Peter Mansbridge Says Media’s Biggest Threat Is Public Lack Of Trust

With Canada’s journalism industry facing a host of challenges – falling incomes, disappearing jobs, lack of diversity in newsrooms – former CBC chief correspondent Peter Mansbridge says his biggest threat today is lack of confidence.

“You just have to look at the ratings that come out every few months in different parts of the world on confidence, in terms of different professions, and for journalism, they’ve gone down,” Mansbridge said. Sunday magazine host Piya Chattopadhyay.

“It’s not as low as politicians, but it’s low, and yes we can’t afford it to be low,” he said.

According to a recent Ipsos poll, Canadian public confidence in news media increased from 72% in 2019 to 66% in 2021, especially for traditional sources like broadcast television and print newspapers.

Mansbridge, is seen here at the 2018 Canadian Screen Awards where he accepted a Lifetime Achievement Award. (Peter Power / Canadian Press)

In other report by the communications firm Edelman, 49 percent of Canadians polled agreed that “journalists and reporters deliberately try to mislead people by saying things they know to be false or grossly exaggerated.”

“If we don’t have the trust of our audience – you know, the viewers, the listeners, the readers. If we don’t have that trust, we have nothing,” Mansbridge said. “Journalism is built on credibility. Credibility is built on trust and truth. And we face a challenge on the trust factor.”

Despite the resignation of The Nationalanchor chairman of in 2017, Manbridge has continued to work, from hosting special events at the CBC and election coverage to hosting his own news podcast The bridge.

He is currently publishing an autobiography entitled Off the Record, to be released on October 5, sharing stories from his 50-year career in journalism.

The only known photo of Mansbridge on CBC in Fort Churchill, Man. (University of Toronto Archives)

“Simon and Schuster wanted to call it memories. And I said, ‘No, no, that sounds like some kind of near-death experience,’” he said. “I don’t want that. I just want anecdotes, you know, and I’m not done yet.”

Among his memorable moments is an interview with legendary musician and personal friend Gord Downie, as well as a thorny interview with former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Peter Mansbridge with Margaret Thatcher

In this 1993 interview, Margaret Thatcher sits down with Peter Mansbridge to discuss the principles of leadership. 3:39

But he says if he started today his career would be very different.

“Well I would watch a life of baggage handling,” Mansbridge said, referring to the story of how it was discovered while working at the Churchill, Man., Airport in 1968. The manager of the local CBC station, Gaston Charpentier, offered him a job as a host of a nighttime radio show after hearing his voice over the speaker.

Mansbridge acknowledges that since then the field has become very competitive, especially following the Watergate scandal of the 1970s, which attracted more people to the profession.

Mansbridge speaks with Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie in 2016. It was Downie’s first interview since being diagnosed with cancer. Downie died in 2017. (Lara Chatterjee / Jean-François Bisson)

“If this job were open today, there would be 200 people lined up for this job. Then there was nobody,” he said. “So my life would have been very different.”

He says young journalists who are trying to be successful today should “be determined”.

“Pick a goal. Know what you want to do … and don’t give up,” he said, recounting that he himself was turned down three times before he was finally offered a journalist job for The National.

Mansbridge meets Pope John Paul II. Throughout his five-decade career, Mansbridge has met and interviewed leaders and personalities from around the world. (The Vatican)

When it comes to the broader journalism industry, Mansbridge says working to earn public trust is essential. He says the news media need to be “much more transparent” about how they make their decisions.

Whether it’s how we decide what’s news and what isn’t, why one item gets so much more time than another, how we determine who is worthy of anonymity in sourcing, ”he said.

Written by Althea Manasan. Interview conducted by Tracy Fuller.

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