MALCOLM: Conflicts of interest threaten Canadian journalism

(This column originally appeared in the Toronto Sun)

By: Candice Malcolm

November 17, 2018

Attacks against the media pose a threat to democracy, according to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“One of the institutions that is most under stress right now is a free-thinking, independent, rigorous, robust, respected media,” said Trudeau, during a Remembrance Day news conference in France.

He discussed the important role of a free press in informing citizens and ensuring a well-educated and well-informed populace, stating vaguely that this institution is under attack.

I don’t say this often, but on this matter, the prime minister is right. A rigorous and independent media is vital to a free society.

The only problem is that Canada’s media is far from “free-thinking, independent, rigorous, robust and respected.”

Most members of the mainstream media are part of an exclusive club of left-leaning urban elites who live in downtown Toronto, Ottawa or Montreal.

They have a narrow world view, and frankly, they don’t understand the values or concerns of most everyday Canadians.

Worse, there is ample evidence that the companies they work for are themselves not independent or free.

Take the recent political campaign launched by Unifor national president Jerry Dias.

“We will #StopScheerStupidity!,” Dias wrote on Twitter, mentioning Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and unveiling Unifor’s new anti-Conservative political campaign.

Unions waging campaigns against Conservatives is nothing new. The previous Conservative government introduced a law that required financial transparency for unions; these unions worked hard to help elect the Trudeau Liberals, who scrapped this law after being election.

The problem with Unifor’s new campaign is that the union represents thousands of Canadian journalists, including many fine folks at the Sun.

According to its website, “Unifor is Canada’s largest media union, representing over 13,000 workers from coast to coast in printing, graphic arts, newspapers, film and broadcasting.”

I don’t blame journalists for joining a union. It’s a tough market out there and traditional media outlets are shedding jobs and slowly dying.

But how can journalists claim to be neutral and unbiased when their own union is openly waging a campaign against a major political party?

It’s an obvious conflict of interest and it undermines public trust in the independence of Unifor journalists.

It isn’t just private sector journalists who suffer from a lack of credibility. Canada’s state broadcaster is even more conflicted.

During the last federal election, funding to the CBC became a major issue.

The Conservative government cut the CBC’s budget by $115 million; the NDP pledged to reverse these cuts, while the Liberals pledged to not only reverse the cuts but to give $150 million in new funding.

Lo and behold, with $265 million on the line, the Trudeau Liberals received glowing coverage from the CBC which helped them win the election.

The problem with our media is far worse than a mere bias from the left-leaning journalists who cover the news.

Increasingly, media outlets themselves are corrupted by meddling political actors.

The Liberals are seeking to expand this influence even further, by offering a taxpayer-funded slush fund to dole out to more media outlets.

How can journalists remain independent when they’re the beneficiaries of government handouts? Can they really be trusted to scrutinize the politicians who fund them? Will they remain unbiased if other politicians threaten to end their funding?

Like Trudeau said, a free and independent press is crucial to a democracy. Unfortunately for Canadians, our media institutions are being corrupted and journalists are failing to provide the full story.

Candice Malcolm is the Founder of the True North Initiative.