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Bill Kelly: Government’s media bailout plan raises serious questions

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

From its inception, I’ve had concerns about the federal government’s attempt to assist the suffering mainstream media from, what some say, is its inevitable demise.

As someone who firmly believes that the fifth estate plays an integral role in holding government accountable, I know that we need a healthy, vibrant and independent media to inform the public about what is happening and what it means to you and me, the taxpayers of the true north strong and free.

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And free is the operative word in this discussion; if the federal government cuts cheques to media outlets, be it print or electronic media, can the public be assured that the coverage that those media outlets provide actually be objective, or would the coverage of government policy be influenced, intentionally or unintentionally, by that government subsidy ?

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It’s a fair question, but perhaps an analysis of the current situation may offer some insight.

We know that the CBC continues to receive substantial funding from the federal government, which, on the surface, might indicate that the CBC is beholden to the government of the day and would slant its coverage and editorial opinion to curry favour with that government.

But the offerings of some of the commentators on the people’s network, such those of Andrew Coyne, Chantel Hebert and Rex Murphy, certainly debunk the idea that it is cheerleading for the government of the day.

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CTV and Global News, neither of whose news organizations receive government money, likewise offer strong and insightful coverage and commentary on the goings-on Parliament Hill.

Yet, there remains, in some circles, a concern that the media bailout plan will, in effect, buy support for the government from those who receive the subsidy, which feeds the well-worn narrative of a media bias.

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However, the perceived media bias may, in fact, be a construct of the public’s perception of what it sees. A critique of a political policy that someone doesn’t agree with would be considered “good journalism,” but a critique of a policy or politician that someone doesn’t like is perceived to be a “biased” media report.

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So, is the bias in the news coverage, or is it in the mind of the reader or viewer?

That manifests itself most obviously in the United States, where some entire networks are dedicated to promoting a particular political ideology and their news coverage and commentary is blatantly tilted to promote their political leanings.

We’re not there yet in Canada and I hope that we never devolve to that status.

But the fear is that doling out government money to revenue-starved media outlets could be a dangerous first step down that precipitous path.

Bill Kelly is the host of the Bill Kelly Show on Global News Radio 900 CHML.

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