CBC Exposed – A book review
In his column published in the Sun newspapers last month, Lorne Gunter argued that the CBC should be privatized, blasting it as “the $1-billion, tax-funded, propaganda arm of the lib-left establishment.” To call the state broadcaster the “propaganda arm of the lib-left establishment” seems a little hyperbolic at first, but as Gunter’s Sun Media colleague Brian Lilley writes in his book CBC Exposed, the left-wing biases of the CBC are not hard to spot.
For example, beginning in 1995, the fifth estate (CBC’s investigative show) produced nine documentaries attempting (all failing) to prove that Brian Mulroney took illegal kickbacks when Air Canada bought a fleet of jets in 1988. At the end of the whole affair, the Government of Canada was forced to pay out $2.1 million to Mulroney for legal and other expenses. Richard Stursberg, the head of English services at CBC from 2004 to 2010, admitted in his own book that the fifth estate “had a long history of being beastly” to Mulroney.
Then during the 2000 federal election campaign, the CBC attempted to paint Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day as a radical religious fundamentalist. The CBC’s mini-documentary, called Fundamental Day, was described by Liberal war room strategist Warren Kinsella as “a gift descended from the heavens.” The CBC’s contempt for social conservatives was also evident in the 2006 election campaign, during which the CBC’s coverage of social issues was, as Richard Stursberg put it, “worse than biased.” He writes, “Canadians – particularly Albertans – who opposed abortion or gay marriage were treated by the CBC as uninformed hicks. They were lampooned as bible-thumping, born-again Rapture-o-philes.” According to Brian Lilley’s book, people who spent time in the CBC news department “described an environment that is fully hostile to anything that could be construed as conservative” and one CBC reporter regularly referred to the Conservatives as “those fuckers.” Other sections of Lilley’s book also describe the CBC’s biases against gun owners or any other group that ran contrary to what Stursberg called the CBC’s “soft left, anti-business, Toronto-centric, politically correct cultural assumptions.”
But even if you were to ignore the left-wing biases of the CBC, the idea of the government owning and funding a broadcaster is still a bad idea. The CBC has often been accused of using public money to compete with the private broadcasters, and as with any government institution, much of the annual $1 billion subsidy that taxpayers give the CBC every year is wasted. Richard Stursberg writes that the CBC had a “legendary inability to meet the most elementary tests of good management” and that the CBC’s financial wounds were “brought on by weak management and a corrosive internal culture… The Corporation was the victim of its own weird set of ideas and the elitist directions they suggested.” One reason for the CBC’s lack of good business management was its board. According to Stursberg, “the CBC’s board members are rarely expert in the media business. In fact, they may not be expert in any business at all.”
Over the past several years, Brian Lilley and his Sun Media colleagues have dug up numerous examples of outrageous wastes of tax dollars at the state broadcaster. CBC President Hubert Lacroix’s travel expenses include hotel rooms that charge at least $100 more per night than similar hotels in the same area. In 2011, he spent $30,000 on expenses including $242 for a lunch for two. In CBC Exposed, Lilley notes that Sylvain Lafrance, the former CBC head of French services, dinged taxpayers for everything from $4,821 on flights that included a two-day stopover in Paris in 2008, to a $1.65 muffin in Ottawa. In 2009, Lafrance had lunch with a Liberal senator and billed the taxpayers $119. On top of all of this, ten CBC executives split an $888,699 bonus in March of 2009, while the private sector was bleeding jobs as a result of the economic recession. More egregious expenses could likely be uncovered had the CBC not spent $59,160 on shredding documents in anticipation of the Access to Information Act being passed in 2006.
Wasteful spending at the CBC is also evident in their court battles. For example, in 1996, the CBC ran a defamatory documentary. The plaintiffs offered to settle for $50,000 and an apology, but the CBC declined. In April of 2000, the case finally came to a close. The Judge had called the broadcast “devastatingly defamatory of the plaintiff” and the plaintiffs were paid $1.15 million in damages and over $1 million for their legal fees. Adding in the CBC’s own legal fees, the entire incident cost taxpayers about $5 million. In 2011, an Abacus Data poll revealed that 64% of Canadians believed it was wrong for the CBC to spend tax dollars on a court battle with Canada’s ombudsman. Only 10% believed that the CBC was in the right.
It was recently suggested by Hubert Lacroix that the state broadcaster could take a cut of every cable bill to raise more money for the CBC. This is a preposterous idea. Not only should they not receive extra money from Canadians, they should be privatized and cut off from the government trough altogether. Petro Canada and Air Canada were privatized and are doing fine, and networks such as the CTV show that it is possible to run a large broadcasting corporation without a massive government subsidy.
The Prince Arthur Herald
Photo Credit: Twitter, @SimonDingleyCBC