The Canadian Conservative government has recently proposed a bill that could compromise the sovereignty of their public broadcaster, the CBC. Recent changes to Bill C-60, initially an act to amend the copyright act, force the CBC to seek approval of the Prime Minister’s Treasury Board for any collective bargaining agreement between the broadcaster and its employees. The Treasury Board also has power to deny wage changes and benefit packages to employees.
There have been many critics of the change to Bill C-60, NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau among them. On May 7th 2013, in the House of Commons, Brosseau stated: “The changes proposed in Bill C-60 constitute an all-out attack on the right to free collective bargaining in Canada.”
The problem with an attack on collective bargaining is that overarching power is granted to the government with respect to the well being of employees. If an editor wishes to publish critical stories that the government believes to be detrimental to their popularity, they have the ability to cut salaries, benefits, and even fire that editor. Most journalists will comply with authority figures rather than forfeit pay, benefits, or their job. Bill C-60 compromises the non-partisan stance of a public broadcaster.
The aim of the CBC is to create reliable alternative, unbiased media that is accessible to all Canadian citizens. With the government influence that Bill C-60 allows, the CBC will no longer be unconditionally reliable and alternative media, but rather will likely provide biased media that furthers the popularity and intentions of the Conservative government. Herein lies the question of an emerging ‘Big Brother’ presence in Canadian media.
‘Big Brother’ refers to an increased government influence, propaganda, and a watchful eye on citizens in order to create a controlled society that complies easily with government action. As proposed in Bill C-60, greater media control, allows a government to influence the opinions of its citizens and indoctrinate certain ways of thinking. A legitimate democracy should promote freethinking and facilitate alternative media opportunities. There arises the question: does Bill C-60 create an increased ‘Big Brother’ presence and threaten democracy in Canada?
Other healthy democracies take alternate approaches to public broadcasters. In the UK, the BBC operates under similar principals as the CBC. However, the BBC receives more government funding and acts entirely independent from the government treasury board. Negotiations between the broadcasters and employees remain solely between them. This allows the broadcaster to publish truly unbiased media, out of the reach of government influence.
Contrary to the UK and Canada, the US model is a media industry of private outlets, under the premise that the private industry facilitates fair competition, so all types of media will be covered in the industry and provide a greater media selection to the public.
There are also critics of both the UK and US media industries. However, contrary to Canada, on the surface both appear to adhere to the qualities of a healthy democracy, and remain independent from government influence. With the proposition of Bill C-60, the Canadian government will no longer remain independent from its media industry, leaving many Canadians wondering if the implementation of Bill C- 60 is increasing the ‘Big Brother’ presence to an unhealthy level.
Is this a threat to Canadian democracy?