MEDIA WATCH

The Valour and the excuses

GEORGE BAIN January 25 1993
MEDIA WATCH

The Valour and the excuses

GEORGE BAIN January 25 1993

The Valour and the excuses

MEDIA WATCH

GEORGE BAIN

A year after the TV series first ran, the row over The Valour and the Horror is not over, just recessed. Soon after the Senate returns on Jan. 25, the subcommittee on veterans affairs, which undertook an inquiry into the complaints of distortions of history, mainly from veterans’ associations, expects to produce its report. It may recommend another different public inquiry into the process by which the faulted series was made in conjunction with several organizations, including the National Film Board and broadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

It is pleasing to think that if a further inquiry comes about, some of the people who have shouted loudest against the Senate subcommittee’s daring to question film-makers will themselves have argued reasons for it. For example, Pierre Berton wrote in The Toronto Star on Nov. 21: “If the McKenna brothers, who produced these programs, were at fault, who the hell was minding the store at the corporation when the scripts were OK’d and the final programs viewed?”

Right. Where the hell was everybody?

Or, take the Toronto Globe and Mail. It began a Nov. 12 editorial dramatically declaring that “the CBC’s journalistic reputation lies in pieces today, slit wide and deboned like a fresh-caught trout.” The editorial said that the CBC had been brought to this by “the craven efforts of the corporation’s senior executives to appease the program’s enemies in Parliament. This is the stuff of resignations.” Right, the stuff of resignations. Not, though, for neglect of supervision, as Berton would have it, but appeasement in the manner of Neville Chamberlain and “peace in our time.” Or take the Montreal Gazette. In a Nov. 12 editorial, it said: “The board of directors of the CBC should be ashamed of itself. It has taken the wrong side in a controversy that goes to the heart of its mandate to teach Canadians about themselves.” Note that the fault now is with the board of directors, not management

The CBC’s decision to run a controversial series about the war again was a stick-it-upyour-nose gesture to offended viewers

and not for neglect of duty, or a pact with the devil, but for taking the wrong side in something—true, untrue; don’t be picky—to do with teaching Canadians Canadianism.

But if Senator Jack Marshall’s committee decides to recommend an inquiry by some other body into the way in which the faulted series came to be made and aired, it will not need such justifications as those. The behavior of management has been bizarre enough. For example: The Globe and Mail in a Nov. 19 news story said that Robert Pattillo, CBC vice president of communications, “contended that, in the weeks leading up to the release of [the CBC ombudsman’s] report,” Marshall and Cliff Chadderton, chairman of the National Council of Veteran Associations, “both tried to appear as though they had advance information on what the report would contain.”

Tried to appear? Setting Chadderton aside, it can be said on the strength of an internal document of the subcommittee, dated Oct 2,1992, that Marshall not only had reliable advance information, but Pattillo knew it because Pattillo gave it to him. The ombudsman’s report was already drafted by then, although not published until Nov. 10, evidently because of internal CBC concerns about a threat of litigation.

Among other points of interest in that Oct. 2 memo are, one, that Pattillo likened the CBC’s taking the series out of use to have the bad bits replaced to an automaker’s being forced to recall a faulty model; and, two, that he “pointed out that the senior CBC executives involved in putting the series on the air have without exception either left CBC or have

been shifted to new positions____” If true, that

suggests that the corporation was quicker to recognize a problem, and reacted more severely, than it has let on.

Also strange was Gérard Veilleux’s Nov. 21 reply to a Globe and Mail editorial that castigated the CBC for failure to “denounce the Senate’s kangaroo court as a disgrace to democracy.” In his letter to the editor, the CBC president said that he not only objected, but “from the very beginning we have refused to take part in those hearings.” That latter part is not borne out by the correspondence, a sampling of which reveals in his replies a fine mix of excuses—the suggested date unsuitable, more time needed to decide in what manner the CBC would attend—with assurances of co-operation and a willingness to appear. Only on Nov. 10, the day the ombudsman’s report was made public, was there a refusal. He wrote then: “As the report and the press release represent the complete position of the board and management of the corporation ... I would suggest the CBC’s appearance ... would serve no useful purpose.”

No less strange has been the performance in that matter of re-running the series. No sooner had the apologies been delivered, the expressions of regret offered at “any distress the programs may have caused members of the audience,” and assurances given that the series would not be rerun without being brought up to the CBC’s journalistic standard, than arrangements were underway to run the films again, in February. That haste—to mollify the CBC’s own producers—may have been another corporate mistake.

The RCAF Prisoners of War associations of Ottawa and Toronto have retained the Ottawa law firm of Fraser & Beatty to make a formal request to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to bring about a public hearing, as it is empowered to do in the Broadcasting Act, to “make itself aware of the facts” before issuing any further public statement. That last refers to the CRTC’s Dec. 17 report of an internal review of the series, which made no judgment on the quality of the material presented, but said only that vigorous public debate had satisfied the requirements of balance between creative freedom and responsibility to the public.

The interesting point is that the CRTC cited, as a mark evidently of the CBC’s honesty of purpose, that “it will not rebroadcast the series unless it is modified to bring it into conformity with the journalistic policy guidelines.” The corporation’s decision to air it again before any decision had been taken on what, if any, rectification would be made constituted a stick-it-up-your-nose gesture to offended viewers, which just might persuade the regulatory agency that the issue deserves a deeper look than was given it the first time around.