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A reminder that you can't talk about CBC on CBC
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A reminder that you can't talk about CBC on CBC

Written by
Chris Selley
Published by
Vancouver Sun
November 22nd, 2018

Tech columnist asks: “Why does CBC continue to engage in commercial relationships with Facebook now that it’s clear to us that Facebook is a threat to democracy, and CBC as a public broadcaster should be strengthening democracy?”

Back in 2015, Amanda Lang, at the time CBC’s marquee business reporter, found herself in hot water. There were credible allegations she had unsuccessfully lobbied editors to torpedo a colleague’s story about RBC using temporary foreign workers, and that she had lobbed a softball interview at RBC CEO Gord Nixon on The National, all while in an undisclosed romantic relationship with one of the bank’s directors. An internal CBC review recommended a lunch-and-learn on conflicts of interest, but otherwise came back clean: “The content of Amanda Lang’s journalism has adhered to CBC’s journalistic standards.”

In the aftermath, CBC Radio’s Q assembled a media panel — myself included — to discuss the matter. Or so we were told. When Ryerson journalism prof Asmaa Malik argued someone as high-profile as Lang should be erring rigorously on the side of disclosure, host Talia Schlanger interjected to remind us that Lang had not violated CBC’s standards and practices. That being the case, I ventured, there seemed to be something wrong with CBC’s standards and practices. Schlanger testily demanded to know if I had read them. When David Beers, founder of The Tyee, mentioned Lang’s friendly interview with Nixon, Schlanger again reminded listeners that it had passed internal muster.

When I suggested Lang’s viewers couldn’t possibly be expected to care about CBC’s standards and practices, let alone read them, Schlanger upbraided me for suggesting Lang hadn’t read CBC’s standards and practices. Which I had not done. Having clearly wandered into a very strange saloon, I briefly considered simply hoisting my bindle and leaving.

This all came to mind listening to tech journalist Jesse Hirsh’s entertaining segment with Matt Galloway, host of CBC Radio’s morning show in Toronto, discussing the threat Facebook arguably poses to democracy in light of various astonishing recent revelations in The New York Times. It came to mind in particular because I was listening to an illicit recording of the Monday segment obtained by journalist Sean Craig, the CBC having declined to archive it online.

The trouble started near the end, when Galloway asked what regular Facebook users can do. Hirsh stated the obvious: Nothing.

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Instead, given all we know about Russian-propagated fake news and privacy breaches and hiring PR people to portray criticism of Facebook as anti-Semitic — all reported on CBC platforms — Hirsh asked another question: “Why does CBC trust Facebook? Why does every outlet on CBC tell its listeners to go like them on Facebook?”

Galloway, sounding slightly alarmed, noted that all media do that.

“I don’t care about the other journalistic entities,” Hirsh shot back. “Why does CBC continue to engage in commercial relationships with Facebook now that it’s clear to us that Facebook is a threat to democracy, and CBC as a public broadcaster should be strengthening democracy?”

Good question! Right?

Apparently not. After many hours of getting kicked around on Twitter, CBC Toronto managing editor Tim Richards released a note explaining the problem. We learn that Hirsh’s segment was a “technology column,” whatever that means, and that radio columns (?) come with certain obligations under CBC’s journalism standards and practices (JSP). They include accuracy, and CBC contends Hirsh fell short when he claimed “(CBC) programmers (are) mandated to promote Facebook,” and when he said Facebook complained to CBC “every time (he) appeared on CBC to talk about (the company).”

Radio columnists also have to “weigh the views … on the opposing side of the argument” and avoid stating “personal opinions or preferences,” which doesn’t conform to any other definition of “columnist” I’m aware of — including the one apparently in effect at CBC’s opinion site. As many have observed this week, CBC’s website is full of meticulously archived twaddle: from the lobotomizing daily partisan exchanges to a bewildering segment in which Proudest Boy Gavin McInnes justified the Mi’qmak scalp bounty.

CBC even apologized for botching that interview. But you can still watch it online.

Hirsh concedes Facebook did not complain every single time he came on to talk about the company. But it seems perfectly clear that his real crime here was to question CBC. Don’t take my word for it. Take Matt Galloway’s.

“I was the one who suggested he come on this week,” Galloway tweeted Wednesday. “What I didn’t know was that 45 seconds before the show ended for national news, it would turn into a discussion about the CBC.”

Well, that’s simple enough: You can’t talk about CBC on CBC. I learned that a few years ago. Why not just say it? Why accuse Hirsh of journo-crime when all he committed was good radio?

“What a waste of resources,” Hirsh sighs. “How many high-paid managers wasted their time in the last two days talking about a useless f—ing issue?”

Well, indeed. The protection of legacy media outlets’ amour propre has led some very smart people into some very silly arguments; many involve their own Hallowed Tablets of Journalistic Practices. But this is the public broadcaster. We own it. And everyone can see it’s broken. It’s a toxic mix of monstrous self-regard and mediocrity in which a lot of very talented people are drowning. The federal government has some very terrible ideas about how to fix private-sector journalism. If only it could set those aside and focus on reforming CBC.

© [Vancouver Sun] (