When I think of grumbling about “Ottawa media elites”, I think of Rick Santorum. That might seem odd, so let me explain. First, the guy has a great last name. More importantly, though, he is the embattled former contender for the Republican Presidential nomination who opined that elites would never support him because they would rather tell him and his people what to do. He may not be Canadian, but Santorum knows that it is a sad day when our free press restricts our freedom. Well, my unfortunate friends, today is that kind of day.
The Conservative Party, Canada’s once-removed cousin of the Grand Old Party (the CPC’s history is too short to call it old), is rallying its supporters against the media elites at the CBC. According to a letter written by the party and distributed to its supporters, the CBC tried to prevent the Conservative Party from writing letters to its supporters warning them of the CBC’s bias.
The CPC letter must be a lost chapter from Catch-22. Unbelievably, the Chairman of the CBC had the gall to “attack all Conservatives” when he asked the CPC to stop disparaging his organization by spreading the truth about its “news” coverage and (rapidly shrinking) budget. Finally, proof of the CBC’s bias- it doesn’t want letters written about how biased it is. It wouldn’t feel that way unless it was biased! The letter continues by reminding the audience that the CBC “cannot dictate what we as Conservatives say or do.” The climax arrives when the CPC asks its supporters for $5 to keep fighting the CBC and the “Ottawa media elites that think they know what’s best for Canadians.” Great conclusion!
It sounds familiar. In fact, it sounds exactly like what Rick Santorum would say. Forget the fact that those dirty Ottawa media elites at the CBC actually work in Toronto…that doesn’t matter at all. What matters is that they want to tell us what to do. It’s our inalienable right to say what we want to say. We deserve to be able to slander them when they upset us. Unlike them, we aren’t a “news” organization, so we can say whatever we want. It’s true.
Free speech and the free press exist to protect the individual and collective right to communicate information in the public and private spheres. Canadians protect these rights because we know that they are a vital component of a vibrant democracy in which people spread, share, and debate ideas. The merit of these ideas (with the exception of hate crime) isn’t as important as the right to spread them. But this courtesy extends both ways.
The current Conservative government has the privilege of funding the CBC, but that doesn’t mean it ought to be immune to CBC criticism. The government and the Conservative Party are, after all, just two ideas, as vulnerable as all others to attacks. If the Conservatives can use free speech to attack the CBC for bias, the CBC can attack the Conservatives for their government’s policies and problems. That is the essence of a free press.
Our public broadcaster exists to provide a stable voice, free of corporate influence, which can hold the government to account. This is the CBC’s raison d’être, and an overwhelming majority of Canadians support it. Whether the CPC exists to save Canada or be a thorn in the CBC’s side is for that party to decide. It has every right to do as it pleases, but it must respect others’ rights to do the same. It should also remember whom it sounds like when it blames media elites for using the free speech that it claims it is trying to defend. It sounds like Rick Santorum, and that’s a shitty association.