Since Peter Mansbridge announced last year that he was retiring from his post as anchor of The National, there has been plenty of speculation about how the show would use his departure as an opportunity to revamp. Criticisms of the show have ranged from political bias to being too centered around its anchor and many looked forward to a fresh start. As a result, yesterday’s announcement that the anchor position will be split among Rosemary Barton, Andrew Chang, Adrienne Arsenault, and Ian Hanomansing created quite a stir.
While The Beaverton may have won for the funniest story about the change, the announcement simultaneously harkens back to the CBC’s earliest days, when announcers were not expected to be household names, while also signalling a potentially dangerous shift in how the national broadcaster intends to deliver its news.
During the Moose River Mine Disaster in the spring of 1936, J. Frank Willis became a celebrity for his fiery and extravagant descriptions over Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission stations. When the CBC started later that fall, General Manager Gladstone Murray wanted to make sure that no personality was bigger than the Corporation, which contributed to his effort to standardize the accent and vocabulary heard on CBC programs.
Over time that policy was challenged by the likes of Matthew Halton, whose updates from Europe during the Second World War made him one of the best-known journalists of the period. Since then, the idea that journalists should remain largely anonymous has really virtually disappeared. One could argue that Knowlton Nash and Peter Mansbridge shattered that idea in Canada as both are inextricably linked with the CBC’s wider news service.
In an era where news outlets are routinely accused of partisan motives, returning to the days of less prominent individual journalists can help alleviate that problem. For the CBC, the news division will no longer be identified by a single person, whose personal beliefs can come to represent the entire organization. Additionally, four people, who have very different professional backgrounds, bring different perspectives and, with that, a layer of protection against claims of partisanship.
If the CBC had just announced the personnel change, that would have been fine. But the Corporation added something to its announcement that made yesterday feel like yet another step in the ever increasing shift towards American style news.