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Pro-CBC group goes to the mat against potential Tory cuts by Kim Mackrael

Nov 29, 2011

Source: Globe & Mail

The CBC is stuck in a “stranglehold” as Conservative MPs attack the broadcaster and threaten to end or decrease its funding, a broadcast watchdog says.

Spurred on by recent controversy over the CBC’s compliance with Access to Information laws, Friends of Canadian Broadcasting is launching a satirical, wrestling-themed campaign in support of the CBC.

“Nobody can watch what’s going on on Parliament Hill without realizing there’s a threat to public broadcasting,” spokesman Ian Morrison said.

Friends of Canadian Broadcasting is worried the CBC will face cuts as part of the Conservative government’s strategic and operating review, which aims to find $4-billion in overall savings to help reduce the deficit.

All departments, agencies and crown corporations have been asked to submit plans detailing how they would trim their budgets by 5 and 10 per cent, and Heritage Minister James Moore has said the CBC won’t be exempt from the belt-tightening.

“We've said that we're going to balance the budget and everybody has to do their part, and the CBC will be part of that,” Mr. Moore said Tuesday. “Yes, the CBC's budget next year will be smaller than it was this year.”

Friends of Canadian Broadcasting says it also fears the Conservative government could end an annual, $60-million dollar “top-up” that governments have been adding to the CBC budget since 2001, and is concerned about anti-CBC statements made by Conservative MPs in the House of Commons and petitions calling for an end to funding for the broadcaster.

“[We want to] alert the public to the threat and imagine a worst-case scenario. What’s the worst that can happen with the evident hostility of Stephen Harper’s government to public broadcasting?” Mr. Morrison said.

The group's “Stop the CBC Smackdown” website went live early Tuesday morning.

The site imagines that a privatized CBC has just been sold to an American wrestling promoter. “My first task is to meet everyone in the building,” buyer Lance Fury says in one of the group’s videos. “Get to know them, get their take on what needs to be done, before I fire them.”

Mr. Morrison said the Conservatives signaled during the election that they were committed to supporting the CBC but have since changed their tune.

“There’s been such a change in the last seven months that it caused us to feel that we had to send a message to the government, to remind [them] that Canadians, by huge majorities, value public broadcasting,” he said.

The CBC currently receives $1.1-billion dollars from the government to fulfill its mandate, which includes providing distinctly Canadian radio and television programming that contributes to a shared national identity.

Mr. Moore said the government is working with CBC on its budget and accused Friends of creating an unnecessary divide. “I think [they] do a disservice to both the CBC and everyday taxpayers with the way they approach this conversation,” he said.

He added the government still believes the CBC fills a necessary role because of its work in the north and its commitment to broadcasting in French, English and eight aboriginal languages. “The CBC is a source of debate, and it always will be. That's fine, but there is a role for a public broadcaster in Canada.”

Quebecor, which owns dozens of daily and weekly newspapers, the Sun News Network and TVA network in Quebec, has been pushing the CBC to make more of its financial information public by filing hundreds of Access to Information requests.

The CBC has refused to hand over some of that information, saying its creative, journalistic and programming information should be kept private. A Federal Court of Appeal decision last week compels the broadcaster to pass sensitive documents to the federal information commissioner, who will determine whether the CBC is justified in withholding them.

The battle over information prompted some Conservative MPs to launch petitions to have the broadcaster’s funding cut.

Speaking at an International Institute of Communications conference in Ottawa Monday, Sun News pundit Ezra Levant said the CBC’s total government funding over the years is about equal to the national debt, and repeated a call for the corporation to be privatized.

CBC president Hubert Lacroix defended the funding as necessary to protect Canadian content and said private broadcasters also receive some benefits. “If we want to have any substantial television outlet for Canadian voices, then we will need to subsidize the Canadian broadcasting sector,” he said.

Friends of Canadian Broadcasting also released an Angus Reid poll Tuesday about Canadian attitudes to the CBC.

The survey suggests 46 per cent of Canadians would ask their MP to vote for maintaining the CBC’s current level of funding, 23 per cent would like it to be increased, and 17 per cent want it to be reduced.

It also suggests that more Canadians trust the Conservative Party to handle matters of national culture and identity: 27 per cent of those surveyed picked the Conservatives for that role, compared with 24 per cent who picked the NDP and 14 per cent who chose the Liberals.

The complete results are available on the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting website.

The online survey of 2,022 Canadians has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.18 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

© Globe & Mail