Source : Toronto Star
Lockout provides opportunity to debate the Corp.'s future, says MP Sarmite D. Bulte
There have been a variety of opinions voiced on the role of the CBC in recent weeks. The lockout of members of the Canadian Media Guild has continued far longer than what most observers expected and with no imminent end in sight, many questions about the role and importance of the CBC have been raised.
I do not intend to take sides in the dispute; rather, I intend to speak out for the view that the CBC is an important public trust that plays an essential role in the cultural life of our country.
Last Friday, I met with a group of 24 of the locked-out employees who live in my riding. Their overriding concern was for the future viability of the CBC and its ability to perform its broadcasting mandate of providing a vehicle for Canadian stories to be told by Canadians throughout the country. The concerns were expressed in a number of specific areas.
The lockout has deprived Canadians of much regional coverage and CBC reporting on events such as the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, Hurricane Katrina and the Prime Minister's address to the United Nations. It has caused growing resentment and financial hardship for many CBC employees.
At some point, there is a risk that many of their most talented staff will be compelled to seek employment elsewhere. Those who return will now be working in an environment marred by resentment brought on by the lockout.
No one should complacently assume that viewers, listeners and advertisers will promptly return to the CBC once the lockout ends. In addition, many of the locked-out employees decried the lack of a clear, coherent and inspiring vision of what the CBC could and should be.
That the CBC is an essential Canadian cultural institution is, in my opinion, beyond question. In addition to its central role in broadcasting Canadian news and Canadian stories and creative works, it has served as a place where creative and technical workers can launch a career in Canada.
We must also remember that a flourishing Canadian cultural sector is under constant, if unintentional, threat.
Like only a handful of countries in the world, Canada shares a border with but a single neighbour. That that neighbour is 10 times larger in population, shares with us a common language, and produces an enormous quantity of film, broadcast, print and now, satellite radio, means the pressures of being swamped by foreign media are ever present. In such an environment, substituting another commercial broadcaster for the CBC can only impair our ability to preserve and promote a thriving Canadian culture.
I am sympathetic to increasing funding to the CBC to enable its television to operate commercial-free, just like CBC radio.
While I reiterate that Canada needs a national broadcaster such as the CBC, how it operates in the future and whether its role needs to be clarified or redefined are issues that are important to discuss. I would encourage Canadian to reflect upon the importance of our cultural identity and the role that a national broadcaster should play in promoting this culture.
While I in no way endorse the prolonged lockout, it does provide an occasion on which we can debate the important role that the CBC can play. But first, we must get the employees back to work and the CBC fully back on the air.
Sarmite D. Bulte is the MP for Parkdale-High Park and is parliamentary secretary to the minister of Canadian heritage.
© Toronto Star