Young Canadians view biased censorship as threat to democracy

CBC headquarters in Canada in Toronto, Ontario. Credit: Tyler Anderson/National Post

CBC headquarters in Canada in Toronto, Ontario. Credit: Tyler Anderson/National Post

In Canada, censorship is widely used and accepted in various areas of content creation. Some of those areas include, radio broadcasting, television and the film industry. Censorship, as a general rule, is not a fundamentally undemocratic thing. For example, it is important to censor films coming into the country that could contain material that is illegal or unconstitutional. However, in Canada, how far is too far, to what extent can media be censored, and when does censorship become undemocratic?

Our main broadcasting network is the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Being a government-funded corporation, the funding of the CBC depends on the government in power.

Before November 2015, the conservatives were in power and they made large cuts to the CBC. After November 2015, liberals came back into power after nine years of absence and promised to reinstate the $115 million cuts the conservatives had made.

Liberals also promised to give $35 million incrementally over the span of three years, resulting in another $150 million. In November 2016, the CBC asked for another $400 million from the liberal government, which was approved.

What does this have to do with censorship? Due to this huge increase in funding from the liberal government, the CBC became a network that broadcasts primarily liberal-supporting content.

The concern of many young Canadians from all areas of the political spectrum is, is this new kind of censorship, promoting only liberal content, in line with Canada’s democracy?

“As a Canadian content creator, I did not feel formally censored about what my films would show,” Canadian scriptwriter and novelist Keith Ross Leckie said. “But I did feel there was a bias against certain topics in Canada at CTV and CBC and Global (now Shaw).”

However, Ross went on to say that Canada is more lenient than what you might find in the United States. He did not make any direct comments about liberal content and focused more on issues like, “First Nations stories… Feminist topics … Black and multicultural stories…”

“But this kind of bias comes and goes like fashion,” Ross continued.

A study was conducted by the University of Oxford's Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) showed that 44 percent of liberals would choose CBC, as opposed to only 34 percent of conservatives.

While some argue that these statistics appear conclusive, others argue that the CBC is merely representing the opinion of the people of Canada who elected a liberal government, which is considered its duty as a government-funded institution.

However, this opinion raises the question, is it democratic to only show the winners’ perspective and completely ignore the little guys?

Polls show that 39.5 percent of Canadians voted liberal, while 31.9 percent voted conservative. What this means is that yes, a majority of Canadians do identify with liberal ideologies. But it also shows that there are almost as many Canadians who identify with conservative ideologies.

Original graphic. Credit: Guinevere Santaguida/GYV

Original graphic. Credit: Guinevere Santaguida/GYV

With that new knowledge, it is unfair to say that the CBC, broadcasting primarily liberal content, is not a fair representation of the Canadian people, as was previously argued.

Young people are very divided on the issue. Emma Davidson, 18, a history student from Québec, feels she can rely on the CBC for a “critical [take] of the decisions made in [Canada’s capital]” and believes that the government funding was more for cultural purposes than to promote a certain agenda.

Other young people have an entirely different take. “I think the CBC is statist as a result of government funding,” another millennial, Amanda Achtman from Calgary, Alberta, told Global Young Voices. “By relying on an annual billion-dollar taxpayer subsidy, the CBC does not properly compete in Canada’s media landscape. The CBC does not have to earn the trust, respect or even interest of the viewers.”

Jeremy Allen, a Montréal-based philosophy student, approached the question very critically. “When discussing bias in the media, there is, in my opinion, no such thing as an unbiased news source,” he said. “Where I’d argue this bias exists [within the CBC] is in specific issues. While [government] funding of media sources can be seen as a major factor for this type of bias, it by no means discredits its coverage on other topics… while critically reflecting upon the CBC’s content, the fact that it is funded by the government by no means completely discredits it.”

Another argument in favor of the CBC is that they are simply utilizing their democratic right of free speech. This is a fair point for a private broadcasting network like the Canadian Television Network (CTV). However, this is not a fair argument for a public government-funded broadcaster. ‘Government-funded’ infers that it is being funded by taxpayer dollars. The CBC has a duty to portray all of its benefactors — every tax-paying Canadian — equally.

There is a new kind of censorship in Canada, a subtle censorship, of all things right-wing, Canadian millennials believe. This is seen in the CBC. “Is this kind of censorship democratic?” another millennial asked. “Is this kind of censorship what’s best for our country? And finally, what effect will this kind of censorship have on our future generations, on the young people who will only ever be exposed to one side of the story?”

Cover cartoon credit: Sergio Algeri/GYV