Conservatives on the House of Commons Heritage Committee are upset with the CBC for its newsroom’s longstanding practice of not referring to attacks by non-state groups or their perpetrators as “terrorism” or “terrorists.”
When the president and CEO of the CBC, Catherine Tait, appeared before the committee this week, they took her to task on the issue. Ms. Tait defended the position and gave the committee a lesson in journalism while doing it.
She pointed out that this is the practice followed generally, for instance by the Globe and Mail, the BBC, Reuters and Agence France-Presse. Responsible reporters do not want to be seen as taking sides. “The word [terrorism] is extremely politically charged and if journalists use the word, they enter into a debate that is not our business,”said Tait, “Our business is to remain independent and fact-based.” I will add amen to that; I will make my own judgements.
In respond to Conservative charges that the corporation was supporting Hamas, Tait said the charge puts its reporters on the ground at risk. Denigrating the press threatens “a fundamental building block of the country’s democracy. That’s why I speak with the level of passion I do today on this subject,” she said. She might have added that denigrating the press is also part of a demagogue’s agenda.
She emphasized that the CBC’s journalists are independent from government, the corporation’s executives and the board of directors.
She also noted that the CBC serves as “a powerful connecting force that stitches together this enormous country over six time zones, coast to coast to coast.” And it does all this for a cost to each taxpayer of less than a dime a day, much less than public broadcasters in other democracies.
Tait left the critics with a clear message: “We stand behind our journalism. I will not apologize because the journalism is among the finest in the world. If you have a concern, I invite you to address it to the independent ombudsman.” So there.
She did have sympathetic ears on the committee. NDP MP Peter Julian called Conservative Rachel Thomas’s claims about the CBC being on the side of Hamas “irresponsible” and “incendiary” and scolded her for not apologizing.
Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre has said, that should he become PM, he will defund the CBC. Other Conservatives would seem to want to turn it into a propaganda medium which is what it would become if reporters started making judgements rather than just providing the hard facts.
The CBC appears to be in good hands, guided by someone who understands and defends the need for a public broadcaster and good journalism.