Make It the Canadian Webcasting Corporation by Crawford Kilian

Feb 8, 2012

That's my proposal. Beat the inevitable by turning the CBC into the CWC.

Source: The Tyee


Let's admit it: The recent flap about Old Age Security is a popped trial balloon. The follow-up flap about bureaucrats posing as new Canadians was a comic interlude. When the Conservative budget comes in, cuts to the public service will likely cripple key ministries like Environment, Fisheries and Oceans, and Health.

“The CBC is in the process of conducting a major strategic review both internally and through outside regulators. The question is, who will shape the CBC of the future? We think Canadians should.” That’s the manifesto-ish invitation extended by Reimagine CBC.

The group’s website gathers ideas from Canadians about how they’d like to see the national broadcaster transformed. Some of the ideas posted so far include giving tenure to good journalists, more radio drama, a human rights program and promoting “the importance of CBC's non-sensationalism.”

With no ties to CBC, Reimagine CBC is a project of and Leadnow in partnership with the Canadian Media Guild and the Gen Why Media Project.

Check it out to sample some fresh thinking, and perhaps add your own.

Crown corporations will no doubt suffer as well, and few will suffer more than the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

I'll make my full disclosure here: For 45 years I've listened to almost nothing but CBC Radio. I wrote six radio plays that the CBC produced in the early 1970s (using a big package of script advice that the CBC used to send out to anyone who asked for it).

Since the cancellation of Intelligence, I watch little CBC television except Power and Politics. Its audience, to judge from its ads, is mostly anxious seniors who need step-in bathtubs and who have forgotten to remove their bathrobes before they step in.

So I could sympathize with my Tyee colleague Kai Nagata when he took the mickey out of Rick Mercer with a video rant advising CBC to ditch its TV branch. (You can view it at the top of this article.)

But Kai didn't go far enough, so I will: CBC should ditch both TV and radio, and the technologies of those media. Unless it does so, the Conservatives will strangle TV and radio alike.

Never mind that the CBC is the creation of the R.B. Bennett Depression-era Conservatives, who wanted to prevent an American takeover of the airwaves. Today's Conservatives can't wait to sell the country to the Americans, the Chinese or any other high bidder. Because the CBC sometimes reports accurately on what the government has been doing, the Conservatives (and the Liberals before them) have been dreaming of ridding themselves of this turbulent broadcaster.

Canada lives where?

Evidently aware of this hostility, the increasingly underfunded CBC has spent years vainly trying to appease its enemies. It has dumbed down TV and radio alike, with reality shows on the tube and gee-whiz promotions on radio. ("Canada lives here" -- yes, but increasingly elsewhere, too!) It fills the gaps in its radio programming with "encore" presentations of its shows.

CBC admittedly costs money. According to its 2010-2011 Annual Report, in 2011 CBC spent $1,476,778,000 in TV, radio, and new media services -- up almost $30 million over 2010. It received $1,159,938,000 in government funding, plus a yearly top-up of $60 million, and ran a loss for the year of $24,660,000. This was an improvement over the $58,299,000 CBC lost in 2010.

Assume that a 10 per cent cut goes through, and the top-up is dropped. That will reduce the CBC's budget by about $176,000,000.

The CBC has been here before. Back in 1984, its budget was $906,000,000 -- equivalent in 2011 dollars to $1.77 billion. It had to reduce its budget by $75 million ($146 million today). It survived then, and it can survive now.

But a chart on the website of Friends of Canadian Broadcasting shows a steady drop in support from the Harper government since 2008. The CBC is effectively back where it was in 2000, and the downward trend is likely to continue.

The CBC's current five-year plan shows it expects no rescue: "Our funding has not kept pace with consumer inflation of the last 20 years (thereby creating a notional $400 million shortfall in real dollar terms)." The plan also notes that the government has not committed to providing the $60 million top-up beyond March 31.

The incredible shrinking audience

The plan recognizes that the television is shrinking and fragmenting into specialty channels, while CBC Radio holds a growing share of a shrinking audience. It also notes that its websites are popular, with 5.8 million Canadians visiting in the fall of 2010. And it forecasts video shifting "to on-demand digital platforms," while radio listeners migrate via the Internet to their iPods and smartphones.

© The Tyee