In February, Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault told the press that the Canadian government had “no intention” of imposing licensing requirements on news organisations, and that they will not “try to regulate new content.” The clarification came after Guilbeault told CTV anchor Evan Solomon precisely the opposite. During an episode of Question Period, the Heritage Minister explained how Canadian news media organisations should be regulated and licensed.
At this point, we don’t know what the Trudeau government is planning, but we do know these rumoured proposals came about as part of an effort to curtail the spread of fake news online. When imposed under the guise of stopping the spread of fake news from small and unprofessional channels or websites, it may be easy for some to defend. However, it is based on the incorrect assumption that smaller media organisations are more likely to spread fake news than larger, more established outlets.
Yes, it is true that there are rogue, unprofessional, small media outlets that spread dubious stories, exaggerated claims, and sensationalist op-eds and video reports, but even giants like the CBC are guilty of the same things.
In November 2019, CBC columnist and fake news reporter Jeff Yates ironically published fake news of his own. As the Post Millennial reported, he claimed that that journalist Andy Ngo had been suspended from Twitter for just 12 hours and that by simply tagging Ngo’s account proved as much. Both claims were untrue, and despite being proven wrong, Yates refused to delete the post.
More seriously, in January 2019, the CBC referred to Covington Catholic School students as “teenage bullies.” It was part of a wider mainstream media smear campaign that attempted to portray young Christian students as racist bullies when they were approached by an angry Native American protester. Nick Sandmann, a Covington student who was at the receiving end of much of the smears, ultimately sued CNN and settled for millions of dollars. The CBC was forced to acknowledge its claim was wrong.
Mainstream outlets, newspapers, and networks do more than just lie too; they use their position of power to distribute what can only be described as radical progressive propaganda. CBC Kids News, a show hosted by children from the age of 10 and up, talks to young viewers about issues like marijuana, sex, and even transgenderism – and it’s paid for by taxpayers’ money.
This is a symptom of a wider problem. It is an inherent bias within the mainstream press that exists across the Western world.
In the United Kingdom, Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson is taking a remarkably different position with the media than his Canadian counterparts. Johnson made the unexpected move to forewarn the BBC that he intends to strip them of their TV Licence Fee income and force them to implement a subscription model instead. It is a move that has long been discussed, but one that nobody believed would happen. It is not the kind of decision any normal Conservative government would make; it is Trump-style vandalism that Boris needs to maintain the support of northern, working-class voters who lent him their votes in the last election because the alternative was just so bad.
Senior Conservative MPs also told the press in late February that the Prime Minister is planning to sell off Channel Four, a part-state-owned broadcaster that is often criticized for its perceived left-wing bias. The Prime Minister refused to appear in any of the channel’s leadership debates during the General Election campaign and repeatedly denied interview requests.
As it stands, state-funded broadcasters can get away with producing virtually any kind of content they like. There can be an ideological bias in their TV shows and news coverage so long as they have plausible deniability. A Netflix-style subscription model, as Boris Johnson suggested, changes that.
It will achieve two things. First, it will please the large swathes of the British public who don’t want celebrities to be paid millions of pounds for hosting TV shows nobody watches, who don’t want to fund extreme left-wing propaganda, and who do not wish to see elderly people harassed about their unpaid TV licences. In the UK, if you don’t pay your TV licence (even if you don’t own a television), you can expect a knock at the door from brutish licence enforcers.
Secondly, it will force the BBC to reconsider its output. Once a subscription model is implemented, the BBC will only survive if it produces content people actually want to watch; and people don’t want to be lectured about woke intersectionality and transfeminism when they’re trying to relax. The BBC is (hopefully) learning its lesson after destroying legendary sci-fi institution, Doctor Who. The show’s main character, a male time traveller, has been made female by its new writers and every episode turned into lessons on race, gender, and sex. Its ratings continue to plummet.
Nicknamed “Auntie” by Brits, the BBC is a network for the whole family—and for the elderly. If it is to survive its transformation into a subscription service, it cannot rely on monthly subs from woke teenagers who are already sharing their Netflix passwords with all their friends. It will need to provide a compelling argument for older generations to pay for their content.
Admittedly, such a move in Canada could be a hard sell. Public opinion seems to be quite different than in the UK. A 2019 poll found that less than one in five people want to cut public funding to the state broadcaster.
However, should the switch to a subscription model for the BBC work—and should it successfully change the direction of its programming—it could become the basis of a new pitch to the Canadian people.
When viewers vote with their wallets, the broadcasters are more forced to listen.
Jack Buckby is a Research Associate with Frontier Centre for Public Policy.