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The CBC should stop digging its own grave

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Evan Soloman: Likely not a zombie

If you owned a local newspaper that was facing imminent destruction by a bunch of fascist zombies, would the looming attack influence your coverage?

I'd hope so.

If it were me, I would ensure that the newspaper had a steady stream of news about why the zombies needed to be stopped.

I would assume that people valued the newspaper and I wouldn't give space to fascist zombie apologists, or the fascist zombies themselves. I certainly wouldnt ask one of the zombies' most fascist philosophers to dress up like an average human and write an opinion piece.

OK, maybe this example is too obvious. What if the newspaper was going to be axed by the publisher, who also happened to be the town council?

By in large, the principle should remain the same: I would demonstrate the newspaper's worth to my audience while also rejecting the premise on which the council has based its decision.

So, if the council has said that the newspaper is being cut because there isn't enough funding, I probably wouldn't defend their argument, issue after issue. Especially if, in the town's coffers, there was actually more than enough money to go around.

In this story, there isn't a whole lot separating fascist zombies or imaginary town councillors, and the threat to the newspaper remains the same: its elimination. In both scenarios, it's critical to understand the broader political context and operate within it, in the hopes of saving my newspaper.

Why, then, does the CBC continue to air programming that helps to justify the organization's demise?

A few months ago, I was invited to be a guest on Ontario Today. The province-wide call-in show was focusing on unions.

Rather than asking any number of interesting questions about unions in Ontario (like: what role should or do they play? how have unions changed? how are conditions different in non-union organizations? how are new movements trying to unionize precarious workers succeeding/failing etc. etc.), they asked if unions are getting in the way of progress.

Of course, "whose progress" or "what is progress" were not explored.

Their guest? The vehemently anti-union chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Catherine Swift. She happens to be the one-woman show behind a failed pro-Tim Hudak front organization.  

She was allowed to rant and rant, using imprecise statistics and rhetoric that sounded as if she were a 1920s oil magnate from California.

OFL president Sid Ryan, the guest who I was unfortunately bumped for, was given about 10 minutes to respond mid-way through the show. With Swift attacking union presidents, nearly all he could do was justify the role that union presidents play.

I rarely listen to Ontario Today since I listen to CBC/Radio-Canada in Québec. I caught it again yesterday, though, as they "debated" tuition fees.

Their main guest was Carleton professor Ian Lee, a ranting curmudgeon who is stuck on repeat: students today are getting a free ride at university. CFS-Ontario chairperson Alastair Woods was brought on the line mid-way through the show to help check some of Lee's facts, but it hardly mattered. Lee was given free reign to rave against the very people who pay his salary.

Host Rita Celli's in-depth questions included "don't students value their education more if they pay more for it?"

I dunno Rita, did you value your education less than Alastair, because you paid less than he did? Will you value unemployment when the CBC is shut down because you'll have to work really, really hard (opposed to just working really hard) to feed yourself?

Both of these shows framed right-wing rhetoric as being fact. It placed authority with people who are on the extreme end of the right and gave the role of fringe opinion to what average, normal people would probably consider to be reasonable.

Sure, I'm cherry picking one show and two episodes. But this is part of a trend.

Routinely, on Jim Brown's The 180, fringe right-wing opinions are thrust to the front and centre as being totally reasonable. Could a one km-wide trench, cut through the prairie provinces filled with all pipelines, powerlines and hazardous materials, help sidestep land claims and environmental issues? Sure! Would private healthcare ensure that homeless Indigenous people receive better hospital care? Of course! Would toll-lanes that permit rich people who don’t carpool to zip through Toronto clear up congestion? I guess that could work...


And these were all topics on last Friday's show.

Extreme right-wing opinions seem to becoming the new normal for the CBC: the Lang and O'Leary Exchange, the questions posed during Power and Politics, The 180 given an hour of Michael Enright's The Sunday Edition; this is not just some airtime given to some fringe right-wing opinions. It's more and more prevalent and it’s aiding the slow destruction of the CBC.

Not to mention, of course, that nothing or no one even comes close to the extremity of these positions from the left. Does a Kevin O'Leary of the left even exist?

While most people can draw a straight line between supporting private medicine and privatizing the CBC, clearly, for some producers at the Corporation, such a connection is less obvious.

If extreme right-wing rhetoric is considered to be normal, eventually the conditions are created that justify the elimination of the CBC itself. Disparage unions? Watch the Corporation lay the heavy on the Canada Media Guild. Disparage taxes? Funding for the CBC dries up. Disparage community and collectivity? Your argument for having a national radio service that unites the country evaporates.

Now is not the time for the CBC to cosy itself up to the right-wing. No amount of Kevin O'Leary barfing his selfish greediness all over Amanda Lang is going to convince Stephen Harper to fund the CBC. If the Corporation is going to save itself, it has to pull these editorial lines away from the right-wing edge, even if it's just slightly more towards the centre.

Thank goodness for some of the shows that continue to do excellent journalism, but they won't be enough to save the service. If the CBC continues to face the attacks by promoting the arguments of our fabled fascist zombies, it will ensure its own demise.

Enough with pandering to the extreme right. There's an entire, wonderful world of people out there that doesn't include Kevin O'Leary or the Fraser Institute. They're the ones who keep the radio on all day. They're the ones who support and love the CBC. They're the ones who will eventually fight for it, and some of them even vote Conservative.

Either stop giving airtime to the enemies of public services or start writing the CBC's obituary. For CBC producers, the decision is as simple as this.

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