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Poll suggests region wants local CBC radio station by Valerie Hill

Jan 19, 2012

Source: Waterloo Record

WATERLOO — Broadcast watchdog, Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, has released a public opinion poll suggesting 68 per cent of Waterloo Region residents support CBC establishing a local radio station.

At the same time, a CBC spokesperson said they are on track to open a local station this fall as part of the public broadcaster’s five-year plan to establish more regional services across the country.

The two opinions would seem to coincide but Friend’s spokesperson Ian Morrison said if CBC faces a proposed cut of up to 10 per cent to its $1.1 billion in federal funding, then “all bets are off.”

In a news conference at the Waterloo Inn Thursday morning, Morrison trumpeted the importance of Waterloo Region having its own station while at the same time noting funding cuts could scuttle all plans.

“Close to one million live here yet residents have to rely on programming beamed in from Toronto,” said Morrison.

The Waterloo news conference was taking place at the same time as Susan Marjetti, CBC managing director of Toronto and Ontario regions, attended meetings in Hamilton to establish details about a new digital service in that city, scheduled to be launched this spring.

In a phone interview during a break in her meetings, Marjetti said she was pleased the Waterloo Region poll revealed so many people in the region were happy about a local CBC presence.

“That is so heartwarming to know you are really as excited about us coming as we are,” she said. And she said that despite looming budget cuts, the station will open and offer a fully functioning radio station and online service.

“I think she might well be telling the truth,” said Morrison. The problem, he said, is that Marjetti might not be privy to what is going on in upper management and could one moment be given the go-ahead and the next discover “the marching orders she believed in that were set in stone, will be in sand.”

From the Friends’ perspective, the poll of 406 adults provides proof Waterloo Region residents demand their own service from the public broadcaster, he said.

The survey polled a larger than normal sample of Waterloo Region residents to ensure the numbers were truly reflective of the general population. Similar polls were conducted in Hamilton, London and Kamloops.

The poll came out of a CBC announcement in September 2011 that the national broadcaster planned to have radio and internet services in Waterloo Region this fall. Morrison said the poll results showed there is an appetite for local programming, something smaller communities across the country have long enjoyed.

Heather Sinclair, chief executive officer of the Creative Enterprise Initiative for the region, said having local programming will provide opportunities, particularly for documentary makers who will have a venue for their work. As well, several organizations within the region, such as the cultural and music festivals, would be given wider exposure, something that is difficult to do without some sort of national platform.

She called the possibility of a local station “community building” and an opportunity for the rest of the country to learn about Waterloo Region.

The poll also tackled the tricky subject of federal budget cuts. Results suggested that one in two regional residents hope their member of parliament will fight for the new radio station while 17 per cent said they would support cuts to CBC. Twenty-seven per cent voted for a funding increase.

In a news release, Friends suggested that the Harper government has a reputation for being hostile to Canadian culture and the CBC. It also suggested that while the House of Commons Heritage Committee recommended a funding increase from $33 to $40 per Canadian for CBC, Heritage Minister James Moore warned the public broadcaster it will face cuts.

Morrison fears that such an announcement could spell an end to any notion of a Waterloo Region radio station. Marjetti said funding cuts won’t affect the new station.

“We’re still moving ahead,” she confirmed. Morrison added “it would be wonderful if she’s right.”

© Waterloo Record