Sunday, March 15, 2009

Everyone Talks About the CBC, but No One Does Anything About It

The topic du jour in the papers this weekend has been the CBC's funding woes. Even Conrad Black weighed in from prison. (The article was very supportive of the public broadcaster but I don't know if his endorsement is helpful these days.)

George Jonas, in the same paper, was less favorable:
"Much to the chagrin of elitists, the medium didn’t elevate the masses. If anything, it was the masses that dragged the medium down.

For commercial television, this was just a fact of life. For public television, it was a blow to its reason for being. Why oh why subsidize mud wrestling?

Born of a liaison between show business and the Post Office, the CBC didn’t inherit the best features of either parent. Imagine a bureaucratic bohemian, sipping a mug of Ovaltine flavoured with absinthe, while reading the King James version of Marx’s Das Capital, and you’re close. Trying to be everything to everyone, CBC-TV ended up being nothing to anyone."
Jonas later says that he is nostalgic for, rather than biased against, public broadcasting. The National Post was somewhat less kind in it's 'A beleaguered CBC should ask itself: Who cares?'.
"The result is an ersatz, albeit Canadianized, private broadcaster calling itself a public one. A tiny handful of CBC board members sharply disagree with this direction, but they have been beaten down. The entire management of English CBC believes in the strategic direction and defends it vigorously.

Management changed Radio 2 into an ersatz private network (minus commercials), but has not (as yet) increased audience share. What CBC achieved was to alienate a chunk of its core audience - the one that really cared about CBC - and replace it with another that is only indifferently attached to CBC because so much of the programming is available elsewhere.

The same phenomenon besets television. The Hour, for example, could just as easily be on MuchMusic or CTV. Political commentary apes that of private television, with discussions revolving not around substance but who is winning, what are the political calculations, who is up and who is down - questions that for most viewers evoke the response: Who cares?

As long, therefore, as CBC pursues this strategic direction, it will have the worst of all worlds in the search for public money. It will have alienated core audiences who might have cared enough to fight, and exchanged them for audiences for whom CBC is just one choice among many, and therefore not worth getting excited about."
I would argue that CBC Radio 3 enjoys the same kind of strong support amoung its listeners that Radio 2 used to, actually I already argued that. It is ironic then that Radio 3 has been specifically mentioned as a possible place for cuts - which would leave the CBC without enough political support to get an official flag from parliament.

Finally there is the Toronto Star's extensive look at the CBC's funding.

You should read all of these articles. All of them raise some good points and none of them really take the tired, silly and pointless 'I don't want my tax dollars paying for this' approach.

The CBC needs many things. The CBC certainly needs more money but money alone isn't going to fix it. If you boil it down the CBC's mandate reads "Be all things, to all people, in every language, and be available everywhere in a variety of platforms. A billion dollars a year is not enough to do that, neither is two billion, or three.

So, someone has to redefine what the CBC is and what it should do. The Heritage Committee tried recently coming up with an extensive report and some strong recommendations for the public broadcaster. Sadly Stephen Harper (who has no faith in Canadian art, culture, heritage or anything that differentiates Canada from the United States) rejected all of the recommendations out of hand and decided instead to do nothing.

So the first thing the CBC needs is likely a new Government. While I will be surprised if Michael Ignatieff isn't P.M. by the end of the year there are few clues about Ignatieff's take on arts, culture and the CBC.

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