” The day I finally lost all respect for CBC’s flagship news program The National ” adds to broken illusion

In the vein of my latest post about losing my illusion of a fair, unbiased and un-influenced media broken, please read this compelling article by Tim Knight, on the day he lost respect for The National. And even more interesting than his article, is the comments that follow for an eye-opening look into politics and media and training of both. 

From the J-Source site, and again, go read the link to read the comments

The date was July 7, 2011 — the day Canada pulled its troops out of Afghanistan after nine years of brutal war ending without even a truce. One hundred and sixty-one Canadian soldiers and civilians died in that war. At a financial cost of some $18-billion. By the close of this day we’d lost more troops per capita in Afghanistan than any of the 21 other coalition nations — including the United States which started it.

July 7, 2011 was the end of Canada’s longest-ever war. An historic, momentous day for our nation.  A day to remember. A day to show respect. A day to mourn. A day to celebrate, perhaps.

Yet you wouldn’t have had a clue about this day’s significance if you watched the CBC’s flagship news program on the evening of July 7, 2011.  

The National devoted its entire first section to coverage of Will and Kate smiling and shaking hands at the Calgary Stampede. (This followed endless, excruciating weeks of  fawning over two pretty celebrities who had never actually done anything of note except get married and come visit us on their honeymoon. Adding to this fiasco, was The National’s hugely expensive weeklong pilgrimage to London to broadcast that wedding live.)

So the thirteenth day of the Will and Kate tour was lead story on The National. Then, after a commercial, a murder trial in Florida, floods in China, a stadium collapse somewhere and a dust storm in Arizona.

Only after all this entirely meaningless celebrity-adoring, foreign crime and weather did The National report on the end of Canada’s mission to Afghanistan — the sixth story in its lineup, not from brutal, battered Kandahar, but voiced-over from Toronto, using free pool video.

July 7, 2011 was the day I finally lost all respect for The National.

I really, really didn’t want to write this story. The National is in my blood, a truly important part of my life. Back in the seventies, I wrote for, reported for, then produced the program. Back in those days we weren’t perfect, but we were always fiercely protective of its journalistic integrity, its rigorous journalistic standards, it’s mission to bring understanding of the world we live in, its dedication to reporting news that truly mattered. We believed absolutely that The National was the best damn newscast in the whole damn world.

Over the years since, however, I’ve watched it decline from proud, damn-the-torpedoes, public service journalism, to just another rather pointless, hungry-for-ratings, TV news program, no better than the private networks. (At least the privates have the excuse that they aren’t directly subsidized by Canadian taxpayers and aren’t, therefore, mandated to “serve to safeguard, enrich and strengthen the cultural, political, social and economic fabric of Canada.”)

In a cruelly ironic touch, The National’s campaign to persuade Canadians to watch the news we pay for was overseen by expensive American news doctors. If you really want more Canadians to watch, those doctors advised, don’t spend your money on all that international crap. Nobody cares. If you must run international stuff, you can get most of it for free from other broadcasters and do the voice-over here in Canada. Anyway, viewers don’t want you explaining the world they live in. They want “human” stories. They want celebrities. Crime sells. Disasters sell. Weather sells. Fires sell. Get with it Canadians!

The result — The National today. A news program that’s lost its soul, its journalistic innocence.

The warning signs have loomed for years. I base this analysis on watching The National for the last 30 years or so. But also from notes (nine pages, 4,000 words) written after screening it every night for seven consecutive days, then re-screening the next day.  

•    A patronizing chief-anchor-for-life who can read a teleprompter without stumbling yet almost never actually seems to feel the scenes he describes. Unless it’s politics, his specialty, he rather obviously doesn’t care what’s in the stories, doesn’t see the scenes, doesn’t feel the emotions. Has no genuine human response. As a result, of course, neither does the viewer.

•    Fill-in anchors, most of whom communicate no better than the ageing king, specialize in perkiness and fake smiles, talk down to us like elementary school teachers.

•    Writing that mostly lacks insight, knowledge, wit, clarity and style. Writing filled with clichés, codes, bromides and jargon. Writing that too often tells the entire story in the anchor’s introduction, then has the reporter repeat the identical information in the body of the story.  

•    Reporters who still follow old newspaper style, starting the story at the end, the climax, then working back to the context. Reporters who seem to have no idea that good storytelling is almost always a chronological journey (context, dramatic development, moving inexorably to climax. In that order.) Why? Because in real life, cause usually precedes effect. And, anyway, life is chronological. Reporters who announce in a most unnatural manner and confuse speed and volume with energy and authority. Reporters who believe asking people-in-the-street silly questions about matters they can’t possibly understand is keeping in touch with the masses.    

•    And, of course, the aforementioned concentration on often-meaningless “human” stories the news doctors promise will make Canadians watch, thus increasing ratings and bringing glory to CBC executives.

•    And much, much more.

I don’t blame the journalists — that dwindling band of digitally-stained wretches — who serve The National as best they can. In fact, CBC News still has a few of the finest, most dedicated journalists in all Canada. When they can get airtime, its handful of experienced, travel-worn foreign correspondents are among the very best in the world. Its investigations into wrongdoing are exceptional, if only occasional.

In the main, however, Canada’s public broadcasting flagship The National is no longer in service to the Canadian people. It would rather run “acts of God” disaster stories, and fawn over such as Will and Kate, than tell truth to power. It’s forgotten that as journalism goes, so goes democracy.    

Simply put, the senior executives responsible for The National have gone rotten, abandoned the organization’s mandate and, in their frantic race for ratings, lost their journalistic focus and with it their journalistic integrity.

That sad, obsequious, pandering, insolent evening of July 7, 2011 was the inevitable result.

Tim Knight is a freelance Toronto documentary film-maker and communications trainer. He’s won Emmy and Sigma Delta Chi awards for journalism and trained thousands of working journalists in hundreds of workshops in a dozen countries. He’s worked for ABC, NBC and PBS and for 10 years was executive producer and lead trainer for CBC TV Journalism Training. His most recent book, Storytelling and the Anima Factor (lulu.com), is now in its second edition. Knight can be reached at http://www.TimKnight.org.

14 thoughts on “” The day I finally lost all respect for CBC’s flagship news program The National ” adds to broken illusion

  1. Doug Warner

    Thanks for this link, I couldn’t stomach all the Will and Kate coverage either. Our soldiers deserve more than that.I don’t agree with everything this guy states but nearly most of it.

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  2. The author’s right. In the history of media I remember growing up – at least some place – and almost always the CBC – was trying to tell the truth. At a time in our history when we absolutely need some courage in journalism – and media we are failing. We all know its true. Let’s change it for the better.

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  3. OK, but we don’t give up. This huge country with its time-zones and special differences needs a public broadcaster. We did have one … so we know how to do that … and we can bring it back to life again.

    Maybe Peter Mansbridge is the major problem. If so, we must let him know.

    But maybe the really big problem is budget-cutting in the background … remember when all of BC’s news service was shut down? … and that wasn’t even the first round of budget-cuts either.

    When wee Gary Lunn (Refo-o-orm Party) was first elected in my electoral riding of Saanich and the Islands, holding my nose, I wrote to him. I wrote a friendly letter of congratulation, wished him good luck — specifically about CBC, in which I said “Although my views are different from yours, I thought that you might like to hear from your constituents who place a high value upon the National Broadcaster … ” and went on to mention why … and that my hope would be for him, as Opposition member under Preston Manning, to support stable funding for such a vital service.

    His reply was appalling. I’ll dig it up, if you insist (I’ve just moved again). People should see how rude, spiteful, and hostile an MP can be, not just toward CBC but toward anyone who doesn’t see the value of private (read U.S.) corporations creating the news.

    My TV is mostly on CBC Newsworld and I, too, often think there’s room for improvement … but I haven’t got around to writing that friendly letter which might push them back on track again. I must do that. Have you done that?

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    1. Laila

      I have to say Mary, that the response to my complaint to the Ombudsman was handled swiftly, to the local level directly not at all, as was discovered by others who complained as well. No one seemed willing to address an error of that nature until the Ombudsman was involved.

      How to improve what so many have worked to lessen, I do not know. I agree a public broadcaster is needed, how to fix what we have I don’t know. As this fellow states, this downgrade has gone on for a long time and one cannot blame all the reporters for what comes down from above them in terms of limitations and direction. And he states CBC still has some of the best investigative reporters in the country, which I agree with. Peter kind of reminds me a bit of how BIl Good was on the air, rather emotionless I thought, but at the same time he is an institution and I find Peter to have more personality than Good did on air.

      Budget cuts at the local level are deadly. Only so many reporters for far too many stories leaves a lot uncovered and the quality and truth suffers.

      I believe you are asking the million dollar question. Can we save it and bring the CBC back to life?

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  4. G.J.W.

    The media in Australia had an article on, how badly democracy has eroded in Canada.
    Scientists are not permitted to publish their results. Everything must go through Harper first. Canada is no more, the country we were once proud of. Harper has dirtied and fouled our country’s good name, to the entire world. Harper even went as far as deceiving England and the rest of Europe, selling the dirty tar sands as clean energy.

    Campbell dirtied and fouled BC. Anyone opposing him, lost their jobs. That included the media, any bad press about Campbell’s corruption in any form, would get no government ads. A journalist said, he would be called on the carpet, and told to revise his article. He did so, as he has a family to support. Then you have CKNW totally biased against the people, spreading the BC Liberals lies. They seem to have no idea, how much they are ridiculed by the BC public.

    The media is totally silent, on the posted e-mails regarding Christy and her brothers involvement, in Campbell’s theft and corrupt sale of the BCR. They don’t mention Campbell’s theft and sale of our rivers and the horrific eco damage, these rivers do. This puts hydro costs for the BC people, up to 53% higher. Campbell is so vindictive, his sanity is suspect.

    The media don’t talk about, the dirty, diseased, Norwegian fish farms killing our wild salmon. They don’t even mention, the Enbridge pipeline, which has the worst record of pipe bursts. They don’t give a damn about, the dirty oil tankers coming into our beautiful northern coast. They don’t mention, not only will China’s dirty tankers, but the U.S. and England too will be sending their dirty oil tankers as well. Campbell was picked, for the obvious reasons, to force the dirty oil sands onto England and Europe. Europe has already lost their respect for Harper.

    Canada’s friends are now, Equador, Columbia and some other S.A. corrupt country’s. There was a rumor, that Harper actually threw a hissy fit, there too. Harper refuses to co-operate with any of the advanced country’s. He is noted as a, petty gasbag. Arrogant, stubborn and co-operates with no-one

    Encana has bought into the four billion and some dollars, liquid gas tanks, to be built in the Port of Kitimat.

    BC media is conspicious, by their absence, as most of Canada’s media is. The media are a disgrace to their professions.

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  5. Evil Eye

    The CBC?

    Sadly the CBC has become a pathetic joke, with 50’s style programing, topped with geriatric news. The real news, of course, has become the blog and has readers and watchers of the electronic and print media, dwindle, advertisers hold more and more power. Don’t print that story or print how well the Tea party is doing or we won’t advertise.

    The result is a charade of half baked stories or grossly inept reporting, meant to satisfy the advertisers – one must keep the revenue stream going!

    The end game is no news or unnews, by the political elites and the wealthy, so grossly eroding what ever is left of our discredited democracy, that there is really nothing left to defend.

    Long live the blog!

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  6. Leah

    Curt, our country is no longer ours, it belongs to gawd only knows who…and is being willingly and knowingly torn apart by the media and their attendant politicians, to fit an agenda we know nothing about. We shouldn’t be too harsh on them though…many of our politicians (or their emissaries) have been involved…Pearson, Trudeau, Martin, McKenna, Harper, Manning, Klein, Chretien, Harris, Peterson, Campbell…even our Governor General Sauve! No small potatoes for these guys.

    What surprised me though, is how involved Canadian media has been with this group, for many, many years. Conrad Black attended numerous meetings, as did Torstar reps, David Frum as well as his Mother Barbara. Our media has been there since the 60’s…totally silent…but for spreading a message none of us recognized for what it was, at the time. Only the internet has a hope of spreading the truth now.

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  7. Norman Farrell

    I guess two of the better news shows on air today, US or Canada, would be the Daily Show and the Colbert Report. Mostly the corporate media (CBC included) elevates your blood pressure without elevating your knowledge of the world.

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  8. Globe and Mail today (Aug 17) is begging … pleading … for input on what to do with/for CBC.

    And explaining about one of the hidden problems CBC has to deal with. To see it, go here:

    “CBC gets reprieve on transition to digital signals”

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/cbc-gets-reprieve-on-transition-to-digital-signal/article2131742/

    And y’know what truly p’s me off, Norman? It’s watching Tom Flanagan on one of CBC’s best news “shows” (Power & Politics), smugly endorsing every negative angle he can lay his hands on. Toxic creep.

    I really hope that people will rise to the challenge, and try to work with CBC to get things back on track. It isn’t as if we’d be re-inventing the wheel. Jeez, CBC was THE wheel in its heyday.

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  9. glen p robbins

    CKNW – Smyth for Good had talk on Conservative government wanting to brand Royal onto our military. I phoned in with Fantano (Minister) and said I don’t believe Canada’s military history is Royal in name only, as a junior partner in the two main wars – WW1 and WW 2 we were successful on our own. The real underlying issue here – is the branding for strategic purposes specifically the battle to the rights of the area in Canada’s True North where countries including Russia, the United States and others are staking claims. The adjudication of these claims – like first nations claims domestically relates in large measure to historical fact.

    Our military is not required in Afghanistan as the blog story asserts. The NDP Opposition – and Quebec its main stronghold politically does not like war and will make its budget case for a smaller military budget. The Conservatives are likely linking the relationship with the Monarchy in Britain to current geo strategic relations worldwide. I believe the Royal in the military will help affirm our own history and long historical ties to Britain (BNA Act, Canadian Constitution), but further to that this history will be evidenced by those that explored Canada – the founding fathers as it were – including Samuel de Champlain. This history will predate the history of Alaska (formerly owned by Russia) {and makes the need for Sarah Palin – former Alaska Governor} to run again – (always follow the money). Having Canada’s military “Royalized” – budgeted and moved northward ought to crystalize Canada’s claim to the Northern waters and access to abundance of wealth therein.

    (Remember U.S. history is proud of getting rid of the British) – our history was formed by the British after the French were defeated by Wolf? In current domestic politics this provides the NDP with the opportunity to repatriate Canada’s working military -leaving the branding to the Conservative majority government – to the true north of our nation – to defend our natural resources – which other nations – are desperate to access or exploit. It also provides the NDP with an opportunity to its own sense of nationalizing our military to the benefit of Canada rather than to the adventures of wars around the world hither and yon.

    It was interesting – that although my comment on Smyth-Good’s show was admittedly esoteric – the response of the Minister was pure unequivocal babble – this angle of the debate had not occurred to him – when it ought to have.

    This might give a flicker of more wholesale insight into the actions of the CBC -relative to my Northern military position and the upcoming negotiations with Quebec – over the HST – a national consumption tax – and the mandated provincial general election in that province for the early New Year 2012.

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  10. Mike Boileau

    How true it is. I watched Heather Hiscox the other day spewing the lies put out by NATO regarding the Lybia situation/invasion. What a load of garbage. She obviously has never taken the time to investigate what is really going on in Libya yet she simply reads that which is put in front of her. Disgusting.

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  11. Skookum1

    VERY reminiscent of Kai Nagata’s “resignation blog” and its follpw-up (http://www.kainagata.com). I recall other reporters over the years who talked about similar things driving them from the offices and desks of the likes of the Vancouver Sun and Province, the Montreal Gazettet etc……I remember, too, that it was under Mulroney that the CBC cut its overseas bureaus and started recycling Reuters and AP as “cost-saving measures”.

    As for NewsWorld, I lost all respect for it the day they allowed themselves to be taken over by the military during the Oka Crisis, with live reportage suddenly supplanted by the until-then-unknown Penny Pringle, hitherto a weather person in Winnipeg, as no other NewsWorld staffers wanted to cooperate……THAT seizure of the national broadcaster, without even a state of emergency being declared, is a black mark in the history of the CBC. .Nothing else since has been much of a surprise. That includes Gloria Macarenko, formerly of CBC Edmonton, and some nice young Singapore-dressed Chinese Canadian lawyer in Calgary back-slapping each other on how “old British Columbia culture” had been eradicated “except for a few pockets” and they’d achieved control of the “new Canadian culture” in BC…..that was on Canada Day, in the Vancouver broadcast, I believe in 2006, maybe 2007.

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  12. Skookum1

    Actually comer to think of it the closure of the international bureaus may date back to the Joe Clark government; if so, it remained uncorrected by the revived Trudeau Liberals.

    Like

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