CBC and Conservative Outlets Trade Partisan Shots Over Lawsuit

Apparently, self-awareness is dead. Following the CBC’s copyright lawsuit against the Conservative party, things took a nasty partisan turn.

Yesterday, the CBC launched a copyright lawsuit against the Conservative party. Both our and third party analysis found that the lawsuit wound up being built on highly questionable arguments surrounding moral rights. With the Conservative party saying that they will rigorously defend themselves in court, it seems that this is destined to be decided by a judge.

A core argument by the CBC is that the use of their content would make them appear biased. Therefore, they feel they have a right to go after the party on moral rights grounds.

Following the developments, the CBC posted a story about their lawsuit. Here’s one part of the article:

The court documents filed Thursday listed The National co-host Rosemary Barton and parliamentary bureau reporter John Paul Tasker as applicants in the filing, along with the CBC.

In a statement Saturday, Jennifer McGuire, CBC News general manager and editor in chief, and Luce Julien, general director of information programming for Radio-Canada, said the court filing would be amended to remove the names of the journalists as applicants.

“To be clear, CBC/Radio Canada was the driver of this process, not the journalists,” the statement said. “CBC/Radio Canada named and added the journalists to the application because their images and content were used inappropriately. In order to avoid any confusion about the role of Rosemary Barton and John Paul Tasker, we intend to file an amendment to remove their names as applicants when the court opens on Tuesday.”

This, of course, is a perfectly fine thing to post. It’s an update on the lawsuit and that they are removing specific journalists names as people making the legal complaint. What is also perfectly fine is an acknowledgement that they did, in fact, file a lawsuit. Even saying why they feel they filed the lawsuit is perfectly fine in our view. What the CBC should have done is end the article right there. They made their view known and offered an update on the proceedings. Cut it off there. End of story.

Unfortunately, as you can tell by the headline, it didn’t end there. This is where things started going off the rails. The article then went on to say this:

In response, the Conservatives used the lawsuit as a fundraising pitch, arguing in an email to supporters that CBC “footage should be usable by those who fund them.”

The party is asking for donations so that it can “hit back hard” against “this attack on free expression.”

As well, the Conservative Party says in a statement on its website that it plans to fight the CBC legal action.

In their statement, McGuire and Julien said they received no assurance from the Conservative Party that it wouldn’t happen again, so “it is therefore critical for us to provide clarity through the court to safeguard the integrity and professional independence of our journalism and our journalists.”

Already, some could take the lawsuit, in and of itself, as a sign that the CBC is biased against Conservatives. This, of course, is terribly ironic given what some of the core CBC arguments are in the first place. From a Conservative perspective, this could be seen as further proof of this rather than the CBC trying to protect their reputation. From the Liberal party perspective, the comments can be seen as just more evidence that the Conservatives will do anything and everything to get elected including using the journalists personal integrity to accomplish this.

Regardless, this politically winds up being an easy opening for Conservatives who can very easily portray this as a smoking gun for media bias by pointing out how flawed the arguments are. As long as Conservatives play this well, they can even score some easy political points by both pointing to the statement and excerpts from the lawsuit as being either weak or unsubstantiated. Throw in a few legal counter-arguments to the lawsuit about why the CBC is legally in the wrong, dust their hands and call it a day. A very easy situation for them to come out ahead.

Again, as the title suggests, leave it to the Conservatives to screw this up.

The Toronto Sun published two opinion pieces by separate individuals lambasting the network for their action. One is from Brian Lilley who offered these comments:

I don’t know how the brain trust over at CBC thought this would look good on them.

The broadcaster most thought of as being in the pocket of Justin Trudeau and the Liberals has decided to sue the Conservative Party with less than two weeks to go before voting day.

The lawsuit — which claims copyright infringement — is not only bad optics, its a bad decision from a legal point of view.

Now McGuire, who is really behind the lawsuit as proven by her own statements released Saturday, is at it again.

The worry of CBC is that the public may not think they are impartial if these clips are used in a political ad. The reality is that CBC looks very biased as a result of this lawsuit.

In a separate column posted by Warren Kinsella, we see this:

When this writer heard about the lawsuit, it sounded like a joke, or an Internet meme. It was farcical.

Now, Conservatives have had a long (and sometimes also unreasonable) dislike for the CBC. Voters who identify themselves as conservative are acutely focused on media bias, particularly as it exists at progressive media organizations like CBC.

A number of Rasmussen polls conducted in the U.S. during the 2012 and 2016 presidential races found that two out of three conservative voters — and sometimes as many as three out of four — felt the media give progressive politicians a much easier time. They believe media bias is real.

So, when Justin Trudeau confidante Gerald Butts was recently photographed alone at an intimate dinner with Huffington Post Ottawa bureau chief Althia Raj — an English leaders’ debate moderator — Conservatives were apoplectic. It showed an inappropriate bias, they said.

You have two different writers writing two separate pieces on the exact same story. Both suffer from the exact same problem. Rather than focus on the legal questions (be it moral rights, why fair dealing should prevail in all of this, etc.) brought forth in the lawsuit, the focus, instead, wound up being political criticisms which border on conspiracy theory. The existence of the lawsuit, rather than the merits of it, became the focus (the text of the lawsuit is, after all, available for all to read now). These people had a shotgun and were tasked with hitting the broadside of a barn and both successfully miss.

To make matters worse, of course, is the fact that the opinion pieces winds up inadvertently making the case that the Toronto Sun is no better than the CBC when it comes to media bias. After all, with gold headlines like “EDITORIAL: Ford doesn’t need to pick fights he’s already won”, and “GOLDSTEIN: The fiscal follies of Justin Trudeau”, how could one possibly think that the source in question has Conservative bias (sarcasm detector explodes)?

In the end, you wind up with a CBC that looks like they back the Liberal party and another outlet that practically screams that if you don’t support the Conservative party, you are a biased shill. No one looks any better off in the end. If a non-partisan were to look at all of this and scream “everyone is biased”, that would probably be the single most understandable thing to hear in all of this up to this point.

For quite some time, even we thought seriously about adding bracketed letters to show political allegiances to sources when it comes to issues that can touch on politics. So, if sources like the CBC (L) and the Toronto Sun (C) want to look like neutral platforms for information and news, all of them need to sit down and have a serious rethink on what they publish. Until then, the question, “Which party do they back?” is not an unfair question.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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