-old spy, interrogated for bringing a telescope across the border. Duh.) The most emotional exhibit though, is the crumpled top of the broadcast antenna from the World Trade Center, with a video showing how the news was covered that day.

In addition to the big newsy exhibits, there are little gems scattered throughout the Newseum. “Anyone who reads the tabloids deserves to be lied to,” read one prophetic sentence on a wall. A small board in a hallway asked visitors to voice their opinion using stickers to be affixed to the board: “Should Twitter be forced by a court to reveal the identity of a Trump critic?” On the “NO” side were an overwhelming number of stickers, but I was flabbergasted by how many stickers were on the “YES” side; suggesting to me that freedom of the press is fragile.

There’s a Time Warner truck riddled with bullet holes from the Bosnian War on display, reminding us that journalists are routinely jailed and even murdered for reporting the news. The plight of Mohammed Fahmi, a Canadian-Egyptian citizen arrested and jailed on trumped up charges in Egypt for broadcasting false news and not having a “journalism license” (which was only available to print journalists!) is just one example. And, if you’ve read Pomerantsev’s “Nothing is True and Everything is Possible,” you’ll see how Russia’s television media is just a propaganda instrument for Vladimir Putin. 

Regrettably, freedom of the press means we also have to put up with the National Enquirer and its ilk, the psychotic Alex Jones, and Fox News; a network that has become a propaganda organ for the GOP and Donald Trump (when it isn’t fighting sexual harassment allegations). When these kinds of outlets don’t like facts, they make accusations of “liberal bias,” or they create alternate facts, which are reported on by other media and believed by people who want to believe that Obama is a Muslim because he’s black. (And behold, Internet trolls are born!)

In that vein, it’s irritating when Canadian politicians like Kellie Leitch (famous for her “Barbaric Cultural Practices Tip Line” and the “Canadian Values Test”) vow to dismantle the CBC, ostensibly surrendering our airwaves to even more NFL, NBA, US sitcoms and reality TV shows.

The CBC can be faulted for many things, (particularly TV drama), but not its documentaries and news coverage. Radio 1 may well be among the best radio news networks in the world. “As It Happens,” Michael Enright’s “Sunday Edition” and “Ideas” are three examples of excellence in broadcasting. There’s also “Go Public,” which has exposed stories that include abuse by the Canadian Armed Forces on its soldiers, and staff at Canadian banks being pressured to award credit cards to customers who can’t afford them. Reporters like Rosemary Barton, Margaret Evans, Nahlha Ayed, Erica Johnson, Rosa Marchitelli and Adrienne Arsenault (to name only six) are as good as any of the top journalists on CNN, ABC, CBS or the BBC. 

For those who say that the CBC should be dismantled, I say the news arm of CBC should actually be expanded, and the CBC should strive to become as important, as watched, as listened to and as relevant as any other English language news broadcaster in the world; a welcome alternative to the perspective of the US networks, which more often than not, only report news about America, Americans and America’s adversaries. 

Now, if only the CBC played more classical music and jazz on Radio 2 like they used to.

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Tony Wilson, QC is a franchise lawyer at Boughton in Vancouver and a Bencher of the Law Society. The views expressed herein are strictly those of Tony and do not reflect the opinions of the Law Society, CBABC, or their respective members.