The CBC's Propaganda War
A damning expose reveals how much Canadian state-run media leaves on the cutting room floor.
The only thing worse than having the biases of the mainstream media inflicted upon you on a daily basis is having to subsidize it. For Americans, to be sure, the rip-off isn’t so terrible: the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which funds PBS and NPR, gets $430 million a year from the federal government, which comes to only a couple of bucks per household. In Britain, by contrast, the BBC license fee is now £145.50 ($226) annually per TV-owning family. And in Canada, the CBC receives more than $1.5 billion a year from the Canadian government, which amounts to upwards of $100 per household.
And what, exactly, are Canadian taxpayers paying for? That’s the question asked – and very illuminatingly answered – by a new documentary, This Hour Could Have 10,000 Minutes: The Biases of the CBC, produced by James Cohen and Fred Litwin. (The title is a reference to “This Hour Has 22 Minutes,” a long-running CBC series specializing in political satire.) Focusing on two main topics – anti-Israel bias and anti-conservative bias – the documentary consists almost entirely of CBC clips (most but not all of them from news programs) in which we can see these biases in action. To judge by this compilation, the CBC is perhaps even more slanted than the infamously partial BBC – and, perhaps, even more brazen about it.
Take the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the documentary we see excerpts from a CBC report on the second Gaza “Freedom Flotilla” that consists entirely of interviews with flotilla participants – all of whom represent it as a virtuous and innocuous aid mission and condemn Israel’s actions against the previous flotilla as absolutely unjustified. At no point does the CBC provide even a brief reminder that there is, in fact, another side to the story. (As the documentary asks: “Is this reporting? Or stenography?”)
In one report, the CBC describes the Jewish Defense League, untruthfully, as a terrorist group that’s banned in Canada. In another report, on Hamas’s struggle with Fatah and takeover of Gaza, the CBC includes file footage of Israeli soldiers firing at terrorists – images that have nothing to do with the story in question. In both cases, the CBC was compelled to issue on-air apologies. (This documentary, in fact, is packed with on-air apologies for this sort of thing.)
We’re shown a clip in which an interviewer lets nutty ex-Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, a 9⁄11 Truther, rant away about Israel – and doesn’t challenge her when she accuses Israel of committing a “massacre” of “unarmed humanitarian activists.” And we’re shown another clip in which the despicable George Galloway is treated with fawning respect by interviewer George Stroumboulopoulos, who describes him as being banned from Canada (he’s not) and who agrees with Galloway that it’s “ridiculous” to consider him a terrorist. (To clarify this issue, the documentary makers show a clip from Arab TV in which Galloway is seen handing money over to Hamas – and bragging about it.)
Not only is the CBC systematically anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian. Its journalists introduce Israel and Palestine into stories that are utterly unrelated to Israel and Palestine, comparing aggressors with Israel and victims with Palestinians, the more firmly to fix in viewers’ minds the notion that Israelis are, indeed, the incarnation of evil and Palestinians as pure as the driven snow.
In a story about Somalis fleeing from belligerent Islamists in North Africa, for example, a CBC reporter says that “the Somalis are becoming the Palestinians of Africa.” In a story about Egypt’s use of its emergency laws to quell uprisings, another CBC reporter, in an apparent effort to make Egypt’s actions sound less harsh, points out that “Israel has an emergency law too,” which he proceeds to describe at length – even though those laws have nothing whatsoever to do with the events he’s reporting on.
The CBC, as the documentary points out, “can use any story to show how awful Israel is.” In a report on the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the CBC manages to work in an absurd comparison between the Soviets’ wall and Israel’s security fence: “For some people, the Berlin anniversary is a reminder of their own divisions. Today a group of Palestinian activists took down a slab of the security barrier that separates Israel and the West Bank.” (The report also describes the barrier as an “electronic fence,” which it isn’t.)
Cohen and Litwin don’t just take on CBC’s news programs. On the CBC, as they tell us (and show us), “even the game shows have a political bias.” On one such show, for example, contestants are asked: “Which city in Palestine is recognized to be a place of pilgrimage for Christians, Jews and Muslims?” Answer: Jerusalem.
Needless to say, a major staple of CBC programming is reflexive anti-Americanism. The CBC regularly provides a forum to people who argue that Islamic violence is the fault of American foreign policy. Republicans get especially disrespectful treatment: in one clip, CBC columnist Heather Mallick makes snide personal remarks about John McCain and calls Sarah Palin a “porn actress” type who appeals to “the white trash vote.”
The CBC is, of course, also hostile to Canada’s own Conservative Party. The documentary showcases a shameless piece of trickery by the network, in which a clip of Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper is taken out of context to make it look as if he’s putting down Canada’s Muslim community. After showing us the CBC version of Harper’s statement, Cohen and Litwin present us with the uncut version, which makes it clear that Harper was making a respectful comment about both Jews and Muslims. On this occasion, too, the CBC was forced to apologize.
The CBC bias against the Conservatives manifests itself on all kinds of shows and in all kinds of ways. In one clip, a weather girl makes snide remarks about Conservative policy. On a comedy show, an actor imitating Harper wishes viewers “a happy gun-toting, anti-abortion, heterosexual new year.” Another “comedy” program actually includes a sketch in which the actors shoot at Harper and George W. Bush. Skits mocking the left are few and far between.
We see a CBC interviewer giving Michael Moore a royal welcome, hailing him as a “right-wing bogeyman” and praising his “memorable Oscar acceptance speech.” (Moore repays the compliment, calling the CBC “a national treasure.”) By contrast, when Ayaan Hirsi Ali expresses her love of America in an interview with Avi Lewis, he laughs at her with breathtaking condescension and accuses her of embracing pro-American clichés. (She responds smoothly: “You grew up in freedom and you can spit on freedom.”)
In another clip, a CBC interviewer calls Hirsi Ali “right-wing,” to which Hirsi Ali, who’s promoting a book, replies: “What is right-wing about anything I have written in that book?” The interviewer doesn’t back off: if she isn’t right-wing, why has she taken a job at the American Enterprise Institute? On the CBC, to be associated with any conservative institution is to be guilty of an offense that requires an explanation.
This Hour Could Have 10,000 Minutes was first shown in Ottawa last November and was followed by a panel discussion among several journalists and media critics. That discussion is included on the DVD. One of the panelists points out that CBC journalists are the upper class of the Canadian news media: for instance, they earn 39% more than their non-CBC colleagues, have larger camera crews, and are accorded a disproportionate amount of space in the parliamentary press gallery. Another panelist notes that even though the CBC’s viewership numbers keep going down, its government subsidies continue to climb.
Canada is an important country – more important than many Americans realize, with an economy bigger than Russia’s and Spain’s – and the fact that Canadian taxpayers are shelling out good money to get slanted news matters. For Canadians, a documentary like this one performs a valuable service, bringing together some of the more outrageous moments in recent CBC history and providing the corporation’s critics with a solid piece of ammunition. For those of us living outside of Canada, the documentary is no less valuable, giving us an instructive dose of the kind of disinformation Canadians are fed every day – and helping us to understand, among other things, just why there’s so much knee-jerk contempt for the U.S. and Israel in America’s neighbor to the north.
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