Pesky Preconceptions

Two interviews heard on talk radio provoke a rant about sloppy thinking and preconceptions (those other than mine, I mean).


Two stories on the morning radio show; two typical reactions from the CBC host.

Story #1 ““ Three female teens (now 16 and 17; just 15 and 16 when arrested and charged) had appeared in court to plead ‘not guilty’ on 74 counts involving forcible confinement, uttering threats, procuring for prostitution, robbery, human trafficking, sexual assault, and making child pornography. The alleged victims? Seven other female teens (then 13 to 18), allegedly lured on social media to what were supposed to be parties, and then variously drugged, physically/verbally intimidated, and forcibly delivered to adult men for sex; or beaten, stripped and photographed. Allegedly.

Are the teens guilty as charged? That has not yet been determined in a court of law — which will be a youth court, in keeping with their ages. But Crown prosecutors have asked the judge that if they are convicted, they be sentenced as adults, dramatically increasing the potential severity of their sentences.

The only interviewee for this story was a defence lawyer who said that such a request for adult sentencing of youth offenders is unprecedented in his experience. It’s usually reserved for youths who are very close to the age of majority at the time of the offence, and the offence for which the request is made is usually murder.

The talk show host seemed concerned about prosecutorial harshness. I mean, what was the point of having a Youth Criminal Justice Act at all, if these alleged youthful offenders could be sentenced (albeit not tried) as adults? The defence lawyer mildly noted that these requests were never made lightly.

As the segment ended, I noted that there had been not a word about the alleged victims. Typical, I thought.

Story #2 ““ Ontario Tire Stewardship, an Ontario Crown agency responsible for disposing of tires, has recently increased their fees (collected at the time/point of sale, thanks to enabling legislation). The only interviewee was a Conservative MPP who was complaining about the approximately 20-fold increase in recycling fees for tractor tires (or, as it gets reported, a ‘2,200 percent increase’, which sounds much worse). He had his speaking points down — arguing for government to get out of the (badly managed, per his notes) business of recycling tires and, instead, regulate tire disposal and let the private sector figure out how to meet the regulations, efficiently and cost-effectively. He mentioned the dramatically lower recycling fees in adjacent jurisdictions.

The talk show host seemed indignant. Ontario Tire Stewardship had announced that these fees were being increased to cover the actual costs of recycling. How could he suggest that their costs weren’t exactly (and necessarily) as advertised?

As the segment ended, I noted that there had been no interest in exploring his argument that business can “do stuff” — including disposing of tired-out tires — more efficiently than government. Typical, I thought.

I was also some puzzled by the host’s philosophical position. If the government — in the form of Crown prosecutors — can’t be trusted to make a reasonable request in what one hopes is an unprecedented case, then why would we trust a Crown agency to report objectively on its own business practices? I mean, are we supposed to trust government or not? These CBC guys! They can’t even get their own preconceptions straight!

But it’s got to be more complicated than that, because both of these stories have government on both ‘sides’ as it were, in various guises. Story #1 is lousy with government — Parliament, which enacted the Youth Criminal Justice Act in the first place, and by both the Crown prosecutors making the request and the judge ruling on it.

Story #2 is government-heavy as well. The elected MPP is as much a government representative as the recycling agency — why shouldn’t he be justified in challenging the agency’s report? More — isn’t he responsible for such a challenge?

The format of morning radio is great for weather forecasts and traffic updates. When it doesn’t go all cutesy, it’s kinda fun for community events. It’s just fine for sports results and news headlines. But when it comes to interviewing people about complex issues, a general contrarian impulse (about which, I would know little) doesn’t make the grade. It may make it seem like you’re asking the hard questions in an interview, but it doesn’t, you know, advance the conversation. It doesn’t rate as thoughtful, informed journalism — the kind that looks at all sides of an issue and offers a new, or at least a coherent, perspective. A perspective, perhaps, to inform or challenge one’s own preconceptions.

Even (ahem) a preconception about the CBC.

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4 Responses to Pesky Preconceptions

  1. Jim taylor says:

    i, ahem, worked for the cbc for seven years…. from a historical perspective, i think that we would not have a canada distinct from the excited states of america without the cbc giving us a kind of identity. i am, in other words, fiercely loyal. but it was also one of the most cumbersome, inward-focussed, bureaucracies i have ever encountered. the question becomes whether a self-obsessed but independent institution can better probe important issues than a profit- and numbers-obsessed corporation? my experience with profit-making organizations suggests that despite their lofty claims of existing to provide services to their customers and clients, the only thing that ultimately matters is their bottom line. (now that i’m reduced to one-finger typing again, using the shift key has become an unnecessary inconvenience.)
    jim t

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      jim – i could play the toujours gai mehitabel to your archy, but won’t. As a young mother, I remember listening to Gzowksi in the morning, and craved that sense of connection with a broader community – any community at all, really! I remember listening to Ideas as I drifted off to sleep, and to the broadcasts of the Massey Lectures — all great stuff. I do think they often have a knee-jerk liberal reaction and, as I suggested in this piece, not always an insightful approach, but neither are private broadcasters necessarily bias-free or deep thinkers. And the format of the venue can be the overwhelming driver for shallow coverage. Maybe the local morning radio shows would do better to stay out of areas they’re not equipped to do justice to.

  2. Eric says:

    “I mean, are we supposed to trust government or not?”

    Not – they fund the CBC.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Eric – Ah, but they also fund the police and the armed forces and healthcare and education… Wait a minute! That’s really us funding all those things. Oh, no! Now we can’t even trust ourselves? I feel like Pogo – “We have seen the enemy and they is us.” But in any case, think how dreary if you had no one to argue with.

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