The CBC needs to get off its high horse and back in touch with viewers by John Doyle

Mar 3, 2014

Source: Globe and Mail

Much chatter about the CBC in recent days, some of it twaddle, some necessary and true.

Pastor Mansbridge has been at the centre of an unholy row about his paid speaking engagements. Rex Murphy, who has never seen a thundering disgrace he didn’t want to pontificate about, has been lambasted for similar activities.

And then there is Brad the bobsledder and Jesse with the bow tie. We’ll get to Brad and Jesse in a minute.

The issue linking Pastor Mansbridge and Rex Murphy is red meat to the hungry anti-CBC brigade. That’s part of the problem. The other aspect, more importantly, is how beleaguered the CBC seems in all of this. Out of touch, insular and narcissistic.

In the matter of Pastor Mansbridge, he should not have accepted money from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers for a speech. Not because he said something pertinent to their interests and lobbying efforts. It was just a dumb thing to do.

I believe Mansbridge when he says in his defence, “I don’t offer my opinion on matters of public policy or on certain divisive issues that often dominate the news.” If his public writings are any guide, he’s bland, bland, bland. He usually talks about Canada being great.

The issue is the organization that paid him to speak. The oil and gas industry is enormously powerful, engages in polarizing activities and is, clearly, part of the subtext of much government policy. You’d need blinkers not to grasp that. Attaching yourself to them, however briefly, and for a fee, is plainly foolish. The fact that CBC’s rules allowed Mansbridge to take the paid gig only underlines how inept its rule makers are when they make their decisions.

Rex Murphy is another kettle of cod. An eccentric, reactionary pundit, he’s a freelancer with paying jobs here and there in the Canadian media. But in the public imagination he’s part of the CBC. In recent years CBC has been shockingly lax in not labelling Murphy’s TV segments as entirely his own point of view. Even when Pastor Mansbridge introduces him, it’s with the air of a man greeting a fellow CBC stalwart.

In this matter, as in the Mansbridge case, CBC needs to get off its high horse and get back to the business of clarity and transparency. In this day and age, when all media are under more severe scrutiny, and rightly so, a public broadcaster needs to be beyond suspicion. The higher the ground, the better.

This brings us to Brad the bobsledder and Jesse with the bow tie.

Neither is a celebrity of the stature of CBC news anchors or pundits, but both were featured last week on Recipe to Riches (CBC, Wednesdays, 9 p.m.). It’s a competitive cooking show featuring amateur cooks who compete to have their recipe become a President’s Choice product. This is the program’s third season, with previous editions airing on the Food Network and Global.

It’s a charming show, good-natured and laid-back. For the CBC version the host is Carlo Rota, a guy who was a culinary expert before he became a familiar actor on such shows as Little Mosque on the Prairie and Fox’s 24. He’s breezy and funny with the cooks.

Last week, Jesse Meredith of Port Coquitlan, B.C., was a finalist in the desserts competition episode. A true original, with his offbeat clothes and golly-gosh manner, he made mini raspberry cheesecake chocolate cups. His recipe came about because he wanted to please his sister, to whom he is devoted. Watching him navigate the show was priceless. The wide-eyed wonder at everything was delightful.

On the same show, Calgary’s Brad Reinsch (apparently the fourth-ranked bobsled pilot in Canada) presented his “coco nut nut bars.” He explained how he created the dessert to accommodate his nutrition regime, and said competitive sports isn’t much different from competitive cooking. Again, a charmer and one of those Canadians whose story is good TV.

Pundit Andrew Coyne, a regular on CBC’s The National’s At Issue panel wisecracked on Twitter, “This is why we need a public broadcaster, because the private networks would never do a show like Recipe to Riches.” People agreed with him and his sarcasm.

But here’s the thing – CBC is entitled to do Recipe to Riches and do it better than others. The sneering at the show is rooted in the idea that CBC should do serious broadcasting all the time. Presumably featuring a lot of newspaper pundits offering insight into politics. Nonsense. The BBC’s biggest hit in recent years is The Great British Bake Off, a show about ordinary people displaying their baking skills. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – this is what public broadcasters do, along with the news and current affairs. The view that CBC should be all-serious all the time is elitist snobbery.

Recipe to Riches is relevant here because CBC does little or nothing to define itself as both populist and delivering gravitas. It cannot define itself to the public or critics and, even when it is in touch with public taste, emerges as insular and narcissistic.

© Globe and Mail