CBC in trouble

For years, there has been an ongoing debate on whether or not Canada needs to enhance and produce more Canadian content on the air, and whether or not it’s even worth the effort. The biggest name in Canadian broadcasting is the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), which has a huge mandate in terms of programming, content and expectation.

As CBC’s 75th anniversary approaches this November, the question is being raised more loudly about how to make the network more relevant in today’s society and whether or not current management needs to reshape and rethink the entire framework. The Cord went to the street to ask people what they thought of the CBC issue.

Angela Hebel, a Kitchener resident said, “I don’t think CBC is necessarily failing completely, but they might benefit from changing things around a little.”
Kate Taylor, a feature writer for the Globe and Mail who composed a series of articles on the debate around CBC broadcasting said that, “Some people continually criticize the CBC, and this bashing isn’t useful at all.”

Certain Canadians complain about CBC, from management to its very existence, and they often make their voices the most heard.

“They’re saying, these are my tax dollars and I don’t even like this program so I don’t want to pay for it,” Taylor said. “That’s like saying, these are my tax dollars and I don’t even use the 401. It’s a big issue.”

Taylor continued to mention that one of the biggest problems for the CBC is that, “They have a huge mandate to follow. They need to be bilingual, they need to have equal quality in both English and French programming, they need to be on the Internet, they need to be on a number of platforms and the budget they
have does not match this mandate.”

In a statement, president and CEO of CBC News, Hubert Lacroix said, “At the start of fiscal year 2009–2010, we faced a projected budget shortfall of $171 million — about ten per cent of our total budget.” Budgetary strains on the CBC are a major difficulty for moving forward and enhancing the network.
CBC gets a grant of $1 billion a year from the government and the rest of the money comes from selling advertising.

“That sounds like a lot of money,” Taylor laughed, “but it’s tiny compared to other public broadcasting. Canada is one of the worst for funding public broadcasting.”

“There’s a contradiction in the current government,” Taylor continued. “If on one hand they’re saying they support Canadian content they then need to provide the funding to create it.”

Right now, however, the government does not appear to want to provide any such funding.

In an e-mail, Angus McKinnon, manager of media relations and issues management at CBC, explained that CBC Radio Canada is at a cross-roads. As technology continues to develop and demographics shift, only a small handful of companies control almost all of the private media broadcast. He continued to say that in this, CBC can see ways to strengthen their relationship with Canadians and CBC’s role in the media industry.

Some possibilities arose last February, when CBC launched a five-year strategic plan for the national broadcaster. McKinnon explained that it will hopefully define a vision for the public broadcaster, into 2015.

Kate Taylor also hypothesized some possible money theories that could be put into CBC, which comes down to spectrum options.

“The airwaves belong to the people,” Taylor said. “The digital switch over on Aug. 31 from analog to digital spectrum which will free up airway space, there’s billions of dollars to be found there.”

The question raised by Taylor in her Aug. 15 article “What’s a 75-year-old public broadcaster to do?” centred around whether or not CBC was destined to be isolated or distinctive. When asked what she thought on the matter, Taylor said,
“It depends on which way attention goes. Some people don’t think we need Canadian content, others look to CBC. It will also depend on how the government treats it and how the public responds.”

McKinnon’s e-mail explained that through the 2015 Strategy, CBC is committed to three key priorities; providing even more Canadian content, opening and expanding stations as well as investing in more digital platforms.

At the moment, Taylor said that she doesn’t think the government finds any sense of urgency in the CBC debate, due to the fact that the licence and renewal discussion was postponed by a year.

“That is a mistake,” she said in reference to the government’s laissez faire attitude. “But our readers care deeply,” Taylor said.

“I was heartened by the debate that [my] articles got going. Sure [readers] may argue about the shape of CBC, but they certainly care about it. There’s huge support.” The most important thing is making that support of CBC heard and acknowledged.

Kitchener resident Greg Bauer commented, “I think CBC is a really important part of what makes us Canadian. I didn’t even realize it was struggling that bad— it needs more attention.”