It is a much-discussed phenomena that the majority of the so-called mainstream media in Canada – the established newspapers, radio and television networks – tend to favour a left-leaning news perspective. In some instances, this is not surprising. For example, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) is typically funded from the public purse more lavishly when a Liberal government is in power in Ottawa. Shortly after being elected in 2015, the Trudeau government poured several hundred million more taxpayer dollars into the CBC than the $1 billion or so they were already receiving, so their subsequent cheerleading for Trudeau and all things Liberal doesn’t exactly come as a big shock. What is surprising in the case of the CBC is that there are still some Canadians who actually believe their coverage is fairly balanced.
But what could explain the lack of even-handed news reporting by the vast majority of the privately-held television stations, radio networks and many well-established newspapers? There are undoubtedly a number of factors at play, but one of them is certainly the reality that, over the past 30 years or so, virtually all mainstream media outlets have become unionized. About 15 years ago, I recall being interviewed by a reporter from a newspaper that would typically be described as reasonably conservative. We were discussing a labour-related issue, and as I made some comments critical of labour unions in the context of our conversation, the reporter said to me “You know we have to be more careful now – we were recently unionized.” I still remember how much this bothered me at the time – that even a relatively conservative publication would have to censor itself to avoid offending its union masters, and that their news reporting would have to go through a union filter before reaching its public audience.
But maybe this is exactly what should be expected, considering the impact that unionization has had on other sectors of our economy and society. Our public education system is a good example, where teachers’ unions now feel free to weigh in on issues they have no business commenting on – like the school curriculum. These unions also fight things such as whether teachers should be evaluated as to their performance, which should be the purview of the government of the day, and work hard during elections to promote left-leaning governments whose goals typically are at odds with the majority of taxpaying citizens. Unionization of the public sector in general has led to a bureaucratic class that are hostile to democratically elected conservative governments and often fawning acolytes of left-leaning governments, in total conflict with the concept of a neutral, professional public service. Unionization of any enterprise, public or private, changes the culture and orientation of that entity, and the media is no exception.
The good news with respect to the media is that modern technology such as social media and the many internet-based publications have greatly broadened the spectrum of opinions that are available to consumers, and more diverse points of view are more widely available for public consumption than they ever have been before. That same technology is weakening the business model that has financed mainstream media for decades, to the point that many newspapers and other conventional media outlets are now appealing to governments for subsidies to keep them afloat in these times of disruptive technological change. Too many of our tax dollars are already devoted to institutions like the CBC and their slanted, limited perspective on the news. Rapid changes in technology have upset many industries over the past couple of decades, and mainstream media is no exception. But as these changes have widened the scope of the points of view expressed and reduced the filtering of news commentary and opinion journalism, these developments should be welcomed, not opposed. In fact, for anyone that values free speech, they should be celebrated.
Catherine Swift is currently President and CEO of Working Canadians (www.workingcanadians.ca. Prior to that, Catherine Swift had been with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business since September 1987, initially as Chief Economist. She became Chair in June 1999 after being named Chief Executive Officer in July 1997 and President in May of 1995. Her various responsibilities included coordinating policy issues at federal, provincial and municipal levels of government, representing CFIB with politicians, government, business, media and other groups.
Ms. Swift has worked with the federal government in Ottawa holding several positions with the Departments of Consumer and Corporate Affairs, Industry and Communications. Her areas of specialization included corporate and industrial analysis and international trade. Catherine Swift has a MA in Economics.
She has published numerous articles in journals, magazines and other media on such small business issues as free trade, finance, entrepreneurship and women small business owners. Ms. Swift is a Past President of the Empire Club of Canada, a former Director of the C.D. Howe Institute and past President of the International Small Business Congress. She was cited in 2003 and again in 2012 as one of the top 100 most powerful women in Canada by the Women’s Executive Network.