Is DIAND buying CBC?


There are many reasons why the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs might wish to control what Canadians hear, see and read about Nunavut.

Here are just a few of them:

* Prime Minister Jean Chretien has stacked CBC’s board of directors with Liberal party loyalists, and now appears to have launched a campaign to weaken CBC’s editorial independence. For example, the federal government has recently ordered CBC to display the government of Canada logo in its broadcasts.

* The minister of responsible for DIAND, Jane Stewart, is an ambitious young politician. If the Nunavut project creates bad publicity for the federal government, it will create bad publicity for her, damaging any ambitions she may have to one day lead the federal Liberal party.

* Nunavut is perceived to be too expensive, and although this perception may be distorted and inaccurate, the Liberal government has a strong interest in discouraging public debate about this issue.

* Nunavut is an ideal project for the Canadian government to show off to the rest of world as a way of defusing criticism that Canada violates the human rights of aboriginal people living within its borders.

* Nunavut is a new partner in Confederation, changing the map of Canada for the first time since Newfoundland entered Confederation in 1949.

* The current Liberal government may not have negotiated Nunavut, but they supported it in opposition and have inherited the job of carrying out the Nunavut Act.

It’s not surprising, therefore, to hear that DIAND is negotiating with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to buy itself a big expensive piece of Nunavut “coverage.”

DIAND is now talking to CBC officials about a contract under which the federal government will pay CBC more than a million dollars to produce a “protocol event:” the inaugural ceremonies for Nunavut, and a concert afterwards.

He who pays the piper calls the tune. Does this mean that DIAND will also buy editorial control of the content? Will CBC be required to censor any inconvenient commentary? Under the agreement, will CBC be required to give prominence to the roles played by certain Liberal politicians?

The arrangement also puts CBC journalists into a bizarre position. Not only to do they get to cover the news, they also get to create part of it.

CBC, of course, would deny that this arrangement compromises its editorial independence.

But it does. Canada’s national broadcaster has a mandate to cover national news events independently of government. For many Canadians, CBC news is their most important source of news about their country. They have a right to expect that what they see and hear on CBC has not been bought and paid for by powerful vested interests.

To help the CBC perform its work, the federal government already supplies the corporation with an annual grant worth hundreds of millions, in addition to the advertising revenue that the corporation raises on its own. Despite its dependence on federal funding, CBC journalists have usually done a commendable job of maintaining their independence from the federal government and whichever political party happens to be in power. Until now, that is.

In this case, however, CBC’s editorial independence has been eroded. DIAND has led CBC into an ethical sewer. The creation of Nunavut on April 1 is a significant news event in its own right and CBC should not need DIAND’s cash to cover it. CBC should pay the cost of covering it out of its own revenues.

CBC has also displayed an arrogant lack of transparency in its own coverage of its role in the April 1 ceremonies. While reporting that the CBC technician’s strike may jeopardize their planned April 1 broadcasts, they have failed to report that it’s DIAND’s money that would finance their coverage of the event.

That leads to more questions: if CBC’s role is to be that of a contracted producer of government-financed propaganda, and is clearly unable to perform the propaganda contract because of the strike, why not ask CTV if they’re willing to act as host broadcaster?

Last, but most certainly not least, who will broadcast the event to the people who really matter: the mostly Inuktitut-speaking people of Nunavut’s small communities? The Inuit Broadcasting Corporation — who unlike CBC actually needs the money — has been requesting funds from Ottawa to provide Inuktitut coverage of the same events, So far, the under-funded organization has been given the cold shoulder.

By accepting DIAND’s money, CBC is allowing the federal government and the federal Liberal party to transform a legitimate national news event into a propaganda event. For those who care about freedom of speech and the independence of the media, this is a disturbing turn of events. JB

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