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Why is the CBC afraid of Harper?

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Why is the CBC afraid of Harper?

As a performer once called a “theatrical rabble-rouser” by The Globe and Mail, I’m used to causing and confronting offence, but I was nonetheless appalled to hear that my work was censored by our own public broadcaster, the CBC, last week, apparently because of a fear that broadcasting the title of one of my shows, Fucking Stephen Harper, would offend our prime minister.
 
“Is this still Canada?” I wondered. “Is this the same CBC that we’re supposed to trust with reporting the news and casting a critical eye to our government?”
 
It seems speech is no longer free when it comes to Stephen Harper.
 
Some background: I’ve been touring my one-man show, Fucking Stephen Harper: How I Sexually Assaulted the 22nd Prime Minister of Canada and Saved Democracy, since 2009. It’s a fictionalized account of my actual work covering the 2008 federal election for Xtra, a satirical look at politics and the media in Canada, and a call to action for queer rights in Canada.
 
I’ve performed the show in 11 cities across Canada to sold-out houses, several awards and critical acclaim. I’ve also used the show to raise money for HIV/AIDS-related charities that lost federal funding in the 2008 Harper budget.
 
I’d been invited to take the show to the Atlantic Fringe Festival and I leapt at the opportunity. Halifax is a wonderful town with a surprisingly active and engaged queer community. I thought the show would be a perfect fit – and since I was planning to retire it this year, I was happy to get out east with it.
 
Fringe theatre festivals typically assign performers to non-traditional theatre spaces as a way to contain costs. The Atlantic Fringe assigned me to the Bronfman Theatre in the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21.
 
The morning after a warm opening, my first indication of trouble arrived. I was called by a CBC Nova Scotia journalist who wanted to know if I’d had any trouble because I’m performing a show that’s critical of the government in a federally owned building. She thought it was “ironic.”
 
I told her it was a bizarre line of questioning. Not only did I have nothing to do with the booking, but, by her own admission, no one had been raising any questions about my performance there. I was left with the impression she was trying to create a controversy.
 
Moreover, the show is critical of Stephen Harper. Harper doesn’t own the museum. The Canadian people do.
 
And isn’t it especially absurd coming from the CBC, which has a long tradition of lampooning government officials on its shows The Rick Mercer Report and This Hour Has 22 Minutes?
 
No story ever came of her digging, but when I alerted the Fringe that they may have to put out a fire, one of the festival’s directors told me a more disturbing story. A week earlier, he’d gone to the CBC radio station to do a live interview about the Fringe and was told that CBC Nova Scotia staff members had decided they couldn’t even say the name of my show on the air lest they offend the prime minister.
 
“He signs our cheques,” the festival director was told.
 
(I note that another show at the festival, Problems with Authority, an autobiographical tale from the man who tossed a pie at former PM Jean Chrétien, was not similarly censored by the CBC.)
 
Never mind the inaccuracy of that statement. How absurd is it that a journalist – even an arts reporter – would be afraid of offending the government? Are we in communist China?
 
Maybe we are.
 
Last week, depending on whom you believe, either the RCMP and/or NAV Canada ordered a plane grounded either because it was carrying a banner for a group protesting the Harper government or because they inaccurately believed it was flying in restricted airspace.
 
Do we now have both a state broadcaster that restricts messages critical of the government and a police force that silences and intimidates critics? We already have a prime minister who’s rebranded the government as “The Harper Government.” Is the CBC now trying to turn the whole of the federal infrastructure, from museums to our airspace, into Harper’s personal possessions?
 
And how complicit have the arts become in this encroaching cult of personality? Earlier this year, playwright Michael Healey claimed he’d had a play pulled from consideration at Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre over fears it would insult the prime minister and put the theatre’s federal funding at risk. That play, Proud, is now being produced independently in Toronto and opens Sept 20.
 
It strikes me that I can’t think of much Canadian art that is critical of our federal government. Despite Harper’s six-year reign, he’s inspired very little artistic expression in any discipline. Even the CBC’s satirists handle the government with kid gloves, perhaps knowing that he ultimately controls the flow of funds into the CBC’s annual subsidy.
 
I believe the arts community should be leaders in critical thought and speech when the government commits absurdities. The answer to threats, intimidation and censorship should never be to cower away from controversy. It can only be more speech, more criticism and more engagement with our communities of support.
 
Otherwise, our cowardice consigns us to irrelevance.
 

Rob Salerno is a former staff reporter at
Xtra and a writer and actor who has created five original award-winning shows.
  
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Comments

Get over yourself
Stories don't get aired all the time for a whole bunch of reasons. The CBC is as left wing as mainstream media gets and they are continually critical of Harper. It doesn't mean there was a conspiracy - an editor may have decided the story wasn't credible because it was all based on unsubstantiated allegations and rumor. Nothing in Salerno's article shows it to be anything but that. I don't blame him for taking the opportunity to promote himself, but don't expect anyone to buy into this.
CBC shows that make fun of Harper
There was a recent article in the Globe and Mail on how a CBC TV show, This Hour Has 22 Minutes, will be continuing with their tradition of making fun of Harper. See http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/television/all-in-a-days-work-poking-fun-at-laura-secord-hockey-and-harper/article4546063/
CBC running scared from Harper, yes.
All those cushy jobs, entitlements, elitism, and sycophant culture is becoming a little clearer apparently to those who have eyes and ears. The CBC is most definitely NOT left wing, they are a Corporate/Government feminist mouthpiece. They only appear a certain way, perhaps left-wing,with government policies that don't matter (such as documentaries about PM's). But on policies that DO matter they tow the line, after all we gotta keep George Straddlemyface and the rest in the lifestyle they have become accustomed and entitled to. Anyway Rob, real trained artists are doing work that is critical of the disaster of Canada but are shut out(silenced)from the arts community for the most part. And they most certainly DO NOT receive gov't grants, they don't even apply,(get it?). One cannot do significant critical art work and be financed by the state at the same time, including housing. They are in-congruent. It's impossible. Can't be done. For those who have eyes and ears this is obvious. For others, not so much.
The CBC has a left-wing bias
I don't think the CBC is afraid of Harper. The CBC has had a left-wing bias for decades. For example, in the same way that the CBC cranked out a TV miniseries in 2002 dramatizing and glorifying the life of the late Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, the CBC is now filming on a TV movie glorifying the life of the late NDP leader Jack Layton and his wife, NDP MP Olivia Chow. See http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/story/2012/08/07/pol-cp-layton-movie.html While the CBC makes movies glorifying Liberal and NDP leaders, they don't make TV dramas on the lives of Conservative Prime Ministers. This never-ending left wing bias is one of the reasons why the CBC is intellectually and creatively inferior to other public broadcasters like the BBC and PBS - who produce far better and more popular shows with the same (or fewer) resources. For example, the BBC has produced lots of shows and movies with non-traditional, non-stereotypical LGBT characters. There are no such LGBT characters on the CBC. The CBC is as stale as the middle-aged men who run it.
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