POLITICS
11/25/2011 04:57 EST | Updated 01/25/2012 05:12 EST

Peter Mansbridge: Anchor Says Onslaught Of CBC Criticism 'Part Of The Package'

TORONTO - CBC's chief anchor Peter Mansbridge says having criticisms levelled at the beleaguered network is nothing new, and a recent barrage from federal politicians, media rivals and ordinary citizens is "part of the package."

Despite attacks questioning the network's costs and accountability, Mansbridge says he's convinced most Canadians value the public broadcaster.

"Canadians own the CBC, they have every right to make those feelings known and to challenge us whenever they can and we should take some pride in the fact that they do," says Mansbridge, who on Friday was helping the CBC outline its winter programming schedule.

"This is no different than most times for the CBC -- we're under the microscope, we're being challenged on a lot of different fronts on the whole raison d'etre."

The recent onslaught has been particularly bitter. A House of Commons committee sought access to CBC documents that the network says should stay secret, to protect sensitive journalistic, creative and programming details. The battle stemmed from dozens of access to information requests filed by rival media group Quebecor. The committee backed off Thursday and returned the sealed documents to the CBC after a judge ruled against the broadcaster in a court action.

Meanwhile, Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber gave notice Friday of his intention to put four questions on the order paper that seek a slew of financial details including the salaries of CBC stars Mansbridge, George Strombolopolous and Rick Mercer.

"That's my business," Mansbridge says of the salary question that's dogged him for years.

"It's asked of me all the time -- I don't know how many people are badgered about how much money they make. First of all, it's the corporation's decision to decide whether or not it wants to release that kind of information. So far they've chosen not to."

CBC has suggested that keeping Mansbridge's salary secret has been necessary to stave off poaching efforts by rival broadcasters.

But Mansbridge says money has never been a factor in his decision to remain at the CBC and "The National," which he has hosted since 1988.

"I've been offered jobs by different broadcasters in the private sector throughout my career, both in this country and outside this country. In every case the salary offered to me has been higher than what I made at the CBC at the time of the offer. Every case. You can draw whatever conclusions you want from that."

Mansbridge said he's bracing for budget cuts to the CBC in light of federal government efforts to chip away at its $31-billion deficit, which includes plans to cut overall spending by $4 billion a year.

How that plays out has yet to be seen, but the veteran newsman says he's wary of touching the CBC's news division, which he considers the corporation's "heart and soul."

"I've seen this movie many times before -- sometimes those cuts have been handled well in my view, sometimes they haven't been handled well. Hopefully this will be a time when they're handled well," he says.

"I want the damage to the news department to be limited -- we're going to get cut, just like everybody else within our corporation -- I still think that news and current affairs is one of the most important things that we, as the national public broadcaster, do."

Mansbridge said he relishes every opportunity he gets to step out from behind the news desk, which include his weekly interview series "Mansbridge One On One."

Saturday's episode features an interview with businessman and politician Naguib Sawiris, who played a key role as a mediator between Egyptian protesters and Hosni Mubarak's regime. In the interview, Sawiris predicts the volatile country is set to become the next Iran.

"These things are never as easy as they look at first -- we sort of all parachuted in there in January and February and we covered the story, the end of Mubarek, and then we all sort of disappeared after he was gone," Mansbridge says of his views on Egypt.

"I worry that we in the media generally, and in the West, were too quick to sort of stamp this as a 'revolution accomplished' and move on.

"One of the challenges to the media is to constantly be updating and going back to the source of big stories to see what's really happened. Well, the Egypt story's a lot more complicated than most of us thought it was going to be."

Despite massive changes to the way people consume and produce news in the past decade, Mansbridge says TV news still draws viewers looking for up-to-date information when big events break.

Mansbridge said he's excited by the new possibilities technology has brought to his field -- the ability to report from a war zone in particular -- but notes there are new challenges and financial pressures, as well.

He also spoke fondly of his friend and colleague Lloyd Robertson, who retired earlier this year from CTV's flagship evening newscast after 35 years. Before that, Robertson spent six years helming CBC's nightly newscast.

"Watching Lloyd go was a real moment in the history of television journalism in this country," says Mansbridge, adding he has no plans to follow Robertson into retirement.

"Watching him go was hard. I've always sort of seen Lloyd as kind of like the older brother. So that means I still have a few years (left)," he says with a chuckle.

"I'm not going anywhere for a while yet."