Cross Country Checkup

'I've been really disappointed by CBC Radio': British newcomer criticizes CBC coverage

This Checkup caller feels that CBC’s coverage is too one-sided in favour of social justice and could improve by broadening debates and engaging conservative voices.
The moon can be seen above the Maison Radio-Canada tower in Montreal, March 17. (Charles Contant/CBC)

On Cross Country Checkup's show on fake news and its perpetuation across social media platforms, we received a call from Stephen Quilly, a sociology professor at the University of Waterloo and recent British immigrant to Canada. He feels that CBC's coverage is too one-sided in favour of social justice and could improve by broadening debates and engaging conservative voices. Quilly spoke to Checkup host Duncan McCue from Elora, Ont.

Stephen Quilly: I feel slightly churlish because you can tell by my accent that I'm a newbie here. We came across from the UK about five years ago. I work at UW as a sociology professor. I'm very attached to public sector broadcasting and I love the BBC. I think the previous caller is absolutely right that this is an incredibly important role for public broadcaster now more than ever in the in the current media context.

Duncan McCue: Why?

SQ: Public broadcasters are necessary due to fake news, wild political swings and the difficulty in modern societies, which are increasingly diverse and cosmopolitan. Over the next hundred years we'll have unprecedented pressures dealing with migration, climate change and geopolitical problems. Achieving national consensus and a sense of social cohesion is incredibly difficult, and the media has an important role to play.

I have a hard time saying this as a newbie coming into Canada, but I've been really disappointed by CBC Radio. I'm someone who is addicted to talk radio. I have it on 24/7 to my family's annoyance. In the UK, I would listen to Radio 4, Radio 5 Live, News Nights and World Service. When I moved here, I got into the same habit with CBC, but I'm getting to the point where I almost cannot listen to it. And I say that as someone who's broadly liberal. 

DM: What's your critique, Stephen? We're talking about fake news and misinformation. What's your critique about CBC?

SQ: CBC in Canada is in danger of making the problem worse. It seems in an editorial sense across programs like The Current, Unreserved and a bunch of programs on during the day, to be wholly captured by a social justice agenda. There's a very narrow range of topics. If you're sitting in the car, you can play a game to see how long it takes before one of the usual suspects of social justice issues comes on —all of which are important: First Nations, refugees, sexuality, gender. But a limited range of topics.

Across all of the programs there seems to be a group-think shared by most of the editors and hosts. I'll give you an example: there have been hour long discussions of the neutrality law in Quebec about the niqab, and what CBC shows do is get a panel of three people, all of whom agree with each other, and all of whom were social justice activists. Nobody represents the point of view of the government of Quebec which presumably is voted in by 50 per cent of the population or more.

DM:  Stephen, have you chosen to go to other news sources outside of CBC?

SQ: I end up listening to the BBC, which is crazy, and I get irritated because I'm listening to traffic news from Newcastle because what's on the CBC is so one sided it's almost hard to listen to. I value debates and I'm not getting any. The most recent example was the Lindsay Shepherd free speech debate and the commentary coming out of the CBC was utterly one sided, and importantly, it was against what seems to be the majority opinion in the rest of the country. The CBC is setting out to stall on the liberal left of the mainstream of opinion.

DM: Stephen, you've only been here for five years, but that critique has been launched at the CBC for an awfully long time now.

SQ: Have the viewing figures been rising or falling? If you get into that group-think, you get a very limited audience. It becomes self-perpetuating: you're only speaking to the bubble, to an audience that agrees with you, and you're putting off potential listeners who get irritated by the one dimensionality of the conversation.

DM: I'm not going to defend the CBC, that's not my role here. But part of what you're talking about is expanding voices in terms of having First Nations voices, or gay, lesbian and bisexual voices on in an attempt to try to include voices that haven't been heard on the CBC for a very long time. It's an attempt to expand the dialogue in this country and grow audiences. I think my boss would like me to say that it's working in terms of expanding audiences, so that's the other side of things.

SQ: I understand the rationale for it, but it's so one sided politically that what you're not doing, on programs like The Current, is engaging in a real debate. There's very few conservative voices and very few Christian and religious voices.

DM: I appreciate the critiques Stephen. Thank you very much and I do hope you continue to listen to CBC.

SQ: Can I make a suggestion? I've written to The Current five times and I've never even received a reply. One thing CBC could do is have a statutory feedback organization separate from the CBC, which has a slot a two hour slot once a week with a statutory mandate to have producers and editors on and question them and interrogate them.

Quilly's call caused many on social media to respond. Here's what some listeners had to say: 

Stephen Quilly's comments have been edited and condensed. To listen to the full interview, click on the audio link above. This online segment was prepared by Champagne Choquer.