An article in today's Toronto Globe and Mail caught my eye: Simon Houpt writes about how the new so-called "Fox News North" - aka, Sun Media is targeting the CBC in anticipation of its debut onto Canadian television next month.
Using its newspapers as a launching pad, Sun Media is going after the public broadcaster on a number of issues: media bias, subtle Liberal Party advocacy disguised as neutral journalism in the midst of an election campaign and general wastefulness.
A media cat fight is always good to raise circulation and ratings. While Sun Media will do what comes naturally, it is worth noting that similar attacks on NPR and PBS have been going on for some time, with Fox News as the primary attack dog in this fight.
Now NPR and PBS are on the defensive, partly due to some ham handed managerial moves that served to reaffirm media notions of lefty elitism in the ranks of the public broadcaster. NPR is now functioning without a President/CEO (she resigned), a senior VP of News (she was fired) and the senior fundraiser (he quit).
This has been building for a few years, and NPR has frequently been the target of conservative pressure groups especially on hot button issues like the Arab-Israeli conflict. And Fox News has always been more than ready to carry their water.
NPR refused to engage in these fights, (one wag described NPR's response as "bringing a tote bag to a knife fight"), leaving it to their Ombudsman to defend what was defensible and to dismiss what was absurd. In my time as NPR's Ombudsman (2000-2006) I found myself engaging with many of these groups, on the assumption that logic and common sense would prevail. I wonder now whether that was the correct strategy, when the goal of these groups was to destroy NPR, not to improve its coverage.
NPR was a growing target for many of these groups. I fear that the threat was misread by management who now have to deal with it. NPR is seen as a soft target by conservatives, and in some ways, it is. When public radio in the US had a small and relatively insignificant audience, it was easy to ignore. Many of the attacks were motivated by commercial interests as NPR continues to expand and eat the lunch of other media.
The CBC will now face some of the same tactics which is to discredit a federally funded organization for purely ideological reasons. The Canadian public broadcaster has come under attack before, mostly columnists in the Toronto newspapers. When I was Managing Editor of Radio News (1991-1997), CBC Radio was frequently savaged by columnists especially in the presumably moderate Globe and Mail for elitism, snobbery and bias. This, at a time when CBC ratings were on the rise. CBC management refused to engage, thinking that a pissing match was infra dig.
But if there are lessons to be learned from what is going on in Washington, the CBC better learn how to defend itself. And soon.