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April 28, 2010

CBC National News, Canada deserves better

The Canadian Charger

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While watching the CBC National News daily for six days, The Canadian Charger was taken aback by how quickly it jumps from one topic to another, bombarding viewers with information so fast they don't have time to think about what they're being told. No in-depth coverage. Not much international news. Canadians deserve better.

With some slight variations, the newscast follows a similar format every night.

It begins with an introduction, lasting about a minute or two, highlighting a couple of stories for the evening broadcast. An attention-grabbing story, such as the crash of the late Polish President’s plane or a meeting of world leaders in the U.S., will usually be included, followed by a Canadian story. Often a Canadian reaction to the international story will appear in the introduction.

If there is no international story, or an attention-grabber, a Canadian news story will be the lead, for example: Prime Minister Stephen Harper denying that former minister Helena Geurgis peddled influence while in office.

News anchor Peter Mansbridge then presents the stories mentioned in the introduction for a couple of minutes. The only time these stories seem to last any longer - and then it’s only about five minutes - is when Mansbridge does a sound bite interviews with a people involved in story or stories, or includes brief newsreel coverage of things like a funeral, debris from a plane crash, or committee meeting of top officials.

Seeing graphic images greatly enhances the impact of a story, and confirms in the viewers’ minds that these events, involving real people in real places, really did take place. This is usually followed by a one- or two-minute bulletin about a Canadian story, often giving new developments in an ongoing story, such as the Guergis affair.

At some point in the first seven or eight minutes, and after the lead stories, there’s usually a 10-second sound bite about the world stock markets, including the TSX, and the performance of the Canadian dollar against the U.S. dollar that day. However, these sound bites may also be about a weather disaster somewhere or a mention of a story that piques or titillates.

At about the nine- or 10-minute mark, either a national or an international story is mentioned for a couple of minutes. These stories, while not as attention-grabbing as the leads, are usually of general interest, such as: a mining disaster, people digging out of a heavy snowstorm, or ongoing negotiations between governments or companies and governments, such as the Toyota car defects situation.

A sports/entertainment story, such as Tiger Woods returning to The Masters, usually pops up between 9:10 and 9:20 p.m. for a couple of minutes, and includes a film clip of someone waving to the crowd or an old clip about the person or situation before the advent of a controversial event.

Somewhere near the bottom of the half hour, Mansbridge asks a panel—usually consisting of Andrew Coyne (Maclean’s), Alan Gregg (polster) and Chantal Hébèrt (Toronto Star)—for its take on one or more stories of the day. While these people give some background and perspective, they’re only on for a couple of minutes and their comments almost always involve innocuous speculation about what may have happened or will happen and why. Seldom do they take a stand on anything. They are always careful to be equivocal on almost all issues, so they can’t be held accountable for what they say.

Rex Murphy often either follows the panel, or substitutes for it, giving his perspective in a meandering, turgid style, which requires listeners to pay careful attention, or risk losing the gist of the story.

He uses satire, bordering on sarcasm, to illustrate his points, and most of the time he criticizes without offering solutions. When he does offer solutions, they’re cut and dried without context or mention of possible ramifications—almost as though “God has spoken.”

The next 15 minutes is taken up with sound bites of titillating details, such as the death of Sex Pistols founder Malcolm McClaren; general interest tidbits, like the finding of fossilized skulls in South Africa; brief interviews with survivors of disasters such as earthquakes and floods; or interviews with the loved ones of those who’ve met with disaster of one kind or another.

The next 10 minutes usually includes features related to the lead stories, such as interviews with veterans or their families, school children familiarizing themselves with the news topics by doing projects such as reading veterans letters or re-enacting scenes from history, or giving their reactions to tragedies people have suffered. All of their comments and accompanying newsreel footage are there and gone in a moment.

About 9:45 in the hour-long broadcast, Mansbridge may also interview an author, expert or official about a lead story. Then comes the weather, usually followed by Mansbridge giving a preview of the next day’s newscast.

It’s telling that all the news coverage, including commentary, is over and done within a matter of a few minutes.

If a story is covered for six or eight minutes, the coverage consists of a series of sound bites accompanied by quick newsreel flashes.

Viewers are left with no choice but to absorb whatever is being thrown at them, which is the same indoctrination technique used by cults.

For analysis and context of national news Canadians have the option of searching the Internet, and for international stories Canadians can tune to Al Jazeera English.

Photo is logo of the Canadian Broadcast Corporation.

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