Q&A: Brian Lilley on privatizing CBCQ&A: Brian Lilley on privatizing CBC

Sun News Network host Brian Lilley wants to privatize the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

That much probably doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone who watches his broadcasts on the network or reads his columns in Sun newspapers, where the CBC is a frequent target. He’s taken his fight off the airwaves with the release of CBC Exposed, a book in which he details past legal fights at the broadcaster and attempts to make the case for privatization.

“CBC Exposed is a book like no other,” the book’s website says. “This book takes on the holy grail of the Canadian media landscape and lays bare the truth about CBC. Reckless reporting at the state broadcaster has ruined lives and cost taxpayers millions upon millions in settlement costs yet no one has ever been held to account. This book does what the consensus media cowards are afraid to do, tell the truth about CBC.”

While the contents of the book may stir debate, the cover is what got may people talking when it was revealed Friday. It features a woman holding a microphone, standing in her underwear with money falling out of her stockings.

I live-tweeted as I read the book Friday, so I figured I should ask him what’s going on.

Why did you choose to depict the CBC as a half-naked woman with money falling out of her underwear?

Well the cover idea came from a graphic designer and the publisher. All I will say is that I’m not a marketing genius, but I hear sex sells.

What’s your elevator pitch for selling the CBC?

Nobody has come up for a valid argument why the government should fund them. Canadians are very good at telling their own stories. The Globe is not a Canadian government-owned newspaper, but you do a good job telling Canadian stories. Sun Media and Sun News aren’t owned by the Canadian government and we do a good job though we come at it from our own point of view. When you ask people why we need a government-owned broadcaster on the scale of the CBC they come up with very loose reasons – but no good reasons.

Is this a hatchet job? I mean, you work for Quebecor after all. Did chief executive officer Pierre Karl Peladeau ask that you take CBC out at the knees?

He has never asked me to do that in the papers and never asked me to do that in this book. This book has nothing to do with Quebecor. There’s a whole chapter on Quebecor’s lawsuit and he didn’t talk to me on it. There’s a chapter on Brian Mulroney, who’s a board member, and he didn’t talk to me. It’s not a hatchet job, I’ve worked in broadcasting a long time and maybe compared to people in print I see things different.

So you’re saying working at one of CBC’s biggest rivals had nothing to do with your decision to write a book calling for CBC to be privatized?

They use their preferential spot on the dial and the system and their billions of dollars to squeeze out the other guys and I think that is wrong. This is something I was interested in before I joined Sun Media. People who have known me a long time, and who have argued with me about the term “state broadcaster,” know that I’ve called it that for at least a decade.

Why do you insist on calling it that? Doesn’t it make it easier to dismiss your arguments?

I’m not the first – Paul Wells at Maclean’s has used it, the Toronto Star, the Globe. It only became toxic when I started using it because I wasn’t using it to talk about how great they are. [President] Hubert Lacroix was just reappointed, it was announced by the Heritage department. Board is appointed by the government. Most of their funding comes from the government. When the state controls that much, then they are the State Broadcaster. Do they parrot the government line? Certainly not this government, that’s true. They may not like it, but it’s an accurate term.

You talk about how other Canadian news organizations don’t cover the CBC with as much zeal as you may like. Do you think that changes in a paywall world?

You know what? The paywall idea could work in many other countries, but it won’t work in Canada. CBC could very well end up being the death of newspapers because when print does eventually go by the wayside, CBC has been building a huge web presence because they know what’s coming. They are building out in Hamilton, Ottawa, Toronto, Kelowna, Kitchener-Waterloo. They will be their own wire service, they will kill off other media using tax dollars. As the rest of the media tries to make it work in a printless age, CBC is in there giving it away for free using tax dollars.

How much original reporting went into the book?

A fair degree in terms of connecting the dots. This is a book where a lot of people are suing each other. I don’t think I’m always writing in my usual voice because I have to be careful. But a fair bit of original reporting because maybe you guys covered one angle, someone else covered another. I had to bring those sources together and find a story. On the back end of the book, there is stuff I had already written and added to.

Ok. Say one nice thing about the CBC.

There are a lot of great people working at the CBC who would have happier lives if their bosses weren’t on the public dole. I’m not saying shut it down, let’s be clear, I’m saying sell the thing.

Interview has been condensed and edited
 

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