The Guardian Tuesday 20 January 2015 20.07 GMT
If you think the news is balanced, think again. Journalists who should challenge power are doing its dirty work
When people say they have no politics, it means that their politics aligns with the status quo. None of us are unbiased, none removed from the question of power. We are social creatures who absorb the outlook and opinions of those with whom we associate, and unconciously echo them. Objectivity is impossible.
The illusion of neutrality is one of the reasons for the rotten state of journalism, as those who might have been expected to hold power to account drift thoughtlessly into its arms. But until I came across the scandal currently erupting in Canada, I hadn’t understood just how quickly standards are falling.
In 2013 reporters at CBC, Canada’s equivalent of the BBC, broke a major story. They discovered that RBC – Royal Bank of Canada – had done something cruel and unusual even by banking standards. It was obliging junior staff to train a group of temporary foreign workers, who would then be given the staff’s jobs. Just after the first report was aired, according to the website Canadaland, something odd happened: journalists preparing to expand on the investigation were summoned to a conference call with Amanda Lang, CBC’s senior business correspondent and a star presenter. The reporters she spoke to say she repeatedly attempted to scuttle the story, dismissing it as trivial and dull.
They were astonished. But not half as astonished as when they discovered the following, unpublished facts. First, that Lang had spoken at a series of events run or sponsored by RBC – for which she appears, on one occasion, to have been paid around 15,000 Canadian dollars. Second, that she was booked to speak at an event sponsored by the outsourcing company the bank had hired to implement the cruel practice exposed by her colleagues. Third, that her partner is a board member at RBC.
Lang then interviewed the bank’s chief executive on her own show. When he dismissed the story as unfair and misleading, she did not challenge him. That evening she uncritically repeated his talking points on CBC’s main current affairs programme. Her interests, again, were not revealed. Then she wrote a comment article for the Globe and Mail newspaper suggesting that her colleagues’ story arose from an outdated suspicion of business, was dangerous to Canada’s interests, and was nothing but “a sideshow”. Here’s what she said about the bank’s employment practices: “It’s called capitalism, and it isn’t a dirty word.”