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Defeated Conservative candidate blames CBC for loss

By guest blogger Karen Wirsig

There is something threatening about a candidate of the governing party blaming the public broadcaster for his loss in a by-election. The candidate in question was Peter Penashue, the former Conservative cabinet minister who resigned over illegal contributions to his 2011 campaign. CBC broke that story.

“I would say CBC defined me and defined me very negatively and I tried to change that but the damage had already been done,” he said after losing to the Liberal candidate in Labrador on Monday night.

If there’s a chance this attitude of blame is widespread within his party, the new powers the Conservative government is seeking under Bill C-60 – to sit directly at the CBC management table – are ominous.

As Senator Mike Duffy was reminded this week, any journalist – even a former colleague – will work like a dog with a bone if they get a whiff of financial irregularities. You follow the money.

Will CTV pay a price for breaking the Duffy/Nigel Wright story? Maybe. Exclusives and access to official sources may be lean for a while. It’s even possible the government will stop taking calls from CTV, the way Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has done with the Toronto Star. It’s childish and anti-democratic, but it won’t deter the likes of CTV and the Toronto Star from breaking stories and reporting the news.

The same is not necessarily true for CBC because, even before Bill C-60, the federal government exerts far too much control over it. The government appoints the president and members of the board. It provides what is still the single biggest source of revenue, which is why CBC can have local newsrooms in Labrador when no other national network does. It can make a massive cut to that budget from one year to the next if it is displeased. Now, with Bill C-60, it wants to sit right at the bargaining table with employees and get involved in day-to-day operations.

That’s why it’s disturbing when Penashue blames the CBC for his troubles. Will his party use new powers to muzzle the CBC?

Karen Wirsig does outreach with the Canadian Media Guild. She’s on Twitter @karenatcmg and you can reach her at karen@cmg.ca.

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