I awoke this morning to the Toronto radio station I most listen to (Talk640) issuing an apology for a news item it inaccurately reported a few months ago.
Included in the redaction was an acknowledgement that as a member of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, the Corus Entertainment affiliate had violated Article 1 of the Radio Television News Directors’ Code of Ethics which requires that all news organizations “inform the public in an accurate, comprehensive and fair manner about events and issues of importance”.
I'd never been aware of that ethical requirement before or that it actually had some teeth. And hearing it made me wonder why there's such a tempest over the SUN TV News application predicted to bring a "Fox Style" news network to Canadian television.
Although my personal view is that there isn't enough interest in such an operation here to make it financially viable, a fact the parent company, Quebecor, seems to acknowledge by insisting the new offering receive a Category 1 "Must Carry" license; I've been astonished by the relentless campaign to make sure the service never gets up and running in the first place.
This week, Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood hopped on that bandwagon, signing an American sponsored online petition to oppose the SUN TV News license. That petition claims the new network will bring “American-style hate media” to Canada and broadcast “hate-filled propaganda.”
Well -- first of all, unlike The USA, we already have laws on the books to prevent hate speech, so I kinda doubt much "hate media" is gonna happen. And, as mentioned, it seems we also have requirements that news organizations convey the news in an "accurate, comprehensive and fair manner".
What's more, since the new network hasn't transmitted a single word or image so far, how has anybody been able to determine what it's going to say, let alone how it's going to say it?
What's really going on here?
I should point out that other famous signatories of the online petition include Boba Fett, a human clone from the planet Mandelore and Snuffaluffagus from Sesame Street, so I don't think anybody deciding whether or not SUN TV News gets a license is going to take it too seriously anyway.
So why would a respected author who used to head PEN Canada where she fought so hard to prevent the censorship of writers living under both Right and Left Wing dictatorships now be so adamant about the need to censor somebody else?
I'm fairly certain Ms. Atwood and many who share her concerns about SUN TV News didn't have a problem with Al-Jazeera getting a Canadian broadcast license, or even BBC News, which former British Labor Prime Minister Tony Blair acknowledged in his just published auto-biography as having a "massive bias to the Left".
Why is media with one clear agenda "okay" with those lining up to oppose SUN TV News while what it "might do" is not?
Maybe this isn't so much about having a conservative leaning News channel around here than a fear that it will lessen the ability of somebody else to determine how stories get reported in this country.
I don't make a habit of watching Fox News, but I stop by on occasion and I have to say I don't see the terrifying specter of jack-booted, Christian fundamentalist, right-wing fanatics perpetually demonized by other branches of the media.
Virtually every news outlet since Gutenberg invented the printing press has had an agenda (hidden or otherwise) because speaking truth to or for Power will always get you a loyal base of support.
And even if a news outlet is attempting to be even-handed, their mere choice of words and images will convince some with a rigid view of an issue to feel their own bias isn't being acknowledged.
When this whole thing started, most of the chatter was coming out of the CBC, whose various divisions have always been a great friend to Margaret Atwood. And I'm wondering if both she and they know that just one more competitor might be enough to finally tip them all into irrelevance.
One of the first things you notice when you tune into CBC's Newsworld is how many ads there are for 2 cent a minute phone cards, payday loan operations and requests to join pharmaceutical class action suits. My favorite one of those asks you to sign on "if you have suffered death from taking ---- ".
Right away you know that legitimate advertisers have abandoned the channel because the only people watching either don't spend any money or -- they're dead.
And if you watch further you become acutely aware of how hard Newsworld tries to imitate the chummy, "we're just like you" format of Fox News while still pretending they're different. No "Breaking News" or "This just in…" from these guys. The Newsworld catch phrase is, "Now coming in over the wire…".
Srsly? There's a wire?
Jumbotron Screens and open laptops linked to Skype all over the place yet the impression given is that Newsworld is originating from the same era in which Ben Hecht wrote "The Front Page", delivering old-school nothing-but-the-facts news without spin.
But it's not. And quite often not in the facts department either.
During one newscast, I heard a reporter state a pilot had survived the CF-18 crash pictured above because a "light breeze" carried him away from the doomed aircraft. This happened while video clearly showed the man being explosively catapulted out of his plummeting at several hundred miles an hour jet.
But apparently nobody at Newsworld, be they journalists or producers understands, or thinks their viewers understand simple Physics -- or saw "Top Gun".
Or maybe a serendipitous "light breeze" better conjures the network's "Don't look at what's really happening here, look what's going on behind the scenes" approach, especially when many of their recent discussion segments had argued that we didn't really need to be spending billions on new fighters cause the old ones were "just fine".
Similarly, the story which followed predicted disaster for Newfoundland oil rigs because our Government, in another apparent fiasco of mismanagement, didn't have guidelines for drilling at depths "similar to" the oil spilling Deep Water Explorer -- completely ignoring that the two operations have barely any engineering similarities beyond the words "offshore" and "oil".
And when inaccuracies like those are buttressed by the kind of "Experts" CBC regularly trots out, it's no wonder they are construed by some as having "an agenda".
For CBC doesn't just seem to find somebody with an opinion on the news of the day but they gravitate to those whose desire to be fair-minded about it is dubious at best.
One summer morning's radio broadcast of "The Current" castigating "The Harper Government" for everything from G20 cost overruns to making Canada an environmental pariah featured Maurice Strong, a man who resigned his post at the UN in the wake of alleged involvement in the Iraq "Oil for Food" scandal.
Does any Canadian really need to be lectured on Human Rights and the Environment by a guy who now teaches at the University of Beijing?
Who was the first highly placed official Newsworld trotted out to offer his opinion on the Tamil refugee/human smuggling ship?
Bob Rae, a guy the Sri Lankan government kicked out of the country less than a year ago for being a Tamil Tiger sympathizer.
Yeah, Bob's gonna give me a "fair and balanced" take on the situation.
Maybe the best example of this occurred on CBC Radio's "Q" on August 13th (free podcast available from iTunes) in a segment about the Time Magazine cover depicted above.
Following in the footsteps of many American blogs and news aggregators who felt the cover was intended to enhance the US Military agenda in Afghanistan, "Q" interviewed a University of Cambridge professor who got several minutes to claim displaying the atrocity visited on a young Afghan woman had been designed to exploit her misfortune and increase support for the war through a calculated example of "mutilation chic".
Interestingly, she also asserted that the perpetrators of the assault should be "roundly condemned" not rounded up so they couldn't do the same thing to somebody else.
Moments later, all her arguments and assertions were powerfully blown to smithereens by the shot's photographer. By the end of her description of how the picture came to be, the "Q" host seemed audibly embarrassed at being associated with a segment miles from being "accurate, comprehensive and fair".
Would another network taking a "Fox News style" approach have addressed this topic any better? Maybe not. But maybe its availability would make somebody at CBC hew a little closer to those three tenets of ethical news coverage it claims to follow.
And those who want to fan the fire against SUN TV News might want to ask whether CBC News is really as open and honest about what it does as Margaret Atwood would have you believe.
CBC executives will be in court in a week's time, called to account for more than 400 Access to Information requests to which they have failed to respond. Some dating back to 2007.
It makes you wonder what's being hidden and why there's such desperation to make sure somebody who might be interested doesn't get to do any digging.