Is CBC government funded media? That’s the hottest question for the twitterverse this week — and for our politicians. According to a particularly juvenile post by Twitter CEO Elon Musk, it is — to the tune of 69 per cent. Not to be outdone, Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre warbled, “There. Now everyone is happy,” after rejoicing earlier that “CBC officially exposed as Trudeau propaganda, not news.” As for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, he sniffed that, “I think it is telling that in order to attack this institution that is important for many, many Canadians… (Poilievre) runs to American billionaires.”
Ah, the state of Canadian political debate today. Let’s leave the sandbox for a moment and analyze the real issues.
Labelling CBC “government-funded media” is technically correct, but contrary to the fantasies of conspiracy theorists, CBC does not get day-to-day orders from the PMO or have a hotline to Rideau cottage. How do we know this? Very simply, if the CBC had to toe the government line, it would have cheered on Stephen Harper’s when he was prime minister. But it most certainly did not.
What CBC does toe, however, is a small-l liberal line. And that line is rooted in two things: law and culture. First, the Broadcasting Act gives the CBC a broad mandate to represent the diversity of Canada, to tell the so-called “untold Canadian stories” that commercial broadcasters eschew because they have an audience of approximately five people. That is as close as the CBC gets to “editorial direction”; it is not a day-to-day constraint, but an overarching objective, a purpose that colours the types of stories it pursues and how they are presented.