Is the Knowledge Network about to become a cog in the Campbell administration's spin machine? Thanks to a recent provincial government order, New Democrat advanced education and labour market development critic Dawn Black is worried it might. But an administration spokesperson has said that's not the case, pointing out the network's broadcast license requires its programming be independent.
At issue: in January, the ministry of advanced education and labour market development instructed the network to run programming "focusing on the challenges facing the province."
That order was delivered in a new letter of expectations outlining the relationship between the government and the network.
But the challenges listed in the letter didn't include child poverty, homelessness or many of the other social problems troubling British Columbia.
Instead, the government wants to see programming on "healthcare sustainability," "seniors demographic shifts" and "economic issues," as well as "Asian trade and cultural awareness," "First Nations communities, culture and issues" and the "challenges facing the environment" - four carry-overs from a similar 2009 list.
And it's requiring the network to report back to the ministry on the results of that work.
But it just so happens those challenges mirror major aspects of the government's policy agenda - which includes making health services more sustainable, diversifying the province's economic ties with Asia, developing a New Relationship with First Nations people and maximizing British Columbia potential as a "global leader in climate action."
"A strange or a planned coincidence?" wondered Ms. Black, in an interview with Public Eye. "It's even using government language, I think, Liberal government language in terms of identifying the priorities that they're asking the Knowledge Network to look at."
Take, for example, the term "healthcare sustainability."
"It's a phrase that's certainly politically-loaded in British Columbia from this government and one they've used in spin doctoring. It's troubling to see such a close alignment between the political spin of the Liberals and what is supposed to be a letter of expectations to an educational institution in British Columbia. "
As a result, Ms. Black said the letter "raises some questions around the independence" of the Knowledge Network.
But a government spokesperson stated neither the Campbell administration nor the ministry "are interested in directing content. What we are asking is that these issues be raised in the public forum that the Knowledge Network offers."
As for the list provided to the network, the spokesperson explained it wasn't meant to "exhaustive" but instead "draw attention to some very serious and broad questions."