, 10.13.2019 07:44 AM

CBC vs. CPC: when bias isn’t just perceived anymore

A reasonable apprehension of bias — that’s what we learned to call it in law school.

It’s the legal standard, in Canadian law, for disqualifying a judge or decision-maker in an administrative tribunal.

Bias is prejudice, mostly. It’s an unreasonably hostile feeling or opinion about a person or group. In law, we learned, it can be “real” or “perceived.” That is, it doesn’t have to actually happen right out in the open — the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled it can even happen when a decision-maker “might have” acted unfairly.

That’s when a judge or a decision-maker can be disqualified, and kicked off a case. But is a reporter a decision-maker, in the legal sense?

It’s not a question reserved for legal scholars, hidden away behind stacks of musty old volumes in a law library somewhere. On Friday, it became a question for the rest of us, too.

On Friday, the CBC — along with their newsreader Rosemary Barton, and Parliamentary Bureau reporter Jean-Paul Tasker — sued the Conservative Party of Canada. For real.

Their complaint: on the Internet, the Tories used 17 seconds of CBC video. About the Tories.

As the Conservative Party wrote in a release: “The 17 seconds of CBC clips in the video included (Postmedia columnist) Andrew Coyne highlighting how Justin Trudeau broke the law, Justin Trudeau telling a Canadian war veteran that he is ‘asking for more than we can give right now,’ and one CBC reporter questioning why the Liberals provided Loblaws with $12 million in tax dollars to install new refrigerators.”

When this writer heard about the lawsuit, it sounded like a joke, or an Internet meme. It was farcical.

Now, Conservatives have had a long (and sometimes also unreasonable) dislike for the CBC. Voters who identify themselves as conservative are acutely focused on media bias, particularly as it exists at progressive media organizations like CBC.

A number of Rasmussen polls conducted in the U.S. during the 2012 and 2016 presidential races found that two out of three conservative voters — and sometimes as many as three out of four — felt the media give progressive politicians a much easier time. They believe media bias is real.

So, when Justin Trudeau confidante Gerald Butts was recently photographed alone at an intimate dinner with Huffington Post Ottawa bureau chief Althia Raj — an English leaders’ debate moderator — Conservatives were apoplectic. It showed an inappropriate bias, they said.

Maybe so. Butts, for his part, was doing what politicos always do — he was trying to influence the media. Fine.

Raj, however, was doing something undeniably foolish. She was meeting privately with the most powerful unelected Liberal just before a critical debate, and thereby creating a perception that she would treat the Liberal leader differently.

Because Raj’s commentary has always been characterized by a pro-Trudeau tilt, a perception of bias was not unreasonable. At all.

In the case of the CBC lawsuit against the Conservative Party, however, the bias is not merely perceived. It is real. And it inarguably disqualifies Barton, Tasker and the CBC — all important decision-makers about the information millions of Canadians receive during this election — from broadcasting anything about the Conservative Party.

Truly: how can Andrew Scheer, or any of his candidates, now believe that the CBC will treat them fairly in news coverage? More importantly, how can the CBC’s viewers and listeners now believe that what they are seeing and hearing is free of bias?

After all, how the CBC handles a news story — how it writes it, how it edits it, how it headlines and promotes it — can destroy a political career in short order.

The CBC has said it was the “driver” behind the lawsuit, not the journalists. And it plans to remove the journalists from the lawsuit.

Whether they intended it or not, the CBC and Barton and Tasker have provided clear evidence of an appalling bias. They have shown they are utterly disinterested in being fair.

That lawsuit wasn’t a legal action. Given that the Tories now may win the election, it was a political suicide note.

54 Comments

  1. Phil says:

    This is going to be a tough write for me.

    I have felt there has been a bias against conservative thought for a very long time. Sorry Warren, but your hero Jean Chrétien was an artist at not just beating but villainizing his opponent, those of us who had left the Liberal party felt branded as extreme, only because we didn’t agree with the little guy from Shawinigan.

    Preston Manning lamented the media bias – liberals laughed. I see those moronic “I am voting CBC” signs and I wonder how NOT watching and rallying to the cry of a privately funded broadcaster made me unCanadian?

    When I made the decision to jump the queue and pay for a procedure in the USA I was again unCanadian. (forgive me with a long family history of throat cancer I felt waiting 24 months for a scope was a little long)

    So I have taken personally a lot of the accusations that I am somehow wrong just because I disagree. That is not very Canadian and it should not stand.

    I happen to feel every bit Canadian, I actually look for Canadian products and I go out of my way to tell my American little tidbits like the fact Baseball was first played here, and basketball, the telephone, and other items were invented by Canadians.

    So forgive me when I feel that those who support the CBC because it is the public broadcaster are fools for not being able to see as a mature country we have private sector broadcasters who can deliver any great Canadiana without the massive bias that is the CBC.

    This is proof positive that we do not need the CBC. BURY IT ALIVE.

    If a Sunmedia or CTV or other private broadcaster feels the need to sue one of the major political parties let them have at it. It is their intellectual property being taken.

    But for CBC to sue any party in this fashion is simply unfair.

    I think the funding should be slashed to the levels of a TVO type, no hockey, no national news, and have all the private affiliates who are left sold off as well as the premium slots afforded the “national network” in many major markets.

    This would be no different for me if the suit were against The racist lead Liberal Party of Canada.

    It is no different than Russian intervention in the US outcome.

    A publicly funded organization is setting aside bias to support the ruling party. (Please read the previous sentence and think of the need for Glasnost under Gorbachev).

    Again it’s a personal rant but there is no room for any public money to fund the Liberal party because it has simply seen to that funding.

    • Patrick says:

      Phil for prime minister. You have my vote laddy!

      • Phil says:

        Patrick I’m flattered but Anyone who has heard screaming that sounded like a goat being sodomized please do not call the police it was just me reacting to the concept of my candidacy.

    • Olivier Demers says:

      Yes we have the private sector. But in Quebec, the market is not the same! On TV, we have only two networks who make news (we have a third network but they don’t make news since many years because of money. They prefer to make reality show like the bachelor). If CBC is defunded, Radio-Canada would be too. And only TVA would make news on TV. But remember, the owner of TVA (Quebecor) own manual things. They have newspapers, many TV channels, one provider (Vidéotron) etc. So if a scandal happens at Quebecor, they will not talk about it. They will talk also about the new TV service of Vidéotron or the return of a serie on TVA. So, we need Radio-Canada here. We have press and Radio. But the Radio-Canada of Radio-Canada make good programs. In English, you have two networks too : global and CTV. They can make news because there is a lot of audience. Here in Quebec, it’s not the same. The market is not big like the English market. So think about it. Because everybody talks about cbc but Radio-Canada make nothing. And persons want to defund it. After they say what we need diversity of informations. If they think that it will help here…

      • Patrick says:

        I appreciate your concern but the CBC crowds out competition. If Quebecers want an alternative viewpoint from TVA they will be willing to pay for it. The market will adjust.

      • Patricia Walker says:

        I understand the Quebec problem with French language news BUT CBC is NOT the answer… they have shown their colors and they are NOT pretty!

      • Gerry Goldlist says:

        Once the funding playing field is leveled, the private sector will fill the void left by the CBC.

    • Jim Keegan says:

      Agreed with everything you said except for one small point…..when you went to the U.S. for your medical treatment, you didn’t “jump the queue”; you removed yourself from the queue and allowed those behind you to advance a little bit more quickly.

  2. Frankie Shiteballs says:

    another formulaic piece.

    these trash columns can’t take more than 15 minutes to write. so hacky and boring.

    • Phil says:

      Frankie, just curious how many seconds it took you to leaf to page 1 of your Liberal hand book and read “denigrate those who speak against us?”
      Speaking of boring, what’s it like to lick and kiss Justin Trudeau’s ass?

      • Phil says:

        WHILE I’m at it, I have been dropping into this website for at least three elections and I don’t think I’ve done a lot of trash talking even when I disagreed with the author so forgive me for making you the exception. Can we return now to intelligent discussion?

  3. Lorne says:

    Does this surprise anyone? The CBC, Barton and Tasker just acted the way they have been thinking.

    I shake my head at the totally entrenched support for JT. His Liberal party doesn’t resemble anything like we have seen before.

    Doesn’t the prospect of a Bloc supported Liberal minority worry people?

    • Phil says:

      A Bloc vote is a vote against the Liberals don’t see it as a realistic partnership. The Liberals are losing the election at least in Quebec because of the Bloc.

    • Ronald O'Dowd says:

      Lorne,

      About as much as when the Bloc propped up Harper’s minority.

    • Vancouverois says:

      I’m more worried at the prospect of a Bloc supported Conservative minority, which seems more likely.

      That doesn’t mean the Liberals will get my vote; but it’s a real concern.

      • Ronald O'Dowd says:

        Vancouverois,

        Did you show that same concern when Harper was propped up by them or did you do like most Conservatives, go along to get along?

        • Chris says:

          The Bloc formally agreed to prop up the Dion-Layton Coalition government too. Don’t forget that. The Bloc has no shame and one over-arching principle. To do what’s best for the Bloc.

        • Vancouverois says:

          I am not a Conservative. I’m not a member of any party.

          Harper was in a position to get votes (or abstentions) from different parties at different times, so he was not beholden to the Bloc or any other one opposition party.

          I still deplore his “Quebec is a nation within Canada” motion.

          At the moment, I’m concerned with the Conservative promise to let Revenue Quebec administer the collection of federal taxes. I think that’s madness; but if the Conservatives are in a position of having to depend on the Bloc to stay in power, it’s all the more likely to go ahead.

  4. Graham Hanlon says:

    It is completely perplexing that the CBC leadership would approve legal action against the CPC at this juncture in an election too close to call, over such an insignificant and truly unremarkable use of their copyright. Especially when you consider they have permitted other political parties to use their footage in advertising without voicing the same objection. Even worse, involving two of their reporters was the height of stupidity. As you quite rightly point out, now it places them in an obvious conflict of interest, notwithstanding the perception of bias that already existed. What they’ve effectively accomplished is confirming the bias.

    Quite perplexing as the net result will poke the bear and ensure a significant turnout from CPC supporters.

  5. Peter says:

    If I were a CPC candidate or leader and was questioned by a CBC reporter now I would tell them sorry – we’re in court with you I can’t talk…

    • Patrick says:

      Wait what? I just said I’d vote Phil for PM now you want my vote?

    • Olivier Demers says:

      Yes but maybe it would be a young journalist who have no role in this. Who want to make his work (yes journalists who make a good work exists!!).

    • Fred from BC says:

      “If I were a CPC candidate or leader and was questioned by a CBC reporter now I would tell them sorry – we’re in court with you I can’t talk…”

      Brilliant!

      (if Phil doesn’t want to run, maybe you can?…;)

      • Ronald O'Dowd says:

        Fred,

        IMHO, you don’t solve this case of implicit to explicit bias by denying the CBC journalistic access (or funding). That’s counterproductive at best. It will only harden their biases and those of some viewers.

        • Fred from BC says:

          ” That’s counterproductive at best. It will only harden their biases and those of some viewers.”

          Oh, undoubtedly, Ronald….but it’s fun to fantasize about it anyway, isn’t it?

          (quite similar to what I imagine it’s like to be a hardcore NDP supporter; you know in your heart that your party will never, ever govern Canada, but it’s still fun to ‘pretend’, right?..;)

  6. Ontario John says:

    So Unifor journalists across the media are saying its all the lawyers fault and their idea. Does anyone really believe that CBC lawyers out of the blue, decided on their own to take a political party to court during an election? And why is fiscal responsibility suddenly become a dirty word? Is it normal to live beyond your means?

  7. Mike says:

    The CBC likely realizes that they will be troubled financially if the Conservatives win and this may be a defensive position to ferret out conservative bias when they sue the government to maintain their funding.

    I’ve listened/watched CBC for decades, but it now has turned into a dreadful broadcaster, certainly not reflecting all areas of the country, a slothful and bias organization

    • Chris says:

      As I’ve said before, the CBC perfectly reflects the values and views of the neighbourhood surrounding its downtown Toronto headquarters. They throw in some Calgary Stampede coverage and the next version of a never-ending line of “Anne of Green Gables” just for regional colour.

  8. Pedant says:

    Voters who identify themselves as conservative are acutely focused on media bias, particularly as it exists at progressive media organizations like CBC.

    True, but the reason they focus on the CBC is because it is publicly funded. Nobody cares that the Toronto Star is biased. I am perfectly fine with Heather Mallick and Martin Regg-Cohn writing their drivel since I don’t have to pay for it (well, before Justin’s $600 million gift). I actually wouldn’t say the CBC is exactly biased against conservatives but more that it simply ignores them completely. The 35-40% of Canadians who lean right of centre simply don’t exist, if one goes by their programming choices.

  9. Pam says:

    Peter Mansbridge needs to read this excellent piece.

  10. Ronald O'Dowd says:

    Tait has to move quickly to contain the hemorrhaging and fire those in management responsible for this. Period.

  11. Bill Malcolm says:

    Well, the suit is about the CPC using a news clip from CBC featuring Barton, without permission. She does not want to be identified as promoting any party. Like Trump usurping Neil Young’s music without permission, for the Cons, it’s rip off first, then worry about the consequences later.

    You left this fact out of your write-up. Didn’t fit with the narrative, I guess. Personally, I find Global so pro-Conservative, my toes curl up in annoyance. And I’m not a Lib either.

    Do you read the ARC collective on ProgBlog? Because you seem to have been a solid anti-racist in the past. Why does Scheer feature so prominently with white supremacists on that site? Ask yourself that.

    • Pedant says:

      It’s funny. It seems only right of centre politicians are expected to take responsibility for every single individual who might support them at any given time for any given reason. Like they’re supposed to enact mind control. If you have evidence that Andrew Scheer is a white supremacist then have at it. Did your parents or kindergarten teacher never tell you the story of the boy who cried wolf?

    • Walter says:

      According to the CPC website, the Copyright Act say that “If a news clip is relatively short and is not a substantial part of the audiovisual work from which it was taken, the broadcast of the news clip in a political ad would not infringe the copyright of the owner of the audiovisual work and would not require the permission of that owner to be broadcast.”
      If this is correct, CBC is 100% wrong legally.
      I also read that the Liberals used CBC footage in their adds in 2015 and (surprise surprise) no lawsuit.

    • Fred from BC says:

      ” She does not want to be identified as promoting any party. ”

      You mean any *other* party than the Liberals, right Bill?

    • Fred from BC says:

      “Why does Scheer feature so prominently with white supremacists on that site? Ask yourself that.”

      Why *doesn’t* Justin Trudeau, given his recent antics?

      Ask yourself that.

  12. J.H. says:

    I notice too that the CBC’s Katie Simpson changed the photo on her twitter account soon as the suit was filed. Previously it showed her, Trudeau, a group of Liberal candidates and a podium with a LPC campaign slogan. I’m wondering if that and some clips that the Libs had used from CBC broadcasts will also show up in the court case. As well as the fact that a number of ex CBC on air staff has ended up either working for Lib ministrys or their consultants.

  13. mike jeffries says:

    Who watches the CBC?
    The so-called ‘National’ format now is a mess and the CBC knows it!
    They know this lawsuit is nonsensical but they do it for Justin. Why? They know he is in trouble because those very 17 seconds nail it!

  14. Bob Daye says:

    The CBC will be defunded if Scheer wins.
    The CBC made this bed, now they will die in it.
    Good Riddance.

    • Ronald O'Dowd says:

      Bob,

      Remember that Harper built over time, especially during the majority, his own building blocks to his government’s political oblivion. If Scheer is actually brain-dead-enough to de-fund the CBC, that will be building-block number one for him. Divesting themselves of the CBC, even to foreign minority interests, is a much more palatable option.

  15. David Murrell says:

    I agree with Warren and most of the posters on this thread. Even given the CBC’s traditional pro-Liberal bias, suing the Conservatives jumps the shark, and in a big way. But what bothers me as well is that the national media cartel are not criticizing the CBC over this.

  16. Christoph Dollis says:

    That lawsuit wasn’t a legal action. Given that the Tories now may win the election, it was a political suicide note.

    Har har.

  17. Gilbert says:

    If the Liberals had used 17 seconds of material from the CBC that attacked the Conservatives, would they have sued the Liberal Party? Nobody believes they would have. There is clearly bias.

  18. Pedro says:

    From a CBC article (come and get me CBC!! – dunno the writer anyway): “CBC-Radio Canada named the journalists in the lawsuit, according to the statement, “because their images and journalism were misused for partisan purposes negatively impacting perceptions of their independence.” What kind of la-la land are those two “journalists” living in? One, anyone NOT conservative-ish can’t be shaken at all from believing those two and all at the CBC are objective and un-biased while, two, anyone just slightly right of centre and/or RATIONAL, can’t be convinced come hell or high water anyone at the CBC, or CTV which runs the same stories in basically the same order every nite, is NOT biased against anything that is conservative-ish. Do these guys actually talk to REAL people? Getting to be like the US – a huge flyover country ignored by very, smart, learned elite, angels-on-pinhead arguers.

  19. Full Retired Rambo says:

    Does anyone recall the short lived “Just In” on CBC News that aired in 2015. I recall it had white font Lettering with a red background. I Had to do a double take because I thought it was an election ad; I’m sure it was a unfortunate coincidence. Also thanks for that first comment By Phil, it was a refreshing and thought provoking Sunday morning read.

  20. Vancouverois says:

    So this suit goes ahead… and yet the RCMP suspended investigation into SNC-Lavalin, for fear it would affect the outcome of the election.

    Hmmm.

    • Ronald O'Dowd says:

      Vancouverois,

      Apples and Oranges. RCMP in a criminal investigation followed standard operating procedure post-Z, while this is a private civil action between an at-arms-length Crown corporation and a political party.

  21. Mike says:

    The lawsuit was filed the same day as the English debate. Did Barton notify the public she was suing the Conservatives as she was acting as the moderator?

    The ethical thing to do would to excuse yourself, but Rosie and Liberals……….

  22. Mia says:

    I’m so sick of CBC’s bias like that ridiculous article yesterday about Andrew Scheer in Winnipeg and people complaining about him not helping out with the storm evacuation. He gave a personal donation, what else was he suppose to do? Stand there looking pretty and taking selfies? I’m actually glad he didn’t pull a Trudeau. We want change, not another pretty boy posing for photo ops. Biased media sources like CBC will go on and on about Scheer’s duel citizenship but carefully sneak around the serious issues such as Justin Trudeau’s ethics violation and appalling treatment of Jody Wilson-Raybould. Never have I seen a politician in Canada get away with so much. If any other political party leader had done the horrifically racist blackface that Trudeau clearly enjoyed engaging in, they would have been forced to resign. By all logic Canadians should be happy for the chance to be rid of JT, but unfortunately there still seems to be too many that are willing to give him a free pass no matter what.

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