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Real ideas, not ideology, needed in strategic review of CBC

In whose strategic interest is another $55 million cut to CBC’s federal funding? On July 11, heritage minister James Moore said on CBC’s Q that the public broadcaster has to be ?part of the strategic review and find 5%? of its funding to offer up to the austerity-minded cabinet as a cut in 2012. The government is asking the same thing of all departments and agencies in effort to ?look at the macro framework of the Canadian economy.?

Fair enough. But let’s hope any review of the CBC and other public services is truly strategic.

For more than 25 years, CBC has dealt with cuts and, even in good years, funding that doesn’t keep pace with inflation. Programming and services have been reduced regularly. But even through the lean times, CBC has stayed on the cutting edge of new media. Two years ago, the government did a strategic review of CBC’s funding and decided not to make a 5% cut. On the basis of this stable funding, CBC developed a strategic plan for 2015 that includes more local programming on radio and TV and online and new service in places where there isn’t currently a CBC presence. First on that expansion list is Kamloops, which is slated to get its first CBC radio station as early as this fall.

A $55 million cut in 2012 would affect the CBC’s plan and damage the economic spinoffs CBC provides. A recent study found that the public broadcaster adds $3.7 billion to the Canadian economy with the $1.1 billion it gets from the government. It boosts independent program production and other creative industries that supply CBC and stimulates arts and culture across the country.

You can’t starve a public service into a strategic asset. Public broadcasting requires public investment. But Canada is still ranked near the bottom of the list of industrialized countries in support for national public broadcasting, ahead of only the US and New Zealand. The CBC’s parliamentary appropriation was the equivalent of $34 per Canadian in 2010. In Australia, the amount was $43, in France it was $78 and in the UK it was $111.

With support from the government, CBC could do more. As the TV industry switches from analog to digital, hundreds of communities risk losing free TV signals because CBC can only afford to upgrade 27 of its transmitters. As the Globe and Mail suggested recently, the government could earmark a small amount of the money it is expected to rake in from auctioning the frequencies freed up by the TV transition to upgrade CBC’s equipment. This new digital investment could also be used to bring even more communications services to small towns and rural areas, including wireless internet. (For more on that, visit the community TV association here.)

And what about the strategic imperative of serving the public interest? We expect our public broadcaster to offer programming in minority languages, tell Canadian stories that reflect our country’s regions to each other, tell Canadian stories when others won’t, and run a leading broadcast and online news service to ensure a diversity of quality news. We won’t all agree on a daily basis about CBC’s programming decisions and news coverage, but the debate itself demonstrates that the services themselves are essential to nourishing our country’s distinct cultures and democratic practices.

Next year will be an important one for the CBC for several reasons. One is the threatened cut. A second is the CBC’s licence renewal at the CRTC, where the public will have an opportunity to weigh in on what the CBC does on its various services for the first time in 12 years. A third is the continuing fallout from private consolidation. Real ideas are needed on the future role of our public broadcaster ? from the government, the public and those of us who work in the industry.

For more information, get in touch with the Guild (info@cmg.ca) at 416-591-5333 or 1-800-465-4149.

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