“Doing Something about the CBC” — But What?

According to close colleagues of Canadian Prime Minister Harper, CBC funding is a “critical issue” – one of the top ten questions facing Parliament in the current session. The government seems to be mulling over the idea of a “referendum” or some other form of public consultation on the future of the CBC. It goes without saying that the Conservatives are ideologically closer to private broadcasters than to the CBC.

It is English CBC television that is primarily under discussion, not CBC radio, nor Radio Canada in Quebec.

It is rumoured in Ottawa that the government is contemplating depriving the CBC of its revenue-producing programs, including Hockey Night in Canada.

There may be some members of the Tory caucus who would not go along with so drastic a move. They might argue that the many forms of public subsidies now received by the private sector should be given to the CBC as compensation. Others might say that Canadians don’t need a CBC at all and that a cable service might well choose to carry high-minded Canadian programs for the benefit of those who wish to pay for them.

Any debate about the future of the CBC must deal with the question what its primary, basic functions should be.

Here is a list:

1. Presenting mostly Canadian programs.

2. High-quality productions of integrity not usually seen on the private stations, including analyses of public affairs.

3. De-centralized reflections of the country from coast to coast.

4. An appropriate focus on the arts.

5. A possible link to provincial educational broadcasters.

A great deal of thought must be given to the question of how to maintain a news service at arms-length from the government. Both Liberal and Conservative governments have disliked intensely being criticized by CBC News. One model that has not been discussed that will be proposed by Richard Nielsen, president of Norflicks Productions, is to form a news cooperative on the model of Canadian Press, which would serve and utilize both private and public broadcasters.

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7 responses to ““Doing Something about the CBC” — But What?

  1. David Schatzky

    Government hates it when reporters take “official” facts and statements and put them into context and provide implications. Government considers that “criticism”. It’s not. It’s analysis. The public deserves more than “official version” press-release news. Independent analysis of facts, policy, and speeches makes for an informed citizenry. If the CBC doesn’t provide that, who will? Would a news co-operative? If so, that would be in the public interest. Go for it, Mr. Neilsen!

    • charles morrow

      CBC already has a balanced, unbiased news division, so why try to reinvent it. Repressive governments always dispute the impartiality of the media. The current Government is in league with many regimes that would deny press freedom.

      Charles Morrow, Ottawa

  2. Mike Sky

    Likely unpopular comment on this blog but an honest one. CBC needs the ability to receive tax deductable contributions and market themselves like PBS. The potential revenue is significant, as its quality will attract foundations, dedications, and legacy contributions. Canadian’s living abroad (1 million+) and Fans of Canada/Canadian broadcasting abroad will also be significant targets. NPR gained reporting resources, independence, and more from Ray Kroc’s (McDonald’s Founder) Widow’s sustaining contribution. Irony! Irony!

    Fearless Mike Sky

  3. If the CBC becomes a national version of TVOntario (which may not be an entirely bad thing and on that point, I agree with Mike Sky), the argument will be over how the chattering classes define public broadcasting in Canada. The CCs have been doing that for a while and will likely continue to do so.
    The debate will also be about jobs. The unions and their supporters in Ottawa will make a strong case that the CBC is a major economic engine in Canada, even if its programs are not terribly good or memorable. And the CCs don’t watch them anyway.
    In these uncertain economics times, they will ask, are we prepared to see thousands of talented cultural workers thrown out on the street? That will be a tougher question to answer. CBC TV produces a few pleasantly middle brow entertainment shows that are not very memorable or even very entertaining. They aren’t particularly imbued with “public broadcasting-ness.” They could just as easily be aired on CTV or Global.
    But Canadians watch these shows in respectable numbers and that has now become the only definition of public broadcasting according to today’s CBC management. As the Tories push to diminish the CBC, watch for the economic question to be embraced more enthusiastically both inside and outside the CBC.

  4. CBC radio and Radio Canada are the things the Tories should dislike for ideological reasons. CBC TV is bland with a few exceptions such as Suzuki and a few docs.

  5. CBC TV needs focus. The five points outlined by Eric are excellent. Love it or hate it, Canada’s identity is wrapped in the CBC.
    Maybe they could do it for less money? The place always seemed to me overstaffed in middle management.

  6. In reply to Jeffrey, I see no contradiction with retaining the cultural workers of the CBC, and the programming that people still watch, (more impressive now in the fragmented digitized universe than 20 years ago), with the capacity to raise tax deductable contributions. The CBC could be given the capacity to do the controversial and experimental that even in well funded times it would not do on the taxpayer dime.

    Mike Sky