On the night of July 1, 2017, Canada’s 150th birthday, Peter Mansbridge appeared for the final time as Chief Correspondent for CBC News and Lead Anchor of The National. He charmingly signed off, “That’s The National for this Friday night. From CBC News, I’m Peter Mansbridge. Thanks for watching.”
It must have been strange for him. His almost three-decade-long dedication to sharing the news nightly with his country and 50 years with the CBC ended with the blink of a fireworks show on Parliament Hill. It was certainly strange for me, having never known a world without Mansbridge, though never truly recognizing his relevance to Canadian culture.
We Canadians are not overtly prideful. There are very few people that we may point to and say, “That person represents Canada.” But I think Mansbridge falls into that category — or at the very least, he should be a contender. Now that U of T Libraries’ Media Commons has archived material from his long CBC career, his importance as a journalist is cemented in our history for all to see.
Once described by The Globe and Mail as one of “Canada’s best-known celebrities,” Mansbridge narrated numerous major moments in Canadian and world history from 1988–2017 in his cool and calm voice. Some stories were of grief, such as the September 11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center, and others of triumph, such as the fall of the Berlin Wall. However, no matter what was being said, Mansbridge stood as a point of convergence between uncontrollable world forces and Canadians.
Canadians had faith in Mansbridge — faith because he was an upright citizen who had other Canadians in mind. Importantly, with his archives, U of T has received a memory of life before what now is dubbed the post-truth era. Newer generations will not have the kinds of experiences as those before them did with Mansbridge.
Fake news, the politicization and monopolization of broadcasting, the delegitimizing of truth, attacks on freedom of the press — these are what U of T students from my generation know. These are the realities of a social environment that is spoiling trust between news sources and the people.
According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, 2019 is the year of “Trust at Work” because the mass population is repairing its relationship with its social institutions. However, 57 per cent of the general Canadian population continues to distrust the media. While this number is generally lower than that in other social institutions, it’s especially worrying when paired with the rise to 71 per cent of Canadians who are worried about the use of fake news as a weapon, and the only 43 per cent of Canadians who consider journalism as a credible source for information.
We are afraid, perhaps rightly so, that lies are seeping into the news cycle. And from this comes an uncertainty in media outlets themselves. Readers cannot and will not unconditionally accept information anymore, no matter the political leanings of the news source.
“You cannot be post-truth,” explains retired Cambridge University philosophy professor Simon Blackburn. History is characterized by deception and manipulation, and society holds everyday truths no less important than before. “What we do have, though, is a problem in other domains, like politics and religion and ethics. There is a loss of authority in these areas, meaning there’s no certain or agreed-upon way of getting at the truth.”
We have passed the era of trust in journalism, of an unthinking acceptance of facts and an unquestioning belief in sources, of readers not needing to refine the onslaught of constant information and not having to be the journalists themselves.
Mansbridge’s exit may be the final blow for Canadians. It was a trumpet calling the ‘era of trust’ to an end. Over a year into the Trump administration, with ‘fake news’ thrown disparagingly at journalists and political meddling emerging through social media, we have lost a faith in news coverage. Today, many call to defund the CBC.
Nowadays, I think we would all enjoy a little more stability and integrity in our lives. Canada needs another Mansbridge — a trusted figure who may arrive in our living rooms in one generation and stay with us for generations to come. And Canadians would readily accept one, especially on The National, as watchers are actively disengaging from the program because, as television critic John Doyle puts it, “The hour of news is confusing and [viewers] don’t feel they’re getting a definitive, authentic roundup of the important news of the day.”
For now, I propose to any fellow U of T students going through an existential crisis over the age of distrust to follow my lead. Go to the Media Commons, pull up Mansbridge’s archives, and try to relive any year before 2017. I’m sure it was interesting.
Emily Hurmizi is a first-year Humanities student at Victoria College.