Nationalized News: The Problem with Government Interference in Media
Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government has given $600 Million dollars to bailout media companies in Canada. This news comes eleven months before the next election cycle in the Great White North. Some will no doubt see this as a great benefit to Canadian media and the safeguarding of countless jobs. I, however, see it as a dangerous meddling of private interests and the government in a measure that should worry people all around the world and in Canada in particular.
Public media has always had a role in announcing facts to the populace. In the United States, C-SPAN and PBS share countless stories the world over about the goings on around the globe and in America in particular. However, these organizations do not have any editorial function and PBS is required to disclose all of their funding. NPR, on the other hand, is a publicly created news syndication, formed by an act of Congress. They do editorialize, much in the same way that Canada’s CBC does, despite being publicly owned. These distinctions are important, because they denote the difference between broadcasting services that are publicly funded, and services that are funded privately but receive government grants.
Why do I bring up American media while discussing Canadian media? I should think the reason is rather self-evident, but to expand on the comparison, it is thus: We accept that media is an important driver in the election cycle in American politics. We know that due to the overwhelming amount of media coverage given to the current President, mostly owing to overwhelming distaste of him, he wound up reaching enough Americans with his message to win the White House. Media is an important tool to decide whose voice is heard among the populace, and this is why media and the government are usually kept distinct from one another.
Media is also viewed as the fifth estate, the tool by which government is interrogated, criticized and investigated by private means to ensure they act in the best interests of the public they serve. There is a fundamental conflict of interest in expecting an organization that is paid by the government to investigate the government in any way that would potentially harm the organization receiving funding. This is why you will rarely, if ever, see CBC or NPR arguing that they are not essential services to protect the public and deliver unto them the news they need, much in the same way you will hear any government run service declare their imminent necessity and requirement for the good of all.
What then can be said when media industries in Canada run the risk of sinking as many have before, are suddenly given more than a half a billion tax-payer dollars to remain solvent? This conflict of interest, once limited to one news organization, now has spread itself to the entire media network in Canada, this when approval ratings for Incumbent Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have been showing a marked downward trend, while disapproval grows. How can a person be expected to receive unbiased election coverage, when the Liberal government has decided to keep failing news organizations afloat with tax-payer money?
More worrisome is that the government here in Canada will be picking and choosing what struggling media companies will be bailed out, and which won’t. As if the potential bias wasn’t bad enough as it is from such a plan in creating this obligation, it seems now that the government will be picking an independent panel to consult with in order to go forward with financing these struggling businesses, as though any panel picked by the government will be free of any kind of bias, this in a country where Human Rights Tribunals are issuing fines to comedians in the tens of thousands of dollars for offending people with jokes during comedy routines. If the Government itself is biased, so too will its choices necessarily be, and therefore so will the decisions made by such a panel also most likely be biased in favor of the government.
True, there is no strict to-the-letter obligation for any news company given such money to stand in Justin’s corner in the run up to this October. Despite that, it begs the question of who can truly be trusted anymore when it comes to news media. Recently, funding provided by HR 5181, otherwise known as the “Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act” passed by Barack Obama in December of 2016 expired, at almost the exact same time that the likes of BuzzFeed, Huffington Post, AOL and Vice media all decided to make massive layoffs of over 1000 staff members. The grant provided $160 Million over two years in a bid to monitor incoming propaganda from external threats. Who was paid to monitor that propaganda is to me, at this time, uncertain. However, it does seem a strange co-incidence.
Whether these events are indeed related or not is not for me to say. What I can say is that I think it unconscionable that failing members of the media industry should be propped up by the likes of the taxpayer dollar. News and the Government should have no dealings with one another except as a check and balance against one another; the Government to limit the spread of propaganda, and the News to hold the Government accountable. This sick and fastidious relationship, one that makes it difficult to discern whether or not one might be scratching the back of the other, is altogether too opaque for the two entities to be allowed to maintain. We should never allow ourselves to succumb to state controlled media and propaganda, lest we make the collective mistake of Germany during the World Wars of our past, and risk allowing ourselves to be lied to rather than face the bloody truth of the world around us for what it is. No good can come out of sheltering our eyes from reality.