A way forward for the CBC

Apr 11, 2014

Source: Chronicle Journal

WHEN perhaps its biggest supporter lays out withering criticism on the eve of another round of budget cuts, you know the CBC is in trouble. While the public broadcaster remains essential in the Canadian media landscape, it hasn’t done enough to contend with the cuts it’s already endured let alone prepare for new ones, argues the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting.

The loss of hockey broadcast rights to commercial competitors is just the latest and most obvious sign of forced change at the CBC. All media are facing challenges and the CBC, dependent as it’s been on federal funding, took another lick Thursday. It plans to cut 657 positions to cope with a further budget reduction of $130 million. A softening advertising market and the expense of the Sochi Olympics added to the CBC’s financial plight.
Knowing they’d lose the NHL rights, “They never did start planning for a Plan B,” said Friends president Ian Morrison. The job cuts show it hadn’t properly dealt with the latest round of budget cuts that began in 2012.

Now what?

The loss of hockey broadcast rights may actually be the impetus CBC needs to recast itself. Hockey Night in Canada has been a CBC institution. With that all but gone (CBC still gets to show Saturday night games for now but doesn’t get any of the revenue) there is a hole big enough to climb into and start to plan for a new era.

Critics contend a left-wing bias fed by funding that commercial stations don’t enjoy. There is something to be said for toning down some of its voices who clearly disdain the right. But the CBC alone is the smart reflection of all that is Canada. That means a wide variety of programming, not a narrow model aimed demographically.

There are three outstanding models of public broadcasters available to Canadians. One, the BBC, is richly funded publicly and continues to shine. But Ottawa has made it clear those days are over in Canada. Another model is PBS in the U.S. In a market 10 times that of Canada’s, public broadcasting stations can survive on public appeals for funds. PBS stations exist by the will of their viewers who want and appreciate quality programming.
TVOntario is a hybrid — publicly-funded with fundraising.

Somewhere among those three is perhaps a way forward for the CBC. But Canada’s public broadcaster should not be denied some measure of public funding. Cutting that off would leave Canadian TV viewers with three commercial outlets who enjoy immense privileges via the CRTC, exist in large part by rebroadcasting American programming, and charge most of their viewers a great deal of money. How much will NHL games come to cost?

The CBC must continue to be the voice and face of Canada. It is part of us.

© Chronicle Journal