CBC pledges to combat 'disinformation' and 'harassment' of media by targeting 'extreme right-wing populists'

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) is teaming up with Europe to combat online 'misinformation' and 'disinformation' through a new initiative called the 'Public Spaces Incubator.'

CBC pledges to combat 'disinformation' and 'harassment' of media by targeting 'extreme right-wing populists'
The Canadian Press / Tijana Martin
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 According to a press release by the public broadcaster, the program's primary goal is to address the "most threatening phenomena of our time" — online abuse and misinformation. 

"This partnership of four of the world's leading public broadcasters underlines our collective and common purpose to address one of the most threatening phenomena of our time — unfettered online abuse," said CBC President Catherine Tait. 

Tait claimed online spaces free from disinformation, misinformation, harassment and abuse "are near extinction." 

The program is spearheaded by the NGO New_Public, a project by the University of Texas at Austin and the National Conference on Citizenship. Other public broadcasters joining the initiative include Belgium's RTBF, Switzerland's SGR SSR, and Germany's ZDF. 

The CBC president toured Canada to shore up support with declining advertising revenue and readership in recent years remaining a problem for the public broadcaster.

During an interview with The Globe and Mail last week, Tait signalled a shift from TV and radio broadcasts to online-only is unlikely to happen over the next decade but will eventually.

"We don't want to drag Canadians to digital. They are dragging us," she said. "We saw it in the pandemic; streaming subscriptions go way up, and those people don't return to conventional television."

However, a shift to online-only would require changing the Broadcasting Act, which mandates the CBC provide radio and television services that "inform, enlightens and entertains."

According to the CBC's annual reports from 1937 to 2019, the Forum for Research and Policy in Communications (FRPC) uncovered significant "inconsistencies in [the] presentation" of data, which made it difficult to track the broadcaster's funding and performance.

It stated that the annual reports provide "little objective information" about the CBC's fulfillment of its mandate and "so little consistent historical financial information" that Parliament's support for its operations "cannot be easily assessed."

"CBC today provides little, if any, detailed information about the availability of its services in Canada and their use by the public, or about the programming that it produces each year," reads the FRPC analysis.

Simultaneously, Unifor released a report on the alleged harassment of journalists, calling for social media platforms to issue stricter penalties for those who verbally or physically abuse media workers.

It blamed "right-wing" politicians for pushing the "Trumpist narrative of 'fake news'" affecting mainstream media coverage.

"A general increase in the polarization of political discourse, driven by a rise in extreme right-wing ideologies, and coupled with the COVID crisis and its public health and economic responses, have contributed to the weaponization of harassment and abuse against journalists," claimed Unifor. 

"Some politicians and public figures, especially extreme right-wing populists, have increasingly begun to circumvent the press altogether, using social media and other platforms to spread misinformation and disinformation, free from the scrutiny and accountability provided by the press."

The report comes after a campaign by media institutions calling on governments to counteract the harassment of media workers. The CBC is now engaging with international partners to counteract alleged harassment.

Through the "Public Spaces Incubator." the media coalition intends to develop alternative social platforms and spaces free from harassment and disinformation. Its focus is "serving public knowledge and creating positive social connections."

But the partnership isn't the first time the CBC allied with international organizations to police misinformation online. 

As reported by True North in 2021, Facebook Canada picked CBC as an election fact-checker to monitor rival media. However, the social media giant only attributed three fact-checks to CBC journalists after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dropped the writ that election cycle.

"When a fact-checker rates a piece of content as false, we significantly reduce its distribution so that fewer people can see it," wrote Facebook. 

"We notify people who try to share the content or previously shared it that the information is false, and we apply a warning label that links to the fact checkers' article disproving the claim."

Nevertheless, the CBC recently misled Canadians on a Catholic fundraiser for residential school victims and against Alberta Premier Danielle Smith over spreading "baseless allegations" her staff sent prosecutors emails about the Coutts blockade.

According to the FRPC, the public broadcaster has cost Canadian taxpayers approximately $80 billion since 1937.

"Canadians should be allowed to choose which news outlet to support voluntarily, and other media organizations shouldn't be forced to compete with the taxpayer-funded CBC," said Franco Terrazzano, Federal Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

"It's time to defund the CBC."

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