Thursday, July 20, 2006

Why oh Why

did I do it?

Why did I find myself this morning checking out the National Post?

I haven't been over there since they put up the paywall. I used to enjoy reading Mark Kingwell, and let's be honest, when that paper was born, neo-con zaniness aside, the arts and culture section couldn't be beat by any newspaper in the country.

But....that was so long ago. The paper seems a pale, yet strangely angry, shadow of itself. Funny too, that anger, given they've got Steve Harper in Ottawa now. Corcoran's still peddling his missives that would make the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal blush, but, true to my own form, and this blog, the article I found myself reading was the following screed by William Watson, who happens to be an economics professor at McGill.

The title let me know I was going to be in for a 1990's right-wing anger fest - "Let social activists pay for the CBC". Aaaaah....the old "activists" trope. Boy, I haven't heard that one in years. I thought it kind of died out, what with Steve Harper, of National Citizens Coalition fame, being PM.

One would think a Yale-trained economist who writes for the Post would have received the memo that "activist" is a word that should be used sparingly, what with all those corporatist bagmen, like the PM and his Secretary, Jason Kenny, formerly of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, running the country. (Don't you love those quaint populist names for these tax the poor, free the rich social activist groups?)

But I digress. So, let's get back to what this Yale-trained economist has to say about CBC radio. He poses a nice, clear question: "Why should we be subsidizing what so often amounts to social activist radio?"

Well, let's see - I take it Professor Watson here is going to now answer this question by providing evidence of CBC radio's "social activism" (what a wink wink nudge nudge term "social activism" is - it's akin to a conservative secret handshake, like "special interest" and "the poor" - the latter always said with just a dusting of approbation).

So what does the dear professor take social activism to be? Everything he heard on the CBC that day. It's just that simple. Really.

I won't bore you with rehashing the litany of things he found distasteful about the CBC that day, because it's just one of those things about the right-left divide in politics. I look at the list and go, hey, what a bunch of interesting things to learn about - and he goes, why aren't we discussing what a dream globalization is? Or why aren't there more Hayek and Friedman discussions on the CBC? In other words, why is Professor Watson's kind of social activism not being discussed?

And in it's own way, it's a good question. The CBC should have "free-market supporters" (read here corporatist windbags, these guys wouldn't know a free market if they wound up standing in the middle of one looking for a pair of socks - they all have an all too narrow view of equality) like William Watson on, and let him go head to head with Judy Rebick or someone like that.

I mean, it's not as though Watson and his kind don't have a pulpit (The National Post, and to a lesser extent, the Globe and Mail), but sure, let them, even more often than they already are, on the CBC - because then all the social activists are there, like Professor Watson, free market activist, and no one can use that old, tired phrase, because the social activists are paying for the CBC

Then we can actually get on to a discussion about what's really wrong with the CBC, which isn't much of CBC radio One (Professor Watson doesn't appear to know there are two CBC Radio stations). Oddly enough, the problems stem from the fact that the CBC has adopted a lot of the 1990's neo-con corporatist psychobabble and has essentially refashioned itself into precisely what these guys wanted institutionally, except that in doing so it has lost much of what made it utterly different from private broadcasting.

That Professor Watson couldn't even identify the real problem on CBC Radio, Radio Two, just goes to show how out of touch he is with things here in the public world - perhaps he should climb down from his ivory tower and spend a bit more time checking things out before proclaiming that social activists like him should be paying for the CBC.

And here's the irony - I suspect that Professor Watson and I would agree on something - that the death of an elitist streak at the CBC over the past 15 years has been perhaps the greatest blow to its strengths, and has helped to make foes from friends and deliver it to the very enemies of anything public, like William Watson.

I mean this - I would love nothing more than to find some hard-core institutional economist wipe the floor with Professor Watson's rehashed, tired, one-sided musings about the glories of the free market and competition. (I understand this is hard, seeing as most good economists spend their time doing research instead of penning anti-CBC smears that look like they were written in 1992).

I'd love to see intellectual rigour brought back to every nook and cranny of the CBC - because it's exactly what this country needs to stem the damaging of discourse by smart men peddling shallow ideas.

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