Some conservatives and libertarians like to joke that the acronym of Canada’s national broadcaster – the CBC – stands for “Communist Broadcasting Corporation.” But a post-Cold War study by University of Calgary political scientist Barry Cooper presents information and analysis that may leave people wondering how much of a joke it really is.
Cooper studied the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for several years, and the most significant result of his efforts was the book, Sins of Omission: Shaping the News at CBC TV which was published by the prestigious University of Toronto Press in 1994. From the evidence presented in this book, it is clear that CBC TV had an affinity for the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
To conduct this study, Cooper poured over a large number of transcripts from TV broadcasts and compared what was said with the political reality of the situation being portrayed. When he began this work in the 1980s, he decided to focus on coverage of foreign affairs, and in particular, issues related to the Cold War and the Soviet Union.
One part of the study looks at how the internal affairs of the USSR were portrayed, including the Soviet occupation and withdrawal from Afghanistan, which was a major issue at the time. The general tendency in the coverage was to make it appear that the Soviet Union was much like Canada. As Cooper puts it, “Obvious external or elemental differences, such as the absence of genuine elections, the existence of a secret police, the concentration camps, and restrictive emigration policy, were ignored, played down, or euphemized into innocuous variations of normalcy. In short, the substantive political and, indeed, cultural differences between the political regimes established by communism in the USSR and those set up by liberal democracy in the West were minimized.”
In reality, the political life of the Soviet Union was very different from Canada’s due to the brutal nature of the Marxist ideology that guided its regime. To some degree, the CBC turned a blind eye to the suffering of the people in that country, giving Canadians a misleading, sugar-coated view of the communist regime
A major feature of the Cold War, of course, was the relationship between the Soviet Union and the United States. During the period studied by Cooper, there were a couple of summit meetings between the leaders of these two countries – Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan – that received considerable media coverage. Officials from both countries presented the views of their respective governments, but the CBC did not treat these statements in the same way. As Cooper puts it, “the surface meaning of Soviet accounts was overwhelmingly accepted at face value. Accounts by U.S. officials, in contrast, were severely scrutinized, and alternative visualizations were presented.” The CBC was skeptical of American claims, but rarely of Soviet claims.
There is considerably more detail in Cooper’s study carefully documenting his conclusions, but the long and the short of it is this: “The visualization of the summit meetings was remarkably consistent: the USSR was seen as a progressive and dynamic actor, the United States as a source of resistance to peace initiatives.” The CBC, Cooper writes, “advanced the vision of a progressive USSR and a dangerous United States.”
In short, government-paid journalists in a free country – Canada – sided with one of the most oppressive regimes in history. As Cooper puts it, “CBC visualizations were ‘objectively’ in the service of Soviet propaganda.”
Cooper goes on to note that the philosophy guiding CBC coverage of US-Soviet relations was “moral equivalence.” Basically, this view assumes that the USA and Soviet Union – liberal democracy and Marxist totalitarianism – have similar virtues and vices, so one side should not be seen as morally superior to the other.
But the “moral equivalence” position was garbage, as Cooper explains.
“The doctrine of moral equivalence, which is the articulate conceptual statement that the CBC operationalized in its coverage of the Soviet Union, ignored the most fundamental distinction in political life, the distinction between tyrannical and non-tyrannical forms of government. This omission led to such otherwise inexplicable curiosities as equating or balancing U.S. support for the Afghan mujahedeen with the Soviet invasion of that country. Moreover, some stories did more than bend over backwards or forwards to excuse the actions of a tyranny.”
So there you have it. The CBC created a smokescreen for Marxists before the fall of the Soviet Union, the ultimate “progressive” state. But it’s important to realize that during the Cold War, Canada’s taxpayer-funded state broadcaster ran interference for the most powerful Marxist dictatorship in history.
30 years after the end of the Cold War we are left to consider: what is the CBC’s agenda for us now?
Michael Wagner is columnist for the Western Standard. He has a PhD in political science from the University of Alberta. His books include ‘Alberta: Separatism Then and Now’ and ‘True Right: Genuine Conservative Leaders of Western Canada.’