[Caution: Readers in North Korea (and other exotic places) may not know that for the last two weeks many Canadians have been absorbed by the Jian Ghomeshi affair. Also, Peter Gzowski may mean nothing to them. They are free to skip this posting.]
À bas Jian!
Vive la différence!
Peter (who died in 2002) was an idealist about Canada. Jian – we are told by CBC management – was a narcissist. (This may, or may not, be true. His many fans certainly would not accept any of the unfavourable things that have recently been said about him, by the CBC and others.) Both enjoyed being celebrities but, while occasionally there was talk about Peter’s dark side, thousands of listeners found him lovable. Jian, too, was an excellent broadcaster but, however much he was admired, few had the same affection for him as they had for Peter.
It is not easy to be fair to Jian in the light of the unpleasant things that are now being said about him. No doubt they have shocked his fans deeply.
Any comparison between Peter and Jian must take into account that Peter’s world preceded Harper’s. Peter died four years before Harper became P.M. We will have to leave it to future historians to define the difference in the cultural atmosphere in Canada between 2006 and 2014.
The subject matter of Peter’s Morningside was the full spectrum of Canadian humanity, high and low, poor and rich, whereas Jian’s Q was restricted to the world of entertainment and the arts, not only – it is important to add – the popular arts. But there was an emphasis on celebrities. Celebrities have always been a good subject for journalism, including CBC journalism, but there is a particular kind of celebrity culture today – especially pop culture – that appeals specifically to young people. That is why the CBC welcomed a program that, in part, reflected a culture that was not as pervasive in Peter’s day as it is in ours. From it, Jian emerged. His background was quite different from Peter’s background in serious adult journalism. If Q had not occupied so much space on CBC Radio, and if there had been more public affairs programs on the air, there would have been less room for criticism on that account.
Each program has had a mandate and a time-period. Jian is not to be blamed for having been appointed host of a program with a narrower focus and a different place in the schedule than Morningside.
But the fact remains that Jian seemed to turn his program into his personal vehicle. It is not only CBC management that says so, but also others close to the scene. Maybe this had to do with the proximity of celebrity pop culture.
It so happens that Jian’s personal vehicle ran on the same track as the CBC management’s. Its values may not have been so very different from Jian’s, whatever they say about him now. Management put the emphasis on ratings and advertising revenues, and downgraded the traditional objectives of public broadcasting. It has even decided to allow commercials on Radio 2.
Management had initiated this policy, with full approval by the board, rationalizing that in the face of a crescendo of ever-more-lacerating cuts there was, in view of the government’s hostility, no alternative. Anybody with a conscience and a modicum of imagination could have told them that this was not true. Maybe some did.
Clocks cannot be put back to the pre-Harper days of Peter Gzowski. But they can be put forward in the direction of sensible solutions if the present turmoil leads to national soul-searching about the meaning of public broadcasting in Canada in the 21st century.