• SETHICS 13.11.2017

    In my cranky opinion, our friends at CBC Radio are unprincipled. They will, that is, trade their favourite principles for their antitheses any time political correctness is in need.

    For instance, CBC Radio is assertively opposed to drug addiction stigma. This is demonstrated by their many gentle interviews with advocates who inform us that drug addiction is a disease and never the responsibility of the addict. CBC Radio makes an instant moral switcheroo on this position, though, the moment the addict is a public figure (especially, it seems, if they’re a rich, white male), such as, say, the former mayor of Toronto.

    Now, I don’t mean to suggest that one principle must always fit all situations: distinctions between cases and/or moral hierarchies can leave us with alternate answers in different scenarios.

    For instance, maybe the reason CBC Radio is pro stigmatization of celebrity drug addicts is not because CBC Radio is bigoted against rich white males, but instead because they believe we cannot afford a buzzed driver at the wheel of major affairs.

    My criticism of CBC Radio, though, is that, when they trade principles, they never seem to point out a nuanced distinction that justifies the alteration. Instead, like a flipped switch, they go from all in to all out the moment a principle yields a politically incorrect result.

    I’ll provide three examples to justify this accusation.

    1. FEAR

    Two of the guiding moral positions of CBC Radio are that when there is an Islamic terrorist attack (A) we must not give into fear, and (B) we must be careful of blaming all Muslims for the cruel actions of a few.

    To my mind, both are understandable values. If we allow fear to rule our attitudes and public policy, we may diminish some of the great achievements of our free society.

    Nevertheless, I also empathize with fear-based policy because I do believe there is something significant to fear here. And the value of better protecting ourselves from terrorism (whether that’s giving in to fear or not) is at least worth considering. Ultimately, all safety measures are fear-inspired, so the question is not whether we yield at all to what scares us, but instead how much we weigh and protect our individual rights along the way.

    That does not mean that I dispute being wary of letting fear take us into an Orwellian apocalypse. However, my objection to CBC Radio is that they do not consider these moral questions from the principled position that they claim for themselves (always weighing rights over fear). Instead, they value human rights and freedoms when they align with PC tastes, and they ignore them when they don’t. Consider when a mass killing is committed not by an Islamic terrorist, but by a Westerner. Suddenly, far from cautioning us against letting fear intervene upon our freedoms, CBC Radio is open to discussing not only how we can change laws to protect us, but also the flaws in our culture that may have provoked the violence.

    Indeed, if there is a murderous attack on a mosque by a Westerner, CBC Radio will convene a panel on Western Islamophobia (after all, we Westerners are complicit in provoking an individual zealot to act). In contrast, if there is an Islamic terrorist attack on Westerners, CBC Radio will also convene a panel on Islamophobia (after all, we must remind ourselves that most Muslims are peace-loving).

    I don’t object to either sentiment in principle. Checking our culture for bigotry is worthwhile. And reminding ourselves that not all members of a group are guilty of the worst acts of individuals is also worth doing to reduce the above bigotry. But why does CBC Radio always seems to treat Western culture as guilty of the crimes of its worst citizens, and Islamic culture as separate from its members’ worst actions? Is there not some nuance available in both cases?

    As ever, there may be legitimate distinctions between the types of fear CBC Radio does and does not approve for motivating public policy. However, once again CBC Radio never dwells on such intricacies. Instead, they take their seemingly fundamental principle of “not letting fear influence us because we can’t let the bad guys win” and they turn it off any time that fear is oriented in a politically correct direction.

    2. DUE PROCESS

    CBC Radio shares a hotel room with the progressively correct movement “Black Lives Matter” (or BLM), which contends that the United States (and BLM Toronto and BLM Vancouver claim Canada as well) has a significant police racism problem against black citizens.

    I don’t know if BLM is right or not. Harvard economist Roland G. Fryer offers us research which shows that black people are more likely per interaction to be handled aggressively by police, but also that white people are actually more likely per previously non-violent encounter to be shot. Neither of these points proves BLM right or wrong just yet, but they do indicate to me that this is a complicated issue worthy of further study.  And, if CBC Radio had any true principle, they would look into BLM’s claims with an open, but skeptical mind. But for CBC Radio, any questioning of a claim of racism is racist, itself. Consequently, whenever CBC Radio interviews a pundit who supports BLM, they treat the commentator as a prophet for due process and anti-racism whom they shall not trouble with critical questions.

    However, amazingly CBC Radio once again drops the principles of due process and anti-racism in cases where the accused is not of progressive concern. For instance, if a white police officer is accused of mistreating a black suspect, CBC Radio treats the police officer as guilty, by definition. And, if the alleged victim of a crime is female, CBC Radio substitutes the principle of due process for the progressive notion to automatically “Believe Women.” This faith-based system of justice allowed CBC Radio and other morally vacant media outlets to shame Toronto police and prosecutors into charging Jian Ghomeshi of crimes for which there was neither physical nor circumstantial evidence.

    CBC Radio’s anti-due process sentiment is especially evident in sports where the broadcaster has signed onto the baffling argument that athletes accused of crimes should be suspended by their teams without proof of guilt. (As I wrote in THE SEPERATION OF WORK AND STATE, I’m opposed to athletes being suspended even if they are found guilty of crimes, but I’ll settle for a moratorium on suspending employees on accusation alone.) In fact, the NFL has suspended several black athletes accused of violence against women in the last couple of years. But strangely neither BLM nor CBC Radio has raised a finger of concern.

    3. FREEDOM OF SPEECH

    In the last year, several black NFL players endorsed BLM by kneeling during the American anthem before games. Ever shy, US boss Donald Trump then criticized those athletes, stating that it would be grand if NFL owners would fire them for their anthem antics.

    Consequently, numerous NFL players and many pundits argued that the president was threatening the players’ freedom of speech. I’m not sure if Trump’s customarily brash argument was technically suggesting a limitation on freedom of speech. When one is at work, one is not necessarily free to express anything one likes in the same way that one is when off duty. Nevertheless, as a free speech fan—who has become worried lately about this vital resource—I was pleased to hear free expression discussed and defended in the media, including on CBC Radio.

    Nevertheless, I once again noticed that CBC Radio only seems willing to positively discuss free expression when the speaker in question is supporting an ideal that CBC Radio already favours. Far from Evelyn Beatrice Hall’s ideal, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” CBC Radio apparently prefers to think of free speech as a conditional. If a citizen says something CBC Radio deems worthy, the speaker can have all the speech they like; but, if the speaker crosses CBC Radio’s righteous opinion, then he or she must accept the suppressing consequences.

    For instance, a few months before Trump ascended to his thrown, Canadian singer Remigio Pereira, a member of the group The Tenors, added the phrase “All Lives Matter” to a pre-game anthem performance in the US. This was clearly intended to contrast the “Black Lives Matter” argument. While I didn’t object to Pereira’s dissent, I also had no quibble with his bandmates firing him for making such a controversial statement during a performance without their consent. They were hired to sing the national anthem, not to make a political argument while on the job.

    But I notice that CBC Radio—who currently claims that it is paramount to allow pro-BLM athletes (and now pro-BLM anthem singers) the right of free expression even when they’re at work—felt no inclination to defend the opera singer’s right to sing his mind. Quite the opposite: they cheered on his fall from the podium as the karma-inflicted consequence of his “racist” utterance.

    As with all of my examples, I’m happy to hear arguments that suggest a distinguishing factor between these cases. But I am ever dismayed by CBC Radio’s apparent lack of awareness of these seeming contradictions.

    I recognize that CBC Radio has gone too far down the rabid hole to be neutral on these issues, but, if they would consider acknowledging a smidge of complexity when commenting on ethical quandaries, maybe they could find a way to bring some enlightenment to the moral questions of our time. And that’s a principle that even CBC Radio could stand behind.

    Posted by SethBlog @ 2:00 PM

  • 3 Responses

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    • Tom Durrie Says:

      Hey there, Seth,
      I really enjoyed this very well-written piece. It brings up issues about the CBC that I haven’t thought of before, though I am an avid CBC Radio (Radio One) listener. My main beef with the CBC these days is about the relentless promotion of popular culture and sports. We get regular reports, as part of the NEWS, of various games and scores and players around the world, not even necessarily Canadians. Yet, we never, or rarely, hear about the accomplishments of our many world-renowned musicians, writers, and artists. Years ago I suggested that there be an “Arts Desk” in addition to the “Sports Desk”. No such luck.
      My guess is that the complicated issues you are talking about are thought to be too difficult for today’s appropriately “dumbed down” listener. As you’ll recall, the CBC, under the guidance of Richard Stursberg, changed its format and content to appeal to a younger audience. This also meant an unstated competition with commercial radio. Hence we have upbeat, rah rah, announcements about upcoming programs, delivered by an annoying “young-sounding” announcer, and regular interruptions of “the lead song on so-and-so’s new album”.
      Your comments here give me several more issues to complain about.

    • Janice Fiamengo Says:

      I can’t think how CBC would justify its obvious flip-flops and self-contradictoriness other than that in a society of massive disparities of power that ostensibly favor whites, Christians (or at least non-Muslims), and males, greater measures to protect the speech and civil rights of the historically dispossessed and marginalized are entirely justifiable and not in fundamental contradiction of general principles of fairness. In fact, the greater protections of speech and civil rights for the marginalized is necessary to the principle of fairness. A dispassionate approach applying principles without regard to race or sex or religion would merely reinforce the massive disparities that supposedly already exist in our society. That seems to be the most popular argument I hear from supporters of social justice. I have a hard time seeing that men, whites, or non-Muslims *are* specially privileged in our society, but I’ve certainly read many arguments making that case.

    • SethBlog Says:

      Thanks Tom and Janice!

      Tom: I’m glad to have added some poison ivy to your irritation with CBC! (I assume you refer to platforms other than CBC Radio One, when you say that they are sports centric, since I believe Radio One has many arts-emphasizing programs such as Q and The Next Chapter.) I love your idea of an ArtsDesk or ArtsCentre for analysis of arts to compete our many sports-starring shows (which I must confessing to viewing frequently: you can take the boy out of the hockey game, but you can’t take the hockey game out of the boy ;)).

      Janice: I accept your conclusion that the PC-elite justify their many seemingly unprincipled practices via their belief that they are protecting a higher value. And I would be interested in hearing discussions on CBC Radio in which moralists from that side offered arguments explaining how their moral framework can reasonably handle serious objections from skeptics. But I find it both infuriating and worrying that CBC Radio almost never considers such counter arguments to their assumed truths. Once in a blue moon’s blue moon they’ll talk to someone who disagrees with them on one of their unwavering conclusions, but for the most part, they not only don’t present any legitimate counter arguments to their assumed truths, they also don’t acknowledge that they exist.

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