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The CBC – the Corporate Broadcasting Corp.

A new scandal blew up at the CBC this week when the website Canadaland published an exposé charging that Amanda Lang, the broadcaster’s senior business reporter and host of The Exchange, tried to sabotage an investigative story the CBC produced about abuses committed by the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) over the temporary foreign worker program (TFWP).

The story aired in April of 2013 and revealed that the RBC was using an Indian company called iGATE Corp. that was bringing in foreign workers under the program, but then allowed the workers to stay in Canada for years, with the intention of using them to replace Canadian workers. The story showed how Canada’s biggest bank was using a government program to cruelly exploit defenseless foreign workers while throwing Canadian citizens out of work. After the story aired, the Harper government was forced to alter the program, and RBC got a lot of bad press.

But in the rollout of the story, Canadaland alleges that Lang tried to dismiss the story’s importance by arguing that what the RBC was doing was merely outsourcing (in itself, a dreadful practise). Despite not being involved in the story, she was inexplicably allowed to participate in a conference call of the producers who were working on the piece, where she argued the bank’s position. After the story aired, the allegation is that the CBC did little follow up – possibly because of Lang’s internal meddling.

In fact, there were a number of things the CBC producers involved in the story didn’t know about Lang’s surprising intervention, namely: 1) She had been paid up to $15,000 a pop to conduct speaking engagements at RBC-sponsored events; and 2) She was involved in a romantic relationship with a member of the RBC’s board of directors, W. Geoffrey Beattie.

Then, immediately after the story aired, Lang invited the RBC’s CEO, Gord Nixon, to do an interview on the The National where he pissed all over the broadcaster and its story about the bank’s TFWP abuses. Lang did a puffball interview, apparently asking no hard questions.

To make matters worse, without informing her bosses, Lang approached the Globe and Mail and penned an op-ed page piece where she championed the practice of companies outsourcing jobs to countries like India.

Despite all this, when the Lang story broke, the CBC brass immediately (and angrily) rushed to her defence. Jennifer McGuire, the CBC’s editor-in-chief, vehemently denied Lang had done anything wrong. McGuire, CBC spokesperson Chuck Thompson and Lang herself launched a PR media onslaught, attacking the Canadaland story, saying she had not tried to sabotage the TFWP story.

This is not the only issue where Lang has crossed over into the world of outright corporate flackery. She’s also taken paid speaking gigs for insurance companies Manulife and Sun Life and then had their CEOs on the CBC to do further puffball interviews.

The Lang affair comes hard on the heels of the debacle over the Jian Ghomeshi assault scandal (also broken by Canadaland’s owner, journalist Jesse Brown). But while the Ghomeshi affair revealed the craven efforts of CBC’s management to protect one of their stars in the facing of numerous allegations of assaulting women, the Lang affair speaks to the issue of how the CBC has, in effect, increasingly become a mouthpiece for big business and neo-conservative ideologues.

I worked at the CBC for nine years, from 2001 to the end of 2009 before I lost my job as a producer on the investigative unit due to budget cuts. I’d joined the CBC as an associate producer at “the fifth estate” and eventually worked at CBC News Sunday as a producer. I owe a lot to the CBC and had the pleasure of working with amazing people on great stories. I still have many friends who work there.

As a result, I saw the beginnings of the metamorphosis of the CBC that begat the Amanda Lang scandal. This change in the CBC’s direction began under former CEO Robert Rabinovitch. In 2004, Rabinovitch appointed Richard Stursberg, a millionaire and former head of Telefilm Canada, as vice-president of English services. At the time, CBC English television was in a ratings slump, having been hammered by government cutbacks, competition from other channels and the Internet, as well as uninspired programming.

Stursberg brought a business approach to the CBC, which in practice translated into transforming it into a private network backed with public funds. Symphonies and experimental films and documentaries were out, and the “Battle of the Blades” was in. Meanwhile, “the fifth estate” saw its budgets cut, and moved from a primetime TV slot on Wednesday nights to the graveyard shift of Friday nights, to make way for a now long-forgotten sitcom called “Being Erica”.

In 2005, Rabinovitch engineered a showdown with the CBC’s main union, the Canadian Media Guild, locking out 5,500 workers (myself included) for two months. Management’s goal was to try and get hundreds of positions delegated as contract positions, thereby allowing the brass more ability to get rid of staff whenever they wanted. They won a partial victory in this dustup.

The CBC was now run like any other textbook corporation, with union-busting embraced. Employee morale sank, stress levels rose, and dread over the constant reality of layoffs and cuts grew. Stursberg emerged as an unpopular if not openly despised figure.

To be fair to Stursberg, the federal government seemed determined to let the CBC die the death of a thousand cuts, especially after the election of the Conservatives in 2006. His solution to this reality was to try and drive up ratings by producing popular programming in the hopes that advertising dollars would follow, which would stem the financial leakage. But he also evinced such open contempt for the news department (which he labeled “Fort News”) and current affairs – the very lifeblood of the CBC’s raison d’etre as a public broadcaster – that he alienated the beleaguered CBC staff.

The other change Stursberg introduced was of an ideological nature. In an interview I did with him in 2012, Stursberg said he wanted to change the perception that the CBC was too downtown Toronto leftist. In 2006, the CBC began airing Dragon’s Den, the show where rich businesspeople decide whether to finance the ideas and dreams of would-be entrepreneurs. It’s a horrible program, with the “Dragons” appearing as arrogant super-clever overlords where they often mock the those who come seeking money as if they were dumb serfs. It’s a show that promulgates the idea the rich deserve their wealth.

Then, in 2009, Stursberg snatched up Kevin O’Leary and Amanda Lang from the Business News Network (BNN) and gave them an hour-long show everyday during the dinner hour. O’Leary was a failed and unethical businessman, who sold a sham of a company to Mattel, the toy manufacturer, in what Businessweek later called one of the worst deals of all time. He was fired, sued and almost destroyed Mattel in the process. Just about every other project he’s touched has been a disaster, too. Yet Lang, who clearly is no journalist, was happy to be his co-host and tolerate his far-right wing blatherings, which he showered on viewers everyday. Despite his odiousness, O’Leary became a star.

Meanwhile, too many CBC hosts – who are extremely well compensated to begin with – were using their fame to make more money by giving speeches on the side. Both Rex Murphy and Peter Mansbridge were caught doing speeches for the oil industry. Murphy, who is a right-wing ideologue, also writes a turgid column for the pro-business National Post, where he rails against environmentalists on global warming, champions the oil sands and pipelines, and protests any effort to fight climate change. And yet Murphy is given the soapbox of the CBC’s The National to vomit forth his bizarre jeremiads like some bug-eyed curmudgeon.

At the same time, the CBC’s investigative unit, run by one of Canada’s most accomplished investigative journalists, Harvey Cashore, has limped along for years since it was created in 2009 with inadequate funding. In the latest round of cuts last year, his meager budget was cut down to virtually nothing. And yet this unit has broken important stories about how rich and powerful Canadians use offshore tax havens to evade the Canada Revenue Agency.

Since 2007, the CBC has been presided over by lawyer Hubert T. Lacroix, who used to work at the Canada’s most powerful corporate law firm, McCarthy Tétrault, as a business lawyer. He’s embraced, without complaint, every effort by the Harper government to kill off the CBC. Meanwhile, the CBC board is made up of Conservative appointees, most of whom have business or corporate law backgrounds.

Stephen Harper’s vision of Canada clearly does not include a national public broadcaster. Even in its castrated form, the CBC occasionally produces critical journalism. The private sector has long wanted to kill it off, too. The recent scandals that have plagued the broadcaster, brought on by its incompetent managers and toxic internal environment, further erode public trust in its existence. And that is a tragedy. For Canada needs the CBC – just not the pro-corporate current incarnation.

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Comments

Comment from Paul Tulloch
Time: January 16, 2015, 9:52 am

Great piece Bruce- the public space has been stolen by a small group of ideologues with a mandate to destroy. You would think they could at least do it with a bit more class. The Lang story is just a sign of how insolent this group has become and obviously they feel they are beyond any regulation.

I think it is interesting that Lang was a bed partner of a banker- was that maybe part of the sales job she was giving to the banksters- full service for the $15,000 a pop. Bed partners do help ensure one stays around- 24/7 on the airwaves blathering all that she does without much of anything in her head.

Not sure how Stanford can get on the same show as that lot- he must feel quite out of sorts in that crowd. I know it would be difficult for me to keep a straight face sitting on TV with the likes of Lang, Mansbridge and the rest of that crew.

Hopefully the time is coming where the ride will be over for this group- there is a huge space for public broadcasting and presentation of centered debates and discussions in this country- and it can only be through a public space lens- the next election will hopefully bring people such as yourself back into such space so that we can get on with having some notion of civilization. I can only imagine how relieved the corporate world is having many people like yourself out of the public space that the CBC provided.

We can change this!

Comment from Liam Young
Time: January 16, 2015, 11:37 am

Corporate Broadcasting Corp
OR … Conservative Broadcasting Corp? Is there a difference? Like to-may-to, to-mah-to?

It’s sad that naive Canadians continue to believe that the CBC is some pristine, angelic organization that can do no harm. They need to know that it’s being run by Con cronies (as mentioned above) and that anything that comes from the CBC cannot be trusted.

Also, is it possible that all of these ‘situations’ are coming to light in order to help the Cons justify the elimination of a public broadcaster once and for all?

Comment from Nadine Lumley
Time: January 17, 2015, 6:36 pm

Cold-FX + Don Cherry + Stephen Harper = $$$

The Backroom Deal of the Century

snip snip: Dr. Jacqueline Shan, president of CV Technologies, Inc. of Edmonton, accompanied by hockey commentator and PAID company spokesman Don Cherry, met with 20 Tory MPs, including several cabinet ministers, in the exclusive Parliamentary Dining Room in the Centre Block on Parliament Hill. Shan and Cherry later met directly with Harper in his Parliament Hill office.

The company hired Cherry in 2004, specifically to promote sales of the product. They were invited to the capital by James Rajotte, chairman of the Commons industry committee and Tory MP for the corporate president’s Edmonton-Leduc riding.

Last week, the company received a critical regulatory ruling – worth untold millions – from Health Canada, allowing it to claim in advertising that COLD-fx reduces “the frequency, severity and duration of cold and flu symptoms by boosting the immune system.”

This resulted in a one-day increase in total market value of $155,288,259. One hundred and fifty five million dollars in one day. That’s nothing to sneeze at, pardon the pun. And all it cost them was a hockey jersey and a box of the stuff. I wonder how much of that Cherry walked away with.

http://pushedleft.blogspot.com/2011/01/did-you-ever-wonder-how-don-cherry.html

………….……

repost from Mark Simmons – I’ve said this many times, COLD FX is one of the biggest scams out there. The CBC’s Marketplace discovers not only are their claims false, but the product is made in a filthy factory in China and lab results show that it contains bacteria, including feces…yes…FECES!

http://www.cbc.ca/marketplace/2012/whatfx/

Comment from Nadine Lumley
Time: January 17, 2015, 6:37 pm

“Myself, I’ll use the word outraged, because that’s the most polite word I can use, but Canadians are losing jobs through loopholes,” Mills said.

“It’s not because they’re untrained or unqualified. (Companies are) sidestepping rules, and they’ve found a new way to get (workers) into the country.”

http://www.canadianmanufacturing.com/human-resources/b-c-union-says-nafta-foreign-worker-loophole-costing-jobs-138554/

…………….

Harper & Kenney’s TFW atrocities are only exceeded by the #cdnmedia giving them cover pic.twitter.com/yWop5Qd5Kj #cdnpoli

More foreign workers coming under International Experience Canada prograam aged 18-35 pic.twitter.com/Dbmaup6kHt http://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/more-foreign-workers-coming-under-international-experience-canada-program-1.1798171 #cdnpoli

Under Intn’l Experience prog, 20,000 aged 18-35 soon coming 2 Canada http://montrealsimon.blogspot.ca/2014/04/jason-kenney-stephen-harper-and-foreign.html #cdnpoli pic.twitter.com/Dbmaup6kHt

If one cross matched Bus. List w CPC memberships, it would blow Jason’s TFW SCAM wide open http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/social/MyTake/minimum-wage-tfw-jobs_n_5392107_312957842.html #cdnpoli

-30-

Comment from Moira Law
Time: January 17, 2015, 9:21 pm

Once the CBC becomes just like any commercial broadcaster, it has no reason to exist. (Which I believe was the plan.)

Comment from Mike in Calgary
Time: January 18, 2015, 10:06 pm

It is simply impossible for a publicly-funded broadcaster to not advance a socialist driven agenda within their broadcastings. Canadians won’t pay for the left-wing CBC unless they are forced to through the tax system.

Comment from rcp
Time: January 19, 2015, 3:03 pm

I think if the CBC did fundraising drives like PBS does, they would get at least some contributions. That way we would know that _someone_ was willing to pay for them.

Comment from Paul Tulloch
Time: January 20, 2015, 6:08 pm

Not sure if people noticed this- but almost every developed country has a national broadcaster and many of them are recent formations in the fabric of e-space. so I am not sure why people have decided that there is this space for irrelevance.

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