CBC has role

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - EDITORIAL -

Many Cana­di­ans have a love/hate re­la­tion­ship with the CBC. Ei­ther you love Canada’s public broad­caster, or you hate it.

Well, it’s not hard to see what side of the fence many of Canada’s sen­a­tors stand.

This week, the Stand­ing Se­nate Com­mit­tee on Trans­port and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions tabled its re­port “Time for a Change: the CBC/Ra­dio-Canada in the Twenty-first Cen­tury.”

In its re­port, the Se­nate com­mit­tee high­lights the ex­plo­sive growth in the num­ber of tele­vi­sion chan­nels avail­able, the in­tro­duc­tion of In­ter­net­based ser­vices like Net­flix and YouTube, and the new au­dio ser­vices avail­able to Cana­di­ans, in­clud­ing satel­lite ra­dio ser­vices full of U.S.-based pro­grams.

The Se­nate com­mit­tee rightly says, in this highly frag­mented land­scape, the role of the public broad­caster be­comes less clear.

“The in­dus­try is chang­ing,” the Se­nate notes. “And, we be­lieve the CBC/Ra­dio-Canada must change too.”

No­body ar­gues that point, in­clud­ing the CBC. Canada’s public broad­caster has been chang­ing and trans­form­ing it­self like many pri­vate broad­cast­ers and media out­lets.

But what kind of change do we want to see at the CBC?

The Se­nate, now filled with Con­ser­va­tives, many of whom have clearly shown their dis­like – if not down­right ha­tred of the CBC – re­jected the idea of sta­ble, multi-year fund­ing for the Crown cor­po­ra­tion. It says fund­ing is based on “the fis­cal de­mands of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.” That’s dis­ap­point­ing. Sen­a­tors even raised the pos­si­bil­ity of us­ing the U.S.-based PBS fund­ing model, where the broad­caster goes beg­ging to view­ers to do­nate money or pay spon­sor­ships for pro­grams.

The Se­nate com­mit­tee also called on the CBC to cut pro­duc­tion of all non-news and cur­rent af­fairs pro­grams that pri­vate com­pa­nies de­velop.

That’s a move Ian Mor­ri­son from the ad­vo­cacy group, Friends of Cana­dian Broad­cast­ing, says would ren­der the CBC as noth­ing more than a “trans­mit­ter of pro­grams that are con­ceived and thought up by pri­vate in­ter­ests.”

Ra­dio-Canada’s om­buds­man, in his an­nual re­port, sug­gested sen­a­tors in­volved in the study showed a lack of knowl­edge about the news media and the role of the CBC, and “a clear hos­til­ity to­ward the public broad­caster.”

For its part, the CBC said on its web­site, “Frankly, we were hop­ing for more.” Cana­di­ans were also hop­ing for more. A Lib­eral sen­a­tor on the com­mit­tee blamed Con­ser­va­tive sen­a­tors for spend­ing “too much time de­nounc­ing the CBC and not enough on a way for­ward.” We would have to agree. The last place Cana­di­ans should look for di­rec­tion on the fu­ture of its public broad­caster is the U.S.

Ev­ery de­vel­oped na­tion out­side of the U.S. has a strong, vi­brant public broad­caster. Public broad­cast­ers play a crit­i­cal role in the lives of their na­tion’s res­i­dents. Public broad­cast­ers should have the abil­ity to cre­ate pro­gram­ming and to go­places that pri­vate sec­tor broad­cast­ers can­not or will not go. Yet, we con­tinue to starve the CBC.

Cana­di­ans pay about $33 per capita to fund the public broad­caster, which is about half of what other in­dus­tri­al­ized na­tions spend on their public broad­cast­ers.

How­ever, we con­tinue to ex­pect the CBC to pro­vide pro­gram­ming in English and French and eight abo­rig­i­nal lan­guages, on tele­vi­sion, ra­dio and dig­i­tal, and in ev­ery province in­clud­ing re­mote north­ern com­mu­ni­ties, ur­ban cen­tres and Is­land prov­inces on the East Coast.

One needs to look no fur­ther than our home province of Prince Ed­ward Is­land to see the im­por­tance of the CBC. Where are the pri­vate broad­cast­ers? Shaw Media owned Global-TV pulled its news­room out of the province more than a year ago.

Bell Media, which owns CTV, the largest and most suc­cess­ful pri­vate

broad­caster in the coun­try, couldn’t even jus­tify hav­ing one video jour­nal­ist based in Prince Ed­ward Is­land. CTV shut­down its Char­lot­te­town­based bureau last year. The sen­a­tors be­hind this latest witch hunt against Canada’s public broad­caster, who ques­tion whether the CBC plays a role in the lives of Cana­di­ans, should look no fur­ther than Prince Ed­ward Is­land.

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