CBC and the Progressive Decline of Journalism

January 7, 2022 Updated: January 9, 2022


I used to be a fan of CBC radio. I remember fondly the dulcet tones of Peter Gzowski and “This Country in The Morning,” a program originally hosted by the equally congenial Don Harron and his alter ego, the irascible Canadian everyman Charlie Farquharson. The show was accurately touted as “Canada’s living room.”

My wife and I would often fall asleep to Allan McFee’s Eclectic Circus, amused by his tales of jellied gin, chickens running amok in his studio, and his irreverent anecdotes about the “Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission.” On Sunday afternoon, there was Gilmour’s Albums. Its host, Clyde Gilmour, was a seasoned journalist, war correspondent, and music lover. He had broad-ranging musical tastes and his commentary was always intelligent and instructive.

I was an avid listener to the CBC radio news, particularly “The World at Six.” Its nightly news roundup may have tilted to the left, but it nevertheless provided a reasonable summation of the day’s events.

Barbara Frum, who hosted “As It Happens” for 10 years, was invariably polite and civil while maintaining a healthy skepticism for politicians on both the left and right. In other words, she saw herself as a journalist rather than as a partisan in the culture wars.

These broadcasters were united by a certain sensibility they brought to their on-air personalities. It was a persona characterized by fairness, moderation, and the quest for balance, as they strived to see both sides of an issue. As the old joke has it: Why did the Canadian cross the road? Answer: To get to the middle.

Fairness meant that CBC personalities would interview guests with unfailing civility, tact, and respect, what the French call politesse, qualities for which we Canadians are known worldwide. There are many ways of parsing this quality, but perhaps the easiest way is to say that CBC hosts exemplified simple, old-fashioned good manners and journalistic integrity.

Canadian politeness is much mocked and ridiculed, as indeed it is all too easy to do. We frequently mistake politeness for deference or a lack of conviction. But beneath good manners is an abiding human virtue: namely, respect for our fellow creatures. So even if a guest espoused ideas which a CBC journalist thought wrong-minded, the default position was not to scold, preach, or editorialize, but to allow the guest to speak their mind. This was Canadian fairness exemplified on air.

I don’t know if CBC had a code of conduct back then or if the public broadcaster’s executives demanded viewpoint diversity. Still, I recall hearing views from across the political spectrum, including kooky and eccentric ideas and their promoters, without ever hearing the on-air host engage in ad hominem arguments and slanders.

This has changed. Some time ago, an afternoon host chastised the British historical novelist Bernard Cornwell who, during his book tour, referred to the French as “Frogs.” Canadians, he was told, are offended by this term. Cornwell pointed out that as a historical novelist he strove for verisimilitude. His novel, he explained, was set during the Napoleonic wars. Using the exaggerated tone teachers reserve for their dullest pupils, Cornwell further explained that this was how the English army did in fact refer to their French enemy. The CBC host insisted that the term was nevertheless offensive. Cornwell, struggling to contain his anger, let his interviewer know that he would not be censored by a politically correct Canadian. So much for CBC politesse.

More recently, another CBC radio host, while interviewing the author of an anti-Trump polemic, decided that it was germane to his job to jump aboard the anti-Trump bandwagon. Our CBC man questioned the sanity of anyone who could even consider voting for Donald Trump. Somehow, he never evinced this same curiosity about Hilary supporters. So much for CBC even-handedness and the quest for balance.

I no longer listen to CBC radio. I simply can’t abide by the naked bias which infects the organization. I suspect I am not alone.

Which leads us to Tara Henley’s recent resignation from the state-funded broadcaster. Ms. Henley joined the CBC in 2013, working as a TV and radio producer and occasional on-air broadcaster. She claims that the CBC’s radical agenda makes it impossible to do good journalism. In her article, “Speaking Freely: Why I resigned from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation,” she writes that to work at the CBC “is to embrace cognitive dissonance and to abandon journalistic integrity … it is to consent to the idea that a growing list of subjects are off the table, that dialogue itself can be harmful. That the big issues of our time are already settled.”

The CBC has adopted the worst of contemporary ideology. As Ms. Henley notes, working for the CBC is “to pretend that the ‘woke’ worldview is near-universal … that race is the most significant thing about a person, and that some races are more relevant to the public conversation than others.”

None of this is news to listeners who have been paying attention.

The CBC no longer provides Canadians with a platform to express themselves. Instead, it acts as a state-funded censor, ensuring that to get on air, one must first pass before the tribunal of wokeness. No more oddballs or people with eccentric political views or people who—heaven forfend!—have the temerity to question the dogma du jour. To work at the CBC is to engage in groupthink. It appears that part of the remit of CBC journalists is creating a world in which all good Canadians march in lockstep to the same drummer, namely, that of diversity, equity, and inclusivity.

The legacy media is going under. As their ship is sinking, they look for something to keep them afloat. Perhaps the CBC brass thinks adopting woke ideology will save them. Or perhaps they sincerely believe all this nonsense. It’s difficult to know which is worse.

For me, as for Tara Henley, it no longer matters. She has resigned to retain her journalistic integrity. I have turned off CBC radio and have found alternative, less biased media. I have become part of that massive audience which is frustrated by the biases of the legacy media. Our numbers are skyrocketing even as the audience for legacy media dwindles. I won’t be returning to the CBC anytime soon, and Ms. Henley will doubtless find greater job satisfaction working as a journalist elsewhere.

Watching a formerly great organization destroy itself with ideology is saddening, not unlike watching a good friend succumb to drugs or alcohol. But as long as the CBC decides to trade journalistic integrity, open dialogue, and diversity of views for ideological conformity, I’ll be seeking my news and entertainment elsewhere.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Patrick Keeney, Ph.D., is an academic and columnist.