A few days ago I heard a panel discussion of a kind I never expected to hear on TV: three leftists were engaged by Aljazeera to discuss the American economy, and in particular the drastic and growing imbalance between rich and poor. This happened on an excellent programme offered by this network every day, called Inside Story.
I have been complaining for years at the refusal of our Canadian networks to give equal space --- or any space at all --- to people of a leftist persuasion. That is especially true of the CBC --- actually the only channel I watch --- which has established its own favored groups of people who are repeatedly called to comment on events. These groups are overwhelmingly rightist in their orientation. For example, Peter Mansbridge is always interviewing Andrew Coyne, Chantel Hebert, and another guy whose name escapes me --- it used to be Alan Gregg --- he calls them “Canada’s most-watched political panel.” Coyne and Gregg are self-confessedly supporters of the Tory party, having worked in their interest for many years. Hebert is neatly positioned between the parties, a rank centrist, and of other favored panelists on other programmes, only Jim Stanford, an economist with the Canadian Auto Workers Union, seems to have thea magic leftist jelly that recommends itself to the CBC brass.
I am not saying any of these people are not competent in what they do, just that the overwhelming political orientation of them all is right-wing. I think it behooves the network to tell us when they employ people who have been or are, committed to a particular political party. For example, Tom Flanagan, once an adviser to Stephen Harper, is a rabid right-winger, whose origins were as a Goldwater republican. He has written two books about Canada’s native policies, without ever having been in a native community.
I wrote this once before, suggesting all sorts of left-leaning people who should be seen at least on an equal basis along with these favored ones, people like James Laxer, Mel Watkins, Murray Dobbin, Naomi Klein, Judy Rebick, and many others, each of whom would give us more valuable commentary on the state of the nation than the appalling Rex Murphy, the darling of CBC’s National News. On that occasion much to my surprise, my suggestion was reprinted by the Centre for Poiicy Alternatives. But of course, even that had no effect: the same old dreary groups are still whistled up to give us their same dreary commentaries that are usually so divorced from the real problems of the nation.
The discussion on Aljazeera between Cornel West, a leading, left-leaning black intellectual in the US, who made no bones about the fact that the US, far from being a democracy, is actually an oligarchy, Barbara Ehrenreich, a leftist writer who has written some of the most important books critical of American capitalism and its nefarious works, and Tavis Smiley, author of a recent devastatingly informative report on the US imbalance, was like a breath of fresh air, allowing the commentators to pin their audience down with pitiless facts about how screwed the US system has become, and how dangerous it is now to the livelihoods of even people who once considered themselves middle class and untouchable.
We need more of this kind of stuff, and I think Aljazeera could serve as a kind of model to our programmers, because day after day they summon up authorities on Middle Eastern affairs especially who are unknown to Western audiences, but who have challenging things to say about the state of affairs in global politics.
Many Sundays they have a programme call Café which gathers a rich collection of well-informed, usually youngish, people in a Tunisian cafe, and lets them go, saying whatever it is that is on their minds. Very often they are shouting each other down, so enthusiastic are that at this opportunity to speak their minds. But I find this, among other programmes, immensely informative about the real state of affairs in these nations whose realities have for so long been disguised from us behind a mountain of Western waffle.