COLUMN

In defence of Crispo, Fecan and the CBC

Over the years, the CBC has developed into a sort of bogland that exists simply for the comfort of its own inhabitants

BARBARA AMIEL April 29 1991
COLUMN

In defence of Crispo, Fecan and the CBC

Over the years, the CBC has developed into a sort of bogland that exists simply for the comfort of its own inhabitants

BARBARA AMIEL April 29 1991

In defence of Crispo, Fecan and the CBC

COLUMN

BARBARA AMIEL

Over the years, the CBC has developed into a sort of bogland that exists simply for the comfort of its own inhabitants

Political bias in the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. is rather like police brutality: everyone knows it exists, but all employees and supporters close ranks to deny it. The only difference may be that whereas a lot of policemen think brutality is an abomination, a lot of CBC employees I know think that the left-wing bias of the CBC is morally correct.

My association with the CBC goes back over 25 years when I began working there. A leftwing political bias existed when I was in news and current affairs during the 1960s and continues today. Back then, we selected program topics and participants with an eye to confirming our prejudices. Inevitably, this meant the most strident and foolish people were found to present the alternative view.

We were anti-American, anti-big business and pro-feminist and accepted uncritically certain assumptions about the existence of racism and sexism in Canadian society. We took a relentless approach against apartheid and turned a blind eye to the tyrannies in independent Africa.

Back in Canada for a few weeks this past month, the little screen looked pretty much the same to me. If there was an American to be found who could speak badly about ramifications of U.S. policy in the Gulf region, he would surface on that last refuge of the New Left, CBC’s The Journal. None of this surprises me: when I was recently honored, together with Barbara Frum and a handful of other Canadians at a University of Western Ontario gala for “the Giants” of Canadian journalism, I was handed a spoof script of a Canadian television show. The script was clever and funny, but I noted with unease that it once again mocked Toronto Sun columnist Lubor Zink as a nuthouse case because of his years of writing about the evils of communism.

I insisted on deleting the lines. In the postwar years, some of our “great” Canadian journalists played footsie or détente with communism and the Soviet Union—one of the most

awful ideologies and tyrannies the world has ever seen. Only Lubor Zink and a couple of other columnists were writing accurately about events in Eastern Europe. Now, instead of him being honored as a Great Canadian Journalist, he was, once more, to be made a household joke.

The naming of John Crispo to the board of directors of the CBC seems to me a valuable exercise. Yes, Crispo is an ideological partisan: he believes in free enterprise and certain values such as the importance of individual liberty, a principle rather devalued in the witches’ brew of Canadian collectivism. He is not afraid to say that CBC more often than not seems to stand for Consistently Biased Coverage. Surely these things need to be said.

The appointment of Crispo should be seen simply as a small correction in balance, and I say bravo to Brian Mulroney for doing it. But let’s be clear: CBC management has long been a capital-L Liberal fiefdom. We don’t want it to become a capital-C Conservative one. That fight is on the low ground of party politics rather than on the high ground of political theory. Canada would gain nothing if the CBC became just another Conservative party enclave.

Nor does one want to see quotas enforced on “politically correct” producers and programs. Aiiy correction in the CBC’s political point of view can only be achieved by influential people such as Crispo pointing out the bias and changing the climate of opinion. That is how new management changed the British Broadcasting Corp., which suffered from a very similar problem of bias. One should fire people for incompetence, not for “wrong-think.” One can also, I believe, hire some new producers with different points of view. Knowing John Crispo as I do, I believe that he will try simply to get the CBC to pull itself together and understand that it should not become a political propaganda machine for any organized group. Myself, I’d be content if once in a while CBC programs would just question received wisdom and stop selecting the most idiotic representatives of right-wing views in order to pretend that they are giving balanced programming.

There is a parallel malaise to the problem of bias existing in the CBC. It has nothing to do with politics but is just as deadly to the effectiveness of good public broadcasting. Over the years, the CBC has developed into a sort of bogland that exists simply for the comfort of its own inhabitants. Those inhabitants have many names—there are various service departments, unions, staff bureaucrats, supervisors, deputy supervisors, program officers, administrative officers, systems analysts, human resources persons. Put them all together and they resemble a ghastly wart-covered creature sitting in a pond, perpetuating, feeding and choking on itself and its own procedures.

One of the few people fighting the monster is the controversial Ivan Fecan, the CBC’s director of programming. He has no interest in the ideological bias that John Crispo wants to fight, but he does understand the deadly creatures of the CBC marshes. Fecan has managed to cut off some of their limbs and has introduced a little sense of “efficiency” (dreaded word) into the corporation. His method has been to centralize power and gather more authority to himself. In so doing, he has eliminated some of the little fiefdoms of inefficiency that have merrily spawned in the ponds of the CBC. This has created enemies. Fecan has also given the CBC some of its most successful programs, with Bernde Zuckerman’s Love and Hate not only becoming the first show sold to a U.S. commercial network but also the highest-rated program during the weeks it aired in Canada and the United States.

The management methods and creative energy of people like Fecan may well be the salvation of a seriously endangered CBC. Which in the end is what we should all care about. A public broadcasting system matters. These are our airwaves. The CBC is at a crucial point in its existence, faced with a country that may, through the CRTC, be contemplating a very major reduction in the network’s scope. What a shame it would be if—just when we have people like Crispo finally willing to say the emperor has no clothes, and Ivan Fecan trying to drain the bureaucratic marshes and concentrate on programming—we were to let our CBC slip away.