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We are not going to take it any more: fighting for the CBC

In Canada jaw-jaw about the plight of the national broadcaster, CBC*, is giving way to war-war as some prepare to mount the barricades. Jeffrey Dvorkin, on behalf of PBC21 -- Public Broadcasting in Canada for the 21st Century – presents a back to square-one manifesto.

*see Seth Feldman's Dear BBC, you are not alone.

The CBC has learned to live in a defensive crouch due to repeated assaults on its budgets and accusations from partisans that it is a nest of lefties (on the English-language side) and Quebec secessionists (on the French-language side). Since the 1980s, programming values have been blanched on the premise that being inoffensive, especially in News and Current Affairs, is the best defence against the critics. Popular programs – many just a Canadian version of down-market British shows – have been marginally successful but have not built a core audience of loyal CBC supporters.

Now that the budgetary axe is being whetted once again, what can be done?

Our group known as PBC21 – Public Broadcasting in Canada for the 21st Century has decided that nothing short of a radical re-invention of the CBC is the only

way.

As such we have proposed:

  • The complete de-commercialisation of the CBC.

  • A 7% tax on cable distribution profits as recompense for ceding advertising revenues to the private sector.

  • That the federal government still has an obligation to support the public broadcaster both financially and ethically.

  • That public broadcasting programming must regard the audience as citizens first, and consumers of media second.

  • To understand how distinctiveness in public broadcasting is an essential aspect of service.

  • That excellence is not elitism.

  • To serve informed audiences for an enhanced democracy is still the goal of the public broadcaster.

We may yet be more radical. What if a public broadcaster serves its audience best by not broadcasting? In effect, putting all content on line, which is where the audience is going?

In Canada, with its vast geography, distribution costs are enormous – around $200 million per annum. Going off air and on line may be the way of the future, even if that future is difficult to envision right now.

But with the survival of public broadcasting in Canada finally under the existential knife, what is there to lose that we are not already losing by attrition and increased public indifference?

As the great French revolutionary said: “L’audace, l’audace! Toujours, l’audace!” A perfect motto for these parlous times, indeed.

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About the author

Jeffrey Dvorkin is the director of the Journalism Program at the University of Toronto (Scarborough)

 


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