Editorial: Broadcasting can be public—why can’t print?

The CBC has radio, television, and Internet content. This content includes entertainment, documentaries, sports coverage, and even journalism. Why then is a publicly owned and operated newspaper not among its services?

It’s easy to make the argument that journalism is a public service. Telling stories and keeping the public informed about events they may not have directly experienced is a hugely important aspect of any society.

It’s not that the CBC doesn’t do this. Many people turn to the CBC’s various products for news, and their website reads much like a newspaper would. They generate enough content to fill a newspaper. So why not just go ahead and print one?

By definition, it’s not exactly within the CBC’s mandate as a broadcaster since print media has much different implications than broadcast media.

Print media are essentially public records. Once something is printed it will appear that way forever. Broadcast media can be recorded, but its essence is less corporeal than print. It’s there for only a moment, and then it’s gone.

But if the CBC is to have a (printed) online product then they’ve already transcended their “broadcaster” mandate, which only includes radio and television. They might as well literally print it as well.

One of the major problems with print journalism in Canada is that everything is owned and controlled by very few companies.

Postmedia, with their recent buy-out of Sun Media, will soon own the majority of newspapers in Canada. Torstar more or less owns the rest. There’s also Woodbridge, which owns The Globe and Mail.

The biggest problem with these companies is who they are accountable to. While they serve the public through their news coverage, they are not accountable to them. As profit-making enterprises they are accountable only to their corporate stakeholders and advertisers.

As such, the content they produce is heavily influenced by the interests of those stakeholders. That’s going to be the case in a pubic newspaper as well, but the process by which you become a stakeholder will be much more open.

A public newspaper would likely not be run as a profit-making enterprise, allowing journalists to focus on producing accurate, critical news, independent of the influence of advertisers.

Furthermore, the CBC has an ombudsman that ensures fairness, accuracy and accountability with respect to news coverage, something certain publications would no doubt benefit from.

The for-profit model major newspapers currently operate under is no longer viable, and hasn’t been for years. Almost no publications maintain a profit, and with the prevalence and dominance of Internet news services, that’s unlikely to change.

Part of the purpose of Crown Corporations is to provide services that aren’t economically viable for private corporations, after all.

Simply printing and distributing the content already being published on the CBC website would be a marginal cost given that it already exists, and could probably be subsidized by advertisements.

If you need further convincing, look no further than the CBC’s coverage of the recent Parliament Hill shootings on October 22. Each and every major newspaper in Canada ran large, bold, sensationalist headlines like “ATTACK ON OTTAWA.”

On the other hand, CBC coverage led by Peter Mansbridge was calm, collected, and focused on getting the facts right.

In Canada, we need more news coverage like that. A CBC Print Division would be a great start.

About Pat Reddick 85 Articles
Pat was co-editor of Volume 49, along with Matt Rappolt. He's primarily interested in arts coverage, often editorializing on arts issues. He graduated from Trent with a Bachelor's degree in English Lit. Pat hosts or co-hosts several programs at Trent Radio, such as Media Are Plural. You can follow him on Twitter, or watch him eat through his kitchen window. In his spare time Pat reads a lot (q.v. English major), plays video games, and writes fiction. He has a blog or something but I couldn't find out too much about that.