Long, long ago, the CBC was a church in the service of enlightenment, the arts and Canadianism. The Mandate was the gospel, the president was the pope, the vice-presidents the cardinals, and the producers the parish priests.
Time passed. The world has turned its back on the welfare state that had given birth to the CBC. Thanks to the competition provided by commercial television, and thanks to the shocks delivered by innumerable budget cuts, CBC Television was secularized. Due to the need for advertising revenue, the Corporation had become more and more like its private competitors. CBC Radio, which never had any competition, managed to retain much of the old spirit.
But only the arguments for the CBC’s creation long, long ago can justify public broadcasting in Canada, even today. CBC Television is not an anachronism. It still serves the ideals of Truth, Beauty and Canadianism far more conscientiously than its competitors, even though its supporters have every reason to lament the attenuation of the old spirit. There are some who say that recent policies in CBC Television have led to the near-extinction of the old spirit. This has raised the question whether the Corporation can be saved.
But the adversaries of the CBC take a diametrically different view. They believe that in today’s climate the original arguments no longer apply. If some people wish to be served Truth, Beauty and Canadiansim, they say, let them, rather than the taxpayer, pay for it.
There is good reason to believe that the prime minister and members of the new Conservative majority government take that view, even though there is no groundswell of opinion demanding the privatization of CBC Television. On the whole, the public seems to be satisfied with the system as it is. This is not a hot political issue.
Since licence renewal hearings are coming up, the president of the CBC, Hubert Lacroix, decided it would be a good idea to take some of the wind out of the sails of the opposition by trying to justify the existence of the CBC on economic grounds, even though the objections are largely ideological. He may well have thought that since materialist philistines can only grasp materialist philistine arguments, there was no point in talking to them about Truth, Beauty and Canadianism. He knows, of course, that the prime minister and his friends are not materialistic philistines but ideologues.
Still, Lacroix went ahead.
He commissioned the accounting firm of Deloitte & Touche to write a report. It was released last Wednesday and said, in the words of the Globe and Mail critic John Doyle last Thursday, that “money that goes to the CBC is well spent, a wise investment.”
From the report:
“CBC/Radio-Canada’s net value added, the net contribution to the economy in 2010 is estimated to be $1.3 billion. In the context of the parliamentary appropriation, this means that the direct government funding of $1.1 billion not only contributed to the gross value added for CBC/Radio-Canada of $3.7 billion, but also created additional value of $1.3 billion to the Canadian economy compared to an alternative use of the funding and a media sector in which CBC is only supported by commercial revenue streams.”
In short, the study, John Doyle writes, “makes the reasonable point, based on facts, that the money spent on the CBC supports jobs and businesses across Canada. Like the best public investments, it not only provides a key service, it also is expected to have a positive economic spin-off. And it does.”
It is unlikely that this argument will sway the ideologues. Perhaps nothing will. A non-economic argument might be more effective, for example, the argument that a massive assault by the new government on the Corporation would antagonize many Quebeckers who are devoted to Radio Canada. The government needs their support. And of course it might be wise to point out to it that “privatizing” the Corporation could only be done by reorganizing the entire broadcasting system.
Our recent guest blogger Richard Nielsen, the president of Norflicks Productions, sent this comment to John Doyle:
“The economic impact of the CBC is a dangerous argument to use against those who want the Corporation abolished because of its cost, because that is not the real cause of their dislike.
“The various subsidies designed to support TV broadcasting in Canada – tax credits, Telefilm investments, simulcasting and other regulations plus mandated pass-through payments from specialty channels total far more than the $1.1 billion that goes to CBC Radio-Canada which, by the way, compares to $7 billion for the BBC. Nobody objects because the bulk of this money goes to private broadcasters, which allows them to spend most of what they get from advertisers on American programs – $700 million a year.
“The answer is to take the CBC out of advertising and replace that cash with subsidies presently paid to the private sector.
“Also, the CBC should get out of news, which is the real reason politicians don’t like it. We should create a cooperative news service with its own channel supplied by both private and public broadcasters. Such an entity could provide the CBC with a newscast if they wanted to carry one.
“Supporters of the CBC turn a blind eye to the dangers of news dispensed by government. By tradition, privately owned and operated journalistic organizations have insulated themselves from advertiser pressures. Relationships between the CBC and its ultimate masters, the government, have always been murky, which gives rise to legitimate suspicion.”