Patrick Carroll – May 22, 2023
Established in 1936, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) is Canada’s national radio and television broadcaster. The organization provides news and media broadcasts across the country and has been an iconic part of Canadian culture since its inception. It’s official mandate is “to inform, enlighten and entertain; to contribute to the development of a shared national consciousness and identity; to reflect the regional and cultural diversity of Canada; and to contribute to the development of Canadian talent and culture.”
Though the CBC has enjoyed wide support from Canadians for most of its history, it has faced growing opposition in recent years for taking a distinctly leftward political slant, among other things. Pierre Poilievre, the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, has been at the forefront of this opposition, and he is actively pushing to have the CBC defunded.
A couple weeks ago, Poilievre discovered an opportunity to further this cause. Noticing that Twitter was identifying certain accounts as “Government-funded media,” he wrote a letter to Elon Musk on April 11 asking if Musk would apply this label to CBC’s Twitter accounts—purely in the interest of transparency, of course.
“We must protect Canadians against disinformation and manipulation by state media,” Poilievre wrote on Twitter, sharing a picture of the letter. “That is why I’m asking @Twitter @elonmusk to accurately label CBC as ‘government-funded media’. It is a fact. And Canadians deserve the facts.”
On April 16, much to the chagrin of the CBC, Elon Musk obliged. Poilievre, for his part, declared victory. “CBC officially exposed as ‘government-funded media’,” he tweeted. “Now people know that it is Trudeau propaganda, not news.”
But the fun was just getting started.
Later that day, the CBC pushed back with some tweets of its own.
“Twitter’s own policy defines government-funded media as cases where the government ‘may have varying degrees of government involvement over editorial content,’” it wrote in a statement, “which is clearly not the case with CBC/Radio-Canada. CBC/Radio-Canada is publicly funded through a parliamentary appropriation that is voted upon by all Members of Parliament. Its editorial independence is protected in law in the Broadcasting Act, as we said in our statement from last week.”
The next day, April 17, the CBC announced it would be leaving Twitter, at least for the time being. “Our journalism is impartial and independent. To suggest otherwise is untrue. That is why we are pausing our activities on @Twitter,” it said.
In a tweeted news report about the CBC’s departure, the page T(w)itter Daily News noted that there was a dispute over the accuracy of the label, since only about 70% of the CBC’s funding comes from the government, the rest coming from advertising. “The @CBC argues that it funds the other 30% on its own so it should NOT have the label,” they wrote.
Less than two hours after that tweet, CBC’s profiles had been updated to say “70% Government-funded Media.” “Their concern has been addressed,” Musk tweeted.
But then, well, this happened.
“There. Now everyone is happy,” Poilievre quote tweeted in response.
The Defunding Debate
Unsurprisingly, the backlash was swift. Progressive pundits condemned Poilievre’s comment about “Trudeau propaganda” in particular, with one journalist writing that it was a “craven attack on the truth, democracy and accountability.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also weighed in on the story in a press conference. “I think it is telling that in order to attack this institution that is important for many, many Canadians, he runs to American billionaires,” said Trudeau. “The fact that he has to run to American billionaires for support to attack Canadians says a lot about Mr. Poilievre and his values.”
In the following days, debate erupted on Twitter about whether the CBC can truly be considered “independent” media if it gets 70—sorry, 69 percent of its funding from the government.
On April 20, the labels were removed with no explanation from Musk.
The broader debate about defunding the CBC has of course also gotten more attention. Proponents of maintaining government funding for the CBC say it is an important cultural institution and that many small communities would not have local news coverage if not for its presence. They feel it is a reliable source of news and media that provides good value to Canadians.
The arguments for defunding the CBC are varied, and this gets to the crux of the issue. While the CBC should absolutely be defunded, the reasons many people give for this move reveal some problematic underlying paradigms.
Some people, for instance, just want to defund it because it’s the CBC and they don’t like the CBC. Maybe they think it’s biased journalism, and the government shouldn’t be supporting that kind of journalism. Or maybe they point to the $1 billion annual price tag and argue the CBC is just too expensive.
Broadly speaking, the concerns behind these arguments are about quality and cost.
The problem with these arguments is that they are too narrow. The implication is that this specific national broadcaster is poorly run, so it should be defunded. But there’s no condemnation of national broadcasters as such.
Thankfully, some go a bit further. For example, the defund-the-CBC petition that the Conservative Party is circulating talks about the need to “ensure a free and competitive press in the Canadian media landscape.” Reading between the lines, it seems as though the Conservatives are taking a stand against national broadcasters as such, and not just exceptionally biased and inefficient ones.
If this is truly their position, then the Conservatives deserve some credit. But there’s an even better argument they could be making.
The Better Reason for Defunding the CBC
The best argument for defunding the CBC is the basic moral principle that people should not be forced to fund things they disagree with. Even if the CBC were completely fair in its journalism and a fraction of the cost, it would still be wrong to make people fund it, because making people fund things they don’t want to support is simply wrong. Even if it had no impact on a free and competitive press, compelled support would still be immoral.
The reason the Conservatives don’t use this line of reasoning is obvious. If they did, they would have to abandon their entire political platform. Almost every government initiative, after all, involves forcing unwilling benefactors to fund things they don’t approve of.
But this is no reason to abandon the principle in favor of the platform. On the contrary, it’s a great reason to abandon the platform in favor of the principle.
In her book Healing Our World: In an Age of Aggression, research scientist and author Dr. Mary J. Ruwart candidly highlights the problem with the status quo.
“Through taxation, pacifists are forced at gunpoint to pay for killing machines; vegetarians are forced at gunpoint to subsidize grazing land for cattle; nonsmokers are forced at gunpoint to support both the production of tobacco and the research to counter its impact on health. These minorities are the victims, not the initiators of aggression. Their only crime is not agreeing with the priorities of the majority. Taxation appears to be more than theft; it is intolerance for the preferences and even the moral viewpoints of our neighbors. Through taxation we forcibly impose our will on others in an attempt to control their choices.”
If freedom means anything it means the right to withhold our funds from the causes and initiatives we’d rather not support. It’s not just about having a free press. It’s about letting people decide for themselves how their money is spent, both in the media and everywhere else.
Originally published at Fee.org. Patrick Carroll has a degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Waterloo and is an Editorial Fellow at the Foundation for Economic Education.
Image Credit: SimaGhaffarzadeh – Pixabay