Journalism and democracy


In a democracy, it is the task of the government to protect and manage the assets of the populace. This is true in both war and peace. In war the government, representing us, is prepared to divert resources away from other tasks and to send our young people to fight and to their deaths. We make these sacrifices not just to retain our wealth but also our freedom.

Freedom is so valuable that we are prepared to die to defend it.
During peacetime, when there is an attempt to power away from the people, those who would do so know that one of the first tasks is to seize the means of communication. We have seen numerous coups where those leading the coup have gained control of the broadcast stations so that they can control all news. They can then keep the populace from knowing and responding to what is happening. Once in control, they can provide one message with no dissent.

Even when there is not a physical coup, individual politicians and their parties can attempt to control the media and, so, control the message. This can be done through intimidation or simply by having wealthy supporters buy control of newspapers, television and radio stations. These stations will not follow the supposed purpose of journalism: to inform, to educate and to entertain. Often, they do little except entertain because that is cheap and people will pay more to be entertained than to be informed or educated. However, when they do inform, the information is highly biased. At its worst, this is yellow journalism. It is filled with lies, distortions, and biases.

This is why it is critical to have an independent national broadcaster such as the CBC. It is the task, without fear or favour, of the national broadcaster to ask hard questions, to seek out answers, to point out lies, to provide information. It is not the CBCs, or any other national broadcaster’s job to be a mouthpiece for government.

One has only to compare the CBC with Pravda. When Glasnot first appeared in Russia, there was great hope that Russia would have a free press, that it would fulfill the three journalism functions. Pravda means truth and was the official publication of the Communist party. It had a specific function in spreading the political messages of the Party. With the demise of the USSR and the rise of Gorbachev, there was a time when it seemed that journalistic independence could blossom. Under Putin, the government is not the Russian government, it is the Putin government and Pravda is just another organ for spreading the policies of the Putin government.

How threatening do repressive governments find journalists? In 2014, 80 journalists were killed. So far in 2015 45 journalists have been killed. Not all those deaths represent the deliberate, targeted killing of journalists but many of them are the result of targeted killings. Those deaths also serve to silence others from reporting or voicing an opinion.

The first signs of totalitarianism, whether it be communism or fascism, is an attack on an independent media. That attack may be something as simple as budget cuts, the selling off of facilities, the removal of charitable status. One can silence critics’ voices with more than a bullet or a bomb.

If we want to continue to be a democracy, something that 42,000 armed forces gave their lives for in WWII, we have to demand that the CBC be independent, that it provide us, the people, with the best information possible, that it inform and educate us first and entertain us last. It has, over the decades created a heritage of trust. Not for all of us, unfortunately. I friend of mine said CBC means Can’t Be Conservative. While it is understandable that the CBC at the moment is delighted at the demise of Stephen Harper because he threatened to dismantle it, that burst of relief will fade and those in charge need to do some soul searching and make certain that the CBC represents all Canadians. Nobody, Liberal, NDP, Conservative, Green should get a free ride.

The Canadian people, that is you and me, have the right to own our resources. It is as legitimate for the people of Canada to own the Wheat Board or the CBC as it is for any private company to own a grain trading company or a broadcast company. There is nothing inherently virtuous about ownership by private corporations. History, recent and in the distant past, is filled with evidence of the harm done by private corporations. Private corporations have no morality, no social purpose, their only purpose is to make money their owners. To do that, they’ve enslaved people, created working conditions in sweat shops and mines, in the forests, at sea that kill people without conscience or concern. If you want to see capitalism at its worst go to Moosejaw and take the Chinese laundry tunnel tour.

That does not mean that all corporations are evil or that capitalism is evil. However, capitalism and corporations must be constantly watched, investigated, chided and, when they does wrong, exposed. The CBC must act as our ears and eyes. And voice. The CBC has a major role to play in informing and educating Canadians about the real conditions in society.
Good journalism holds the politicians and, sometimes, business people’s feet to the fire. That’s a journalist’s job. Unless, of course, you live in a dictatorship.

The Trudeau government gets down to work tomorrow. There are many tasks ahead of it but something that can be done quickly is to restore resources to the CBC, resources that will start to repair the damage done to the corporation.

The CBC is not, in spite of what we have observed for years in the actions of the Harper government, an enemy of the Canadian people. It is our best friend and champion. May it survive long to protect us.