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CBC Shut Out of $100 Million Google Deal

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As the Trudeau government slices up the new Google media deal pie, the CBC is left with just crumbs—and Canadians are left with questions.

Out of a massive $100 million annual fund, Canada’s public broadcaster was set to feast on the lion’s share. Instead, in a twist of political irony, the Liberals unexpectedly carved out a measly 7% portion for the CBC.

In the aftermath of this controversial decision, the CBC appears strangely docile, although suspiciously negative coverage and headlines criticizing Liberal policies emerge.

Could backroom concessions have been made to quiet down both the public and the newspaper?

With the Liberals notorious for shady deals behind closed doors, speculation runs wild over what trade-offs were really made and why.

The Trudeau government made the surprising decision to mostly exclude CBC/Radio-Canada from the $100 million annual Google media fund created under the Online News Act. This controversial move came shortly after nationwide controversy erupted over CBC executives receiving large bonuses even as the public broadcaster laid off hundreds of employees.

CBC has been struggling financially lately, resulting in various cost-cutting measures. But when it was revealed that CBC executives would not be deprived of their hefty yearly bonuses despite 600 job losses, public outrage exploded.

The issue was heavily debated in the House of Commons, with opposition parties grilling the Liberal government on how CBC executives could justify such bonuses while crying poor. 

This fueled accusations of CBC mismanagement and reignited concerns about the corrupted relationship between the public broadcaster and the Liberal government.

Just months ago, the Trudeau government had announced CBC would receive the largest portion of the upcoming Google fund under the Online News Act. But in a dramatic reversal, the Liberals introduced regulations capping CBC’s share at only 7%, or $7 million of the initial $100 million.

The bulk of the money will instead go towards private media companies, with 63% reserved for newspapers and digital outlets. The remaining 30% is allocated to private broadcasters.

This surprise exclusion of the public broadcaster from equitable access to Google funds raises questions about the Liberal government’s motives. The timing suggests they wanted to limit further controversy and scrutiny around CBC’s use of public money following the executive bonus scandal.

Some argue that the CBC deserves to be penalized or defunded for misusing taxpayer funds on executive compensation rather than saving journalistic jobs. But the significant reduction in the promised Google funding could also cripple CBC’s operations long-term.

Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge defended the decision only to limit rather than fully exclude CBC/Radio-Canada from the Google deal. At an announcement event last Friday, St-Onge said she believes the new regulations are “extremely good” for Canadians, democracy, and the sustainability of newsrooms nationwide.

“Today marks the last day of the government’s work in implementing the Online News Act,” she smiled, betraying her relief to finalize the contentious deal.

Responding to criticism that the public broadcaster was taking funds away from private media outlets, St-Onge stated: “To exclude the public broadcaster completely, I believe and the government believes, would have devalued its essential role. But we set the cap at seven per cent because we are taking into account the realities of the private market.”

While CBC already receives substantial annual funding from Canadian taxpayers to the tune of $1.2 billion, the public broadcaster still relies on additional revenue streams to function. 

Being restricted to just $7 million of the new $100 million Google deal could significantly hamper CBC’s ability to innovate digitally and reach underserved audiences across the country. Even with its core parliamentary funding remaining stable, limiting CBC’s access to these supplemental funds from Google could hinder public broadcasting in the modern digital media environment.

This compounds concerns that the Liberal government, facing public scrutiny over its close ties with the CBC, opted to drastically reduce the public broadcaster’s promised share of the Google media fund. Rather than punitive intent, the move may have been politically motivated to limit further controversy over the CBC’s use of public money and its relationship with the governing Liberals.

This latest incident adds to ongoing concerns about the dangerously close relationship between the Liberal government and the public broadcaster. The Trudeau government has already been accused of stacking CBC’s board with cronies and interfering in editorial decisions.

Limiting CBC’s eligibility for the Google fund appears to be another attempt by the Liberals to tighten their grip and send a message in response to growing public criticism.

But the government’s attempt to limit controversy over CBC’s funding through restricting its access to the Google deal appears to have backfired. While intended to quiet criticism about the Liberals’ close relationship with the public broadcaster, the move has created new problems. 

Just as soon the news of the exclusion came out, we started to notice a shift in the public broadcaster’s coverage of the Liberal government. While not overtly critical, some recent CBC articles have highlighted missteps, controversies, and negative perceptions plaguing the Trudeau Liberals.

The article that strikes us as most surprising is one that highlights criticisms of the Trudeau Liberals for their handling of the pandemic with a headline reading “Auditor general flags lack of evidence-based records to back COVID decisions” 

The article covers the Auditor General’s findings that the federal government failed to properly document key decisions around COVID restrictions and economic aid programs.

This unusual article proves one of two scenarios. First, CBC is publishing more stories unfavorable to the Trudeau government in retaliation for being largely excluded from the Google media bailout fund. 

By covering the Liberals in a more negative light, CBC could also assert its impartiality and independence in the wake of accusations of Liberal favoritism. 

The second possibility, which we think is more likely, is that both CBC and the Liberals coordinated for such stories to be published to ease public pressure on their relationship, by choosing which negative stories to publish and which to not, both the Liberals and the CBC will come up on top. 

We could very well start seeing more of such carefully orchestrated headlines and articles creating the illusion of impartiality that aims to quell criticism that CBC goes too easy on the governing party that funds them. 

Either scenario reinforces perceptions that the Liberals’ move to restrict CBC’s Google funding has only bred more questions about collusion between the public broadcaster and the government. The article fuels speculation that CBC is either defying the Liberals for political reasons or conspiring with them in a media manipulation effort.

But seeing as the CBC head Katherine Tait has not commented on the exclusion of the public broadcaster from the Google fund further enforces our belief that there is a secret deal between the CBC and the Liberal government.

Given Prime Minister Trudeau’s history of inappropriate spending and backroom arrangements, it would hardly be surprising if the Liberals quietly compensated the CBC in order to keep both parties satisfied and avoid further controversy.

With the Liberals facing continuous criticism over misuse of taxpayer dollars, they likely wanted to prevent the CBC exclusion from becoming another scandal. Making a hidden deal to appease the CBC could serve the interests of both the public broadcaster and the governing party.

The recent shift in CBC’s coverage to highlight stories unfavorable to Trudeau provides circumstantial evidence that some sort of arrangement occurred behind the scenes.

As a result, we are left to speculate what exactly was offered to minimize CBC’s reaction to being mostly cut off from the $100 million Google fund. But given their track record, it would not be shocking if details emerge in the future of a secret compromise between the Liberals and the public broadcaster they fund.

This entire episode only further erodes public trust in the relationship between Canada’s government and its national media institution.

As Trudeau’s Liberals continue to slide in the polls with Pierre Poilievre’s Conservatives surging ahead, the government’s desperate maneuvers to salvage public support become increasingly obvious. 

Restricting the CBC’s access to the Google fund appears to be just another clumsy attempt by the PMO to exert control and limit political damage. But the blowback has only highlighted the unethical relationship between the governing party and the public broadcaster. 

With an election on the horizon, Canadians are seeing through Trudeau’s tired tactics. His credibility diminishes each time he tries to stack the deck in his favor, whether with media deals or voting changes. 

If the Liberals have any hope of retaining power, it won’t come through backroom manipulation but by earning back the trust of voters, which at this point is highly unlikely. 

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