As the media landscape races toward who-know-what, some might dismiss the Canadian Broadcast Corporation as increasingly irrelevant.
But that would ignore the CBC’s historic reach and role. It was the original provider of broadcast content for a very large country. CBC radio and TV (and now, web content) is still the main media presence in many remote or sparsely populated regions. The organization remains important, to its audience, to Canada – and to journalism as a whole.
Over in radio land, the star of a flagship program, Q: with Jian Ghomeshi, was fired for unconventional bedroom activities that ended in multiple criminal charges. (Note: Much of the reporting that broke the Ghomshi story came from the Toronto Star, which has a topic page here, as well as a timeline.)
CBC management was heavily splattered by that and other explosions. Once it was open season on Ghomeshi, additional reporting revealed ample criticism of CBC management. As the proverbial poop hit the fan, damage control maneuvers were a muddle. (The union for CBC employees did not emerge smelling like a rose either.) At one point, CBC planned to remove Ghomeshi’s interviews from the Q website, in a Stalin-like censorship of their own product.
That generated push-back from listeners. (Whatever one thinks about Ghomeshi’s off-air activities, he was considered a talented host, with many noteworthy interviews under his belt.) The pros and cons of censorship/sensitivity to victims/corporate image needs was debated in places like the Columbia Journalism Review.
Meanwhile, here are some recent developments. According to current media reports in Canada, CBC is implementing new policy that prohibits paid outside appearances for on-air talent. Contractors, like Rex Murphy, will be exempt. Appearances will be made public on a centralized website.
The leader of the official opposition party, The NDP’s Thomas Mulcair has pointedly spoken out in support of the CBC. Mulcair says if he headed the government, recent CBC funding cuts would be reversed. 2014 was a year that saw lots of analysis on the strengths and weaknesses of today’s CBC. Many observers feel funding is only part of that picture.
Journalism instructor (and former CBC employee) Andrew Mitrovica says CBC has a huge, long-standing problem with a corporate culture of impunity and special treatment of star employees.
In this article from the Tyee, Mitrovica says “money is always good” but it’s not the whole problem, in this case:
“They need to think more deeply about organizational and structural problems at the CBC,” Mitrovica said. “You’ve got to look at some of the people running the CBC.”
He said there’s been a corrosive element in the broadcaster that has been eating away at what the CBC is supposed to be about, and furthering the private financial interests of a few people rather than fulfilling its role to serve the public at large.
NDP Heritage critic Pierre Nantel agreed the situation goes beyond money. Part of that, Nantel said, includes the culture of using casual workers.
The Globe and Mail’s John Doyle frames the CBC’s current struggles as a vision thing. Yes, the CBC may have to shrink. But it could still shine, once it stops trying to be all things to all people by mimicking Canada’s three main cable providers:
The ultimate worth of a public broadcaster is therapeutic. It can shape our experience of the country that supports it. It’s a two-way relationship. We pay some of the costs and the broadcaster helps us be smarter about where we live.
Those who follow the topics of media management and professional ethics have witnessed similar problems in sister organizations. The BBC had to own up to a truly horrific scandal over Jimmy Savile, a “beloved” personality who died in 2011. Over the course of his long career with the BBC, Savile may have been one of Britain’s most prolific sexual predators, hidden in plain sight.
NPR’s revised ethics handbook (0f 2012) was discussed in this ombudsman post and can be seen here. At present there’s no clickable link for North Country Public Radio’s ethics policy. But NCPR guidelines generally mirror the NPR handbook.
CBC seems to be waking up to a number of those parallel lessons rather late and reluctantly. But they remain lessons worth learning.
Taking the broad view, who, if anyone, do you think is doing media ethics right? What more needs to be done?