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Speak up to ensure CBC's continued existence by Pat Bates

May 20, 2014

Source: Cape Breton Post

How many Bill McNeils or Bill MacNeils are in your neighbourhood?

Are they known as Billy Dan, Willis R., W.M. or some other version to distinguish them from so many other equally and proudly christened Cape Bretoners?

I am thinking of one Bill McNeil who personified the wonders of public broadcasting. A native of Glace Bay, this Bill McNeil worked for a short time in the coal mines while harbouring a quiet ambition to enter broadcasting.

It is helpful to highlight McNeil's career and the role he played in nurturing our country's cultural and societal growth by way of public broadcasting.

McNeil’s ambition to become a broadcaster was realized, and he came to work for the new CBC station in Sydney around 1950. His radio storytelling approach was novel and, in part, eventually led to his transfer to Toronto. That move became the launch pad for the long-running radio series “Voice of The Pioneer.”

But this article is not specifically about that program — or any other particular CBC Radio program or personality — but rather about the ongoing risks to the CBC's existence.

Canada, like Great Britain, Australia and the U.S., has developed a good vehicle for public broadcasting. In Canada, public broadcasting is largely funded by the federal government.

Up until 2005, the CBC enjoyed fairly consistent support from successive federal governments. Admittedly, since then, many things have changed in the media, including the growth of social media.

Public broadcasting may be at a crossroads in terms of its perceived value to an ever-changing Canadian society.

While I would argue the need for public broadcasting has not changed, how we demonstrate the need has.

Canada’s population has barely reached 35 million. Yet our population has become more diverse. We have so far failed to treat our aboriginal people in an equitable fashion, and the contemporary issues of the North and the environment have not even been scratched.

It is up to public broadcasters and those who support both that medium and national values to make those views known.

In Canada, we have enjoyed and participated in the CBC's reach, whether in the search to improve the social conditions of our northern citizens or in the enlightenment of our understanding of climate change. The investment in public broadcasting has paid off in dividends to our nation.

So what do those of us who appreciate public broadcasting do to support its continuance nationally and locally?

We need to appreciate that the Canadian broadcasting landscape has changed. The business of communicating through the airwaves is further complicated by the introduction of digital technology and the increasing use of social media. In the past, CBC supporters, via whatever means, would pressure the federal government to increase or stabilize CBC funding.

This time, the situation appears much more serious. Successive cuts have left the corporation defending its very existence.

CBC president Hubert Lacroix recently stated that Canadians who value the role of public broadcasting need to become much more robust in their support of the CBC; and most importantly, the corporation must redefine its mission for governments’ agreement to its funding targets.

Cape Bretoners have always strongly supported the local CBC operation. How can they express that support?

First, read the speaking notes from Lacroix’s address to the Canadian Club of Montreal on May 5, by visiting www.cbc.radio-canada.ca and clicking on "media centre" and the May 5 link, or by requesting a copy from the CBC.

Second, on the same CBC Radio homepage, click on the link for the online survey titled "Transforming CBC/Radio-Canada for the Future" and complete it.

Third, write to your MP expressing your support.

Like anything worth saving, it takes a little work. Delay is a recipe for losing. Remember Enterprise Cape Breton Corp. and Veterans Affairs offices.

© Cape Breton Post