CBC under ideological attack by Dave Swanson

Jan 31, 2012

If Conservatives cut CBC funding, Canadian identity will suffer

Source: Canadian University Press

BURNABY, B.C. (CUP) — When you ask what defines Canada, what iconic symbols come to mind? You may picture Granville Street during the Vancouver 2010 Olympics — a sea of polite folks dressed as red-maple-leaf-caped crusaders. Maybe you see a bearded hockey player raising Lord Stanley’s Cup (unfortunately not Roberto Luongo). You might even conjure up the image of a resourceful beaver perched on his dam. Yes, these are all prevalent Canadian images; however, there is one marquee symbol that is as Canadian as it gets: the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s logo.

The CBC is Canada’s national public radio and television broadcaster and a major player in producing Canadian culture. It uses the majority of its funding, received in the form of government subsidies, to produce original Canadian programming like David Suzuki’s The Nature of Things, Q with Jian Ghomeshi and Hockey Night in Canada.

Currently, the CBC has an annual budget of $1.1 billion. This may seem like a substantial sum, but when compared to 18 other major western countries, Canada only places 16th in support for public broadcasters, with $34 per capita — 60 per cent less than the $87 average. This figure is expected to decrease in the near future due to impending Conservative government budget cuts. This is a serious problem.

The Harper Tories seem to be hiding behind the classic guise of right-wing politics — a "these are tough times and we need to reduce our national debt" mentality. But on Oct. 19, 2011, the government announced Irving Shipbuilding Inc. in Halifax would receive $25 billion to build 21 large combat naval vessels. Could a portion of this money not be used to reduce the debt?

It’s far more likely that the suggested five to 10 per cent cut in CBC funding has little to do with reducing debt and is only being framed in such a way to gain public support. I believe that the real reason for the proposed cuts is ideological.

Historically, the CBC has been viewed as left-leaning media. The socially conscious programming they produce and the liberal scope with which they present local and international politics is inherently dangerous to Conservative dogma. Harper knows the media can shape public opinion, and in order to remain in power, he needs voters to share his ideals.

When speaking to the Canadian Association of Broadcasters in 2004, Harper said the Conservatives would “seek to reduce the CBC’s dependence on advertising revenue and its competition with the private sector.” However, in 2008, when the House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage released a major study on the future of the CBC that suggested annual funding be increased to $40 per capita over the next seven years, the Conservative committee members voted against it.

If the Conservatives take this anti-CBC stance one step further and cut the CBC’s funding, lower quality programming will be produced. The Canadian public will recognize this decline and lose interest in public programming, devaluing the CBC. If this occurs, it will justify further funding cuts.

This could then force the CBC to seek funding from the private sector in the form of advertising revenues, hindering its creative autonomy. The airing of commercial and mainstream content will become inevitable and give proponents of funding reductions a reason to eliminate all CBC government subsidies, effectively privatizing the CBC.

As of right now, the CBC receives a third of its total revenue from advertisers. If the CBC is forced to obtain the majority or all of its funding from advertisers, Canadian cultural identity will suffer.

The CBC is a wounded soldier wheeling a single pistol. It is up against the heavily armed cavalry that is the American media. If we do not provide it with adequate defence, it will be killed. Canada will then be in danger of succumbing to a Conservative agenda that seems more concerned with protecting its own ideology than the Canadian public.

© Canadian University Press