CBC has role
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.