CBC and the Dearth of Political Issues
by Kim Petersen
Recently (4 October) on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) Radio program Sunday Edition, host Michael Enright reminisced on a maladroit admission during the 1993 federal election campaign by former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell. Ms. Campbell quipped that elections were not the time to discuss issues and subsequently went on to ignominious defeat. Mr. Enright, a distinguished journalist, decried the paucity of debate on issues meaningful to the public interest. He mused how the main political parties were for all intensive purposes the same and that the solution to this issue-less dilemma lay with the media.
Well, all this comes as nothing new to the readers of Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky.
Mr. Herman and Mr. Chomsky cite the work of political scientist Thomas Ferguson who noted “that where major investors in political parties and elections agree on an issue, the parties will not compete on that issue, no matter how strongly the public might want an alternative.”
“The propaganda model, and the institutional arrangements that it represents, suggests that the same forces that preclude competition among the parties on the issues on which the major investors agree, will also dominate media choices and rule out ‘mass deliberation and expression’ on those issues.” (1)
The propaganda model delineates how the corporate media “serve, and propagandize on behalf of, the powerful societal interests that control and finance them.” (2) Mr. Chomsky avers that the propaganda model applies equally well to Canada. Sure some stories will appear that go missing south of the border but qualitatively the differences are minimal. (3)
Among those qualitative differences is the permissiveness to criticize the US; so on the same program Mr. Enright could interview New York Times writer Molly Ivins and discuss the malediction of the President George Bush’s administration and its “marketing of the [Iraq] war.”
Mr. Enright could also comment on his cross-border colleagues’ “somnolence” in reference to the slattern reportage on Iraq.
However, CBC Radio morning news on the same day featured a report on Israeli “retaliation” for a Palestinian suicide bombing. The transparent tendentiousness of the wording was not unusual. No Palestinian spokesperson’s comment was proffered to the listeners. The CBC compounded its slipshod reportage through acquiescence to the Israeli agenda by repeating the Israeli terrorist accusations against Syria matter-of-factly.
Indeed, also on this program Mr. Enright, to his credit, read a missive from two listeners in Antwerp, Belgium who were dismayed that Mr. Enright’s segment (the previous Sunday) on deceased Palestinian-American intellectual Edward Said had trivialized his work.
So what is the solution to the manufactured silence on important electoral issues? Mr. Enright suggests, tongue-firmly-in-cheek, a media strike. This he quickly dismisses. After all, Mr. Enright asks: “Which news organization is brave enough to go [on strike] first?”
Well, if the mass media lifted a few more rocks they would discover what most journalists already know: that there are some smaller, marginalized parties out there quite willing to discuss the undiscussed issues. If the media became more democratic and covered what the smaller political parties have to say, Canadians would find that some of the parties are discussing meaningful issues skirted by the larger political parties that are beholden to moneyed interests.
This is unlikely in Canada’s corporate media. The Canadian corporate media, like its US counterpart, is increasingly concentrated in fewer hands. Canadians have, however, thrown a wrench into the global concentration of the media. Earlier this year a parliamentary heritage committee recommended against further opening up of the media to foreign ownership. Canada has bucked the global media trend, the hallmark of which, according to media researcher Robert McChesney, “is its relentless, ubiquitous commercialism.” (4)
Which news organization is brave enough to tackle this issue in a meaningful way first?
Kim Petersen lives in Nova Scotia and is a regular contributor to Dissident Voice newsletter. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
(1) Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (Pantheon Books, 2002 edition).
(3) Noam Chomsky, Understanding Power: The Indispensible Chomsky, eds. Peter R. Mitchell and John Schoeffel (New Press, 2002).
(4) Quoted in Herman and Chomsky, ibid.