04.28.2010 08:27 AM

Clash of the Titans

After taking the kids to see Clash of the Titans last night – which is about Greek mythology, sort of, and powerful forces toying with the lives of humans – I actually sat down and watched both CBC and CTV’s national newscasts, last night. It was interesting.

When you have a national news broadcast, or a newspaper, you can only choose to make one story your main story. There’s no way you can give two stories equal prominence. You have to choose.

So, last night, CBC chose the historic ruling of House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken. And CTV chose the historic events playing themselves out in Europe, with Greece (and maybe Portugal and Spain and others) possibly getting ready to trigger a new global recession/depression.

I wasn’t at the editorial meetings at either network, but I reckon that CBC’s editors decided that the ruling in Ottawa had all the requisite elements for a Big Story: drama, conflict, power, and the potential for the toppling of the Canadian government. On the other side of town, at CTV, I figure all of those arguments would have been made by the Ottawa bureau’s staff, but a decision was made to pay attention to the chilling economic developments in Europe – because those events, too, are dramatic and so on.

At both news organizations, the guiding principle would have been this: what is most relevant to the lives of our readers/viewers/listeners? What do they care about? What matters most to them? (I can tell you that every political party goes through the same existential analysis every day, too, for different reasons.)

CTV’s top guys and gals would have concluded something like this: “What is happening in Ottawa is interesting, but do our viewers really care about a dense, complex ruling by the Speaker of the House of Commons that may or may not result in an election or a reference to the Supreme Court, or whatever? Do they really care about Afghan detainees? What they care about is their families being plunged into another global recession. That’s what they care about.”

CBC’s bosses, meanwhile, might have said: “The European debt crisis is important, but it’s been a ‘crisis’ for weeks now. The IMF will step in sometime soon, and – besides – when was the last time our audience cared about the stability of the economy of a small country in Europe? Don’t they care, instead, about the fact that their government is possibly trying to cover up allegations of torture, and that the politicians seem ready to plunge us into yet another election, because none of them are capable of compromise?”

There are merits to both sides. What is ironic, to me, is that the Conservatives will almost certainly use the latter to offset the former. They’ll say – just you watch – that Canadians don’t want an expensive, unnecessary election about the fate of some likely members of the Taliban. And that what matters most is putting bread on the table. Having an election during another economic crisis is foolhardy.

Personally, I think CBC probably made the right call. I look at the Conservative argument, and invert it: the European economic crisis is real and significant, and it will have implications for every Canadian. To get through it, everyone will need to pull together. Your arrogance and intransigence and deceit are pitting everyone against each other, yet again. We need a government that understands the necessity of compromise – particularly if we are to emerge whole from the chaos that possibly lies ahead. When there is a Clash of the Titans – politically, economically – it is usually the little guy who gets hurt. So, cool it, already.

What do you think? CBC or CTV? Comments are open.

26 Comments

  1. bigcitylib says:

    How was the movie?

  2. Eliza.. says:

    CBC, it tells it more like it is. and we do not need another paper or TV station that leans to the Conservatives.

  3. Gord says:

    I’m with CTV — the economic situation is THE story of our lifetimes and anyone who thinks we’ve seen the last of this isn’t familiar enough with the facts. I’m not sure enough money or political will exists in the world to do anything but kick the can a few months into the future. But it’s just as dense and hard to follow as the detainee issue in Ottawa, so I’m not sure either of them were “sexy” enough to lead with in this day and age. Isn’t Sandra Bullock filing for divorce or something?
    ;-D

  4. wsam says:

    I agree!

  5. JH says:

    CBC – but I wouldn’t rule out an election. Rightly or wrongly I think it’s possible Harper could look across the aisle, particularly at the leadership on the other side and say let’s go for it! The fight would be based on the Rural – Urban divide, supporting the troops and continuingly positive economic news which he gets credit for.
    Like it or not – that works on main street in small town Canada at the moment. If the chips go down right now, Canadians as a whole will not cast a majority vote for Iggy or the NDP or a coalition of the two. Even if he gets another Minority government under these circumstances, Harper will take this as a mandate to continue his policies.
    And it’s no good for opposition party members to come on here and roundly condemn me – it’s only an opinion. I suggest though you get out of your own little circle etc. though and talk to the folks. You might understand why I feel this way.

  6. Mulletaur says:

    I think we’re very fortunate to live in a society where two major, reliable sources of news can make different decisions about what the lead story should be. Both have their role to play, and both did.

  7. Martin Partridge says:

    CBC understands the momentousness. CTV does not. CBC is meaningful. CTV is crass. CBC puts the public first, CTV puts itself first. The loss of CBC would be deeply mourned as irreplaceable. CTV’s demise would simply result in another commercial enterprise stepping into the void.

  8. Eugene Parks says:

    I watch the markets everyday (feel free to delete this plug: see http://www.prosfer.com); So, I get why CTV went the way they did. However, I do not agree with it.

    Canadian democracy hung in the balance and may still very well fail in the next two weeks. That would, if it fails, hurt canadians for a generation or more. Yet, it is something we have two weeks to do something about it.

    In contrast, all we can do about the Greece/Portugal crises is shore up our institutions for what is probably a five year problem.

    Leading with the issue Canadians can do something about – before it damages a generation – is the bigger story. Money means nothing if your central government turns into chaos or worse. Revolution, even whimpering ones, trumps just about everything.

  9. auntie-em-m says:

    “a dense, complex ruling by the speaker”

    Amazingly, that’s exactly what Tom _what’s his name?_____ was implying right after the speaker ruled yesterday. He was explaining to the CTV newsreader in as simple language as he could muster…”Have you got that?”. Too complex for us ordinary Canadians.

    That’s what CTV did with the issue of the coalition. I think they, like this government, would like to think we are unable to understand government; we’re not consumers of ideas. They should stop dumbing it down. I don’t want to be in their supposed target audience.

    I prefer CBC’s coverage. I kinda take pride in the fact that they’re good without talking down to their audience. Also, if Doug Finlay’s using them to shake down Harper’s supporters, they must be an important Canadian institution. ;0)

    • Sandra says:

      Absolutely correct. I’m sick and tired of the CTV political show/pundits say “Canadians don’t know and we’re here to inform the stupid people out there.

    • Michael Watkins says:

      My take – it wasn’t so much the Greece and Portugal downgrades themselves which caused CTV to run the story but the dual whammy of “oh my, a big down day on the market…” (there hasn’t been such a day in eons and bad news always leads) plus “Frank and Fatima” Canada are going to want to head cross the border to do some shopping in a hurry once they learn the Loonie took a tumble (a stall in the loonie’s advance is actually good news except for cross border shoppers).

      The CTV ran populist headlines, in other words, not that I’m dismissing the importance of the re-appearance of any signs of market upheaval. It was an important story last week too but few were covering it with the depth required.

      But I side with CBC in that politics matter and parliament should matter and perhaps as a result of yesterday will matter a little more in the future. Greek tragedies happen all the time. A little Canadian history was made yesterday and if the story seems a little dry it is largely because the story tellers were not doing their job well enough.

  10. William M says:

    A national newscast should be breaking important and relevant domestic news first and foremost. That they avoided the decision in the house only proves the bias over at Conservative TV.

  11. parnel says:

    CBC made the right call but its also time for the Libs to step up and make this a national democracy crisis even if Harpercrite compromises. There are many ways to make the cons look very bad and its time to turf these guys as I think they are being held together by chewing gum and string. An election that uncovers the tory warts sufficiently, and they are there, could have a “Kim Campbell” effect on an election.

  12. Elizabeth says:

    Of course CBC made the right call. It’s of supreme importance to Canada, and so it should take priority. I find CTV is kind of gutless, and frequently “off”. I find CBC annoying sometimes, but I think their instincts on larger issues are right on.

  13. Northern PoV says:

    I am just surprised that CTV didn’t rerun their famous Dion interview.
    Move on, nothing to see here ….

  14. Ted says:

    You put it as a decision about whether the network thinks Canadians care at all or not about the issue.

    I’d put it differently. I think they decide which issue Canadians care about more. It’s not like CTV ignored what happened in Ottawa yesterday – they had a couple of stories and pundit analysis segment, maybe 3 or 4 minutes on the issue which is big and more time than they spent on the economic crisis.

    So it was about which significant issue to Canadians will lead.

  15. Brian says:

    While it’s also a business, the media’s institutional role in a democracy is to ensure that our own democratic system is accountable to the public. Everyone around the world is watching Europe, but no one else is watching our Parliament for us.

    The European situation is alarming, and deserves detailed scrutiny – but it’s not a new situation. Events have unfolded leading up to it, and events will continue to unfold. But the Speaker’s ruling comes only once. With those facts in mind, putting the Speaker’s ruling first is the obvious choice.

  16. Elizabeth J says:

    What is so complicated about confirming that parliament is the highest authority in our democratic system?

    If we have an election and the Libs gain enough seats to form government they will have access to any documents they want BUT the Cons claim that until that happens they would be irresponsible with the information if they had access to it. What? Huh? That makes no sense. The Cons are saying that MPs, our elected representatives, will not act responsibly unless a few more people are elected from their party and then the same MPs suddenly become responsible.

    Liberal MPs include former cabinet ministers. Did they release sensitive information when they were in positions of trust and authority? Is there any reason to believe that just a few years later they would have less integrity than when their party was the governing party?

    I don’t know how the Cons get people to buy their insanity.

  17. Jim says:

    The CTV bashing in this thread is silly. Honestly, you guys just sound like the flip side of the small dead circus animals who can’t enter a comment without complaining that the CBC is no more than a Grit propaganda machine. Both news organizations bring value to the Canadian media landscape and to lose either would represent a significant narrowing of the political perspective that Canadians are exposed to.

    As for the issue at hand, how many average Canadians even know who Milliken is, let alone the roles and functions of the Speaker or the dangerous precedent that Prime Minister Harper is trying to set by withholding the requested information from parliament? We’re all political wonks here, but if I were to ask a cross-section of the people I know if they were following or at all cared about this issue, the majority would say no (or huh?). It is a dense issue and people simply can’t or won’t get riled up about it. The European crisis was the more notable and accessible story for CTV’s viewers.

  18. Robbie says:

    Warren, Milliken = Perseus. Libs see Harper in Hades. CotT was pedestrian in plot and shallow in characters.

  19. Aurelia says:

    The so called debt crisis is nothing and will be resolved quite easily. Germany is just saying what everyone else has been saying to various EU countries for years, the difference is that they are finally being listened to because they aren’t just giving their credit card out.

    The message is that at some point, stuff costs money, and repayment day has arrived. You can’t allow rampant corruption and bribery, tax avoidance, criminally large tax loopholes for the wealthy and unlimited social benefits to continue forever. Germany and the IMF are right to demand that Greece stop running it’s government so irresponsibly.

    Greece is not happy, and neither are some other nations, but even they see the logic of actually collecting taxes on business who operate under the table, shutting down the out of control mafia, ending bribery of public officials, and gee whiz, making some of those millionaires and billionaires pay more than 5 cents on taxes. (And before someone says it, no, publicized tax rates do not actually have any relation to what is paid in taxes.) Government cannot pay for social programs for all citizens if never takes care of the revenue side.

    Greece never gave a damn before, because loans were easy. It is a good thing that someone is making them care. Germany and the IMF are doing the right thing.

    What I did think was ridiculous was CTV worrying about the situation. The $10 billion payment coming up is a pittance in comparison to government revenues, and yes, the bond ratings were lowered, but a lowered bond rating for government is never the same as it is for a company. The market knows that it will always get it’s money back somehow because governments can levy taxes. Not to mention that they have huge easily seizable assets. When the media overblows a situation and scares people, THAT creates economic crisis.

    About the Milliken decision? Absolutely this was going to happen. It’s an amazing and precedent setting ruling, so of course, he was going to get it right. And CBC was right to go with this as the lead. This decision will impact democracy be quoted in court rulings and other matters going forward for decades or longer.

    It’s not just about detainees. It’s about who is really in charge in our democracy and in the House of Commons. Peter Milliken has spent his entire life studying and caring about House procedure. This is his legacy, his place in the history books.

    Like I expect you to care about the War Room and all aspects, I expect him to care if every i is dotted and t is crossed in the House.

    To Millken, the House IS his War Room. Make sense?

  20. Elizabeth says:

    Maybe CTV and CBC check each other out, and decide not to run the same leading story.

  21. Michael Watkins says:

    Aurelia: “The market knows that it will always get it’s money back somehow because governments can levy taxes.”

    This isn’t true in the case of basket case countries, and Greece is considered a basket case at present. The risk of default remains a real threat. Creditors fear that they will be forced to accept pennies on the dollar for existing Greek debt outstanding, which is why yields are sky high and credit default spreads between Greece and more stable countries are at extreme levels.

    The “market” fears default and these are big players using real money, not armchair speculators.

  22. Brian says:

    EJ wrote: “Maybe CTV and CBC check each other out.”

    Sounds hot.

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